Saturday, June 25, 2011

Play ball! -- just not with me

I don't keep loose footballs lying around. Someone will want throw them. And that will expose my lack of athleticism.

For some reason I never retained the ability to correctly throw one. Oh, I was taught -- time and again. But unlike riding a bicycle, I forgot. I can catch one, and I used to be able to run like crazy afterward. Once when I visited my cousins on a Sunday afternoon they were playing in the muddy vacant lot next to their house. I had on my church clothes. They were playing tackle. So every pass thrown my way was either incomplete or I scored a touchdown. But most were touchdowns.

"You should play, football!" they said repeatedly. They were nuts, of course. I was a scrawny kid who would have been killed on a football field. I was running only because I feared getting my good clothes dirty or torn. I'd have probably been running for fear of my life if I'd suited up, so, who knows, maybe I could've been a star at least at the junior high level.

I would've clearly never made it as a quarterback though: They would have had to re-teach me to throw the ball in every pre-game warmup.

I used to work with a guy who'd periodically walk around the newsroom tossing a miniature football. I avoided eye contact to ensure he never threw it to me. I still had to keep him in my peripheral vision just in case he tossed it to me anyway. I think he did once or twice. I kept waiting for the publisher to come in one day and have a snit fit over it. But no. It continued on.

Now he's in Chicago. I assume there are no men working for the Trib who can't throw a football.

People who aren't athletic always play outfield in P.E. softball. I don't mean to say outfielders aren't athletic, but what happens in P.E. class is that you have the normal number of infielders and everyone else is in the outfield. So you might have 8 or 10 covering the entire field. If you space it out right, someone who has talent will run over and catch the ball when your prayers don't get answered and the ball gets hit to you anyway.

Thing was, I actually could catch the ball. But I had some odd last-second twist I'd put on the glove when I caught it that made everyone marvel at my technique. I couldn't throw it for squat, though. Nor could I hit.

Until one day ...

For some reason, one day I connected and had a stand-up double. It was really only a base hit at best, but the outfield always moved in close when I came up to bat, so my unexpected hit put it over all their heads -- all 8 of the outfielders.

And it wasn't a fluke, I kept getting on base -- which was quite an accomplishment considering that they eventually figured out I was going to hit farther out, and there were eight outfielders.

I went from being next-to-last picked to batting cleanup. Yes, I said cleanup. I was pretty good until the girls came and watched us one day. Then I was back to striking out -- just like I did, well, with girls.

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Photo: "Push Ball Scrimmage, Columbia" George Granthan Bain Collection (Library of Congress)