I started playing baseball relatively late compared to other kids in my town. Maybe it's because I never got the feel for sports since I lived with my mom after the divorce (and she wasn't into sports). Or maybe I was just too scared to lose my teeth if I ever took a grounder to the face. Or maybe I was born with two left feet. Either way you look at it, I just didn't know what I was missing.
"We gotta find some way to expand your horizons"
It was my stepdad who first introduced me to the idea of playing organized baseball. He and my mom got together when I was 6, and at that point, he was "just another guy" to me; big, gruff and loud, but he tried his damnest to reach out to me. After a few "failed" attempts to inspire me over the years through individual sports like karate and bowling, he figured a team sport might spark my interest. We had season tickets to the local university's baseball games, so I had some exposure to the idea of playing before. I didn't have many friends at the time, so maybe it was his way to expand my horizons. Needless to say, I was thrilled at the idea. My stepdad talked to some people he knew, and found out that one of his good friends coached a Little League team that practiced 10 minutes away from our apartment. This provided a great opportunity for me to be coached by someone close to the family as well as for my stepdad to help coaching the team. Only downside was that the team was for kids ages 5 - 8 years old, and I was already 9 going on 10 in a few months; which meant I would be ineligible to play in any sanctioned Little League games with this team. Weighing those options, he decided it best for me to play under someone he felt comfortable with since I was just starting out, even though I would miss out on the games for the first season.
For me, baseball practice was awkward, to say the least. Not only was I joining an established team, I couldn't throw, catch, or hit. Since I was already almost 10, I was also noticeably bigger than a lot of the other kids, which made it even worse when I would trip over my own feet getting used to running in baseball cleats. I would often overthrow 2nd base, so much sometimes that even the 3rd baseman and catcher couldn't cover. But I was trying my best and having fun, despite the shorcomings. My stepdad was always extra harsh on me though, as some parents can be, always busting my chops.
"What you lack in talent, make up in hustle!"
For the most part the other kids were too polite to make any comments (or at least where I could hear them), that is, until the season began. I must've been asked at least a dozen times by my teammates why I couldn't play in the games. They wondered why I would suit up in my uniform every Saturday morning, just to sit in the dugout to cheer them on, but never got to play. I smiled and gave the same answer each time; that I was too old to play with them and that I would be able to play next season. Being my first team-sport experience though, I wasn't sure if I even believed it myself. Would I even be good enough to play even if I was the same age as everyone else? At age 10, one baseball season can feel like a lifetime. Let me tell you, one baseball season on the bench at age 10 felt like an eternity. However, despite mising out on a lot of the fun, it was nice just being part of the group.
"You're part of the team, so you support the team!"
It's ironic; I distinctly remember getting hit in the face with a ball when I was 13 and almost losing 4 teeth (thank goodness for braces!) I remember the first time I put on a uniform with an "All-Stars" label. But I almost forgot about that first baseball season until I really began to reflect on my baseball past. I'm not here to sell some success story about me eventually becoming a professional ballplayer or anything like that. I played varsity baseball in high school, helped coach a few Little League teams, and in recent years, I've even dusted the glove off for inter-office softball games. I was an average player; never won any championships, wasn't even good enough to consider college-level ball. But I feel the most important part of my playing experience came from not playing at all. I could've easily given it all up after that first season.
My stepdad won't get to read this story. I can't remember if we ever talked about my first baseball season. It doesn't matter though. Anyone that knows me well enough, knows that it's another one of those times.
"You were right all along."