Dec. 15th, 2016

I have 3 stories about baseball. Scratch that, I just looked up the definition of a story. I have 1 observation, 1 anecdote, and 1 story about baseball. The observation is that, as a small child, I always wanted to do what my older brother did. I was jealous of everything he had, by dint of being older and a boy, and wanted it for myself. He played Little League, and I never got to.

The anecdote is that, on a bright sunny day in my middle childhood, my father broke my heart by tagging me out during a neighborhood pickup baseball game.

The story is this: In middle school, my 8th grade year, I had a horrible PE teacher. I've no idea to this day what I did to annoy him, if anything, besides being not very good at team sports. Oddly, because my family had been very active, and I definitely enjoyed physical activity. I simply did not like physical education class. Or this teacher, so at least that was reciprocal. I also had asthma and bad ankles and a bad back, plus had a religious waiver so didn't have to participate in the dance unit of PE, which was both a relief and embarrassing at the same time. I also, quite frankly, would have preferred to spend all my time in the library.

That said, on yet another bright and sunny day, we began our baseball unit. My class and another PE class trooped out to a back field together, the teachers strolling and chatting, the kids lugging bins of equipment. I stared off into space as per my usual, dreading my turn at bat, the eyes on me, the inevitability of despair - I'd either hit the ball and have to run - run! - in front of everyone, or miss the ball and disappoint my team. Horror.

When I walked up for my turn at bat, my PE teacher - Mr. Griffin - turned to the other PE teacher and rolled his eyes a little. I saw it, but I figured I'd strike out and be done with it. He'd let me go sit in the grass and pick dandelions once he saw how useless I was. I picked up the bat and held it loosely, staring off into the grass and mentally picking out the spot I would sit in, out of the way, not bothering anyone. First pitch whooshed by, too close, and I swung apathetically. I can't even call it a bunt, it was the baseball equivalent of a whimper. I heard a few laughs, imagined more eyes rolling, and ponied up again. I got a better grip on the bat and swung - missed.

At this point, Mr. Griffin yelled something at me - "Tighten up! Fix your stance!" or something like that. Who knows? It didn't matter, he was a windbag and the bane of my existence for 45 minutes every day. But I did tighten up. All those years of wishing I could be in Little League like my brother, the long summer afternoons of joyfully playing with the neighbors and family, my dad's voice in my ear and his hands over mine, showing me how to turn my body, point my toe down, coil up on myself and make the bat an extension of my arms.... I went into a perfect batting stance. Third pitch, third swing, and a -CRACK- as the bat connected with the ball, slicing it out over right field, over my classmates' shocked heads, right into the blackberry bushes that bordered school property.

Everyone - including myself - was shocked. In fact, I was so shocked that I didn't quite know what to do. As I stood there, jaw open, bat dangling, watching the ball arc through the sky, I heard Mr. Griffin turn to the other teacher and say, "Even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut."

Maybe he meant to whisper it. Maybe he didn't realize I could hear. Maybe he just didn't care. I turned to him, my awesome-shock turning to anger-shock. We locked eyes. The other teacher said nothing, just looked deeply embarrassed. Mr. Griffin didn't even show embarrassment. I had a choice, right then. I could walk into the principal's office, sit down, wait politely to be seen, and inform them that... what? That a class I didn't care about and a teacher I didn't respect had proven to be the same old things they always were? Or, I could run to first base.

I compromised by walking to first base. I gave (what I hope was) a condescending sneer which communicated my utter lack of regard for Mr. Griffin, dropped the bat, and strolled around the bases while the other team scrambled to extricate the ball from the blackberry bushes. Neither teacher would meet my eye for days afterward. I hadn't stood up for myself, but I also hadn't cried publicly so at the time counted it as not quite a win, but definitely not a loss on a personal level.

Sometime later, during the hot months, I barfed on Mr. Griffin's shoes. I've always felt he deserved it, and I hope somewhere inside, he felt he deserved it too.

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