Thursday, April 09, 2009

Got a Team

When my uncle played ball as an eleven year old, my grandfather took the role of coaching. He didn’t participate in the original draft; due to each team having too many players, the league created a team, and he was given players from other teams. Since he didn’t choose the players, he received the worst players from every team. Each of them could have easily played right field for any other team—in little league, right field was the position for people who were rotated in to play the minimum number of innings.

To make it fair, the other coaches had given him first pick on equipment. “To choose a wooden bat, you don’t just go up and grab it. You hold the fat end of the bat, and tap the handle on the ground.” When he told this story, it was always the occasion we had a wooden bat, or an object equitable to a bat—a stairway baluster. He would demonstrate with the bat how to tap lightly, “you should that ‘ping.’ That’s when you know a bat has pop.” He could always find a solid piece of material to have that right high-pitched sound.

After they chose the equipment, he would begin with the story of crafting a team. “They were ragtags. Half of them hadn’t played baseball before. The first thing I'd do is make them hit baseballs out of the bushes.” He showed me how to hit in bushes—ruined some good azaleas. “I would put a baseball on a limb, and they would hit it. We did that for house a day.”

When I was twelve, we had a Cinderella season, and ended up in the championship series. He took me to the azaleas out front, and I hit baseballs the week before the series. I had a hit every at bat that series, except one: it was a liner to the second baseman.

“Why didn’t you hit off tees?”

“There was an endless supply of bushes—we’d tear up too many tees. When someone struck out, I’d send them to hit off the bushes. We’d practice from three o’clock in the afternoon to dark every day. Next, I needed a pitcher. There was one kid with two left feet—he had two left feet. He could hum that ball.” He’d make a pitching motion with his arm—you’d see his longer finger nails wrapped around the imaginary ball.

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