McGinnis: Summer in the sunWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I played Little League baseball for a year in 1989.
Anyone tempted to glance at their calendar and confirm that it is not still April Fools’ Day can go right ahead; I won’t be offended. I realize that I am not exactly the most athletic individual on the planet — an understatement on par with calling the Civil War a “slight disagreement” or the extinction of the dinosaurs a “minor inconvenience” — but for one summer I was given the chance to put on the uniform and show what I could do on the glorious diamond where names like Ruth, DiMaggio and Mays had become legends.
Spoiler alert: I sucked.
I mean, really, really sucked. Couldn’t field, couldn’t hit, could barely run, and I would sometimes cry if something went wrong (which was often), in violation of Tom Hanks’ primary rule of baseball in “A League of Their Own.” Yet still I played, and had a position on the team the whole season, because apparently no kid who tried out that first year was denied. Whether you were the second coming of Mickey Mantle or, well, me, you were welcome on the team that summer.
I played for the entry-level Little League team in Luckey, Ohio. Whether we actually had a nickname is one of the many details from that fateful season that has been lost in my subconscious for over 25 years now, as if my brain has tried to shield my self-esteem from any evidence that my baseball career existed. I do remember our uniforms were a bright, obnoxious shade of yellow. Naturally, they didn’t have any that really fit me, save for one: No. 13. An ominous portent of the days to come.
I tended to play outfield, because that was where I could do the least damage defensively. I mean, even if the batter did manage to hit the ball past our infielders, there was only a 1-in-3 chance I would be the one it ended up heading toward. But go figure if it didn’t seem like every time that damn ball went sailing, it headed right in my direction. (I ascribe it to the natural gravitational pull I generate.)
Not once that entire summer did I make a catch. I came close one day, a moment of sheer joy as I magically ended up in the right position as the ball fluttered down into the waiting webbing of my glove, only to pop right out again, as if even the laws of gravity were conspiring against me.
More often I would go running after a hit as it scooted past my feet or over my head, finally catching up to the baseball after the runner had easily passed first or second, and tossing it back in with all the force I could muster — which usually meant the ball bounced about halfway up the outfield and then rolled feebly into our shortstop’s glove while the runner dusted himself off at third.
But however atrocious I was in the field, I made up for it by being even worse at bat. I don’t recall anyone keeping statistics for our league, and I am grateful, lest a sports hall of shame need evidence to induct me as the most inept player in history. I don’t have any memories of actually getting a hit, as being sat down on strikes or slapping weak grounders were the sum total of my offensive output. I do remember getting on base a few times, which I can only ascribe to either the opposing pitcher having an off day or my overactive imagination.
But here’s the thing: I still loved it. I mean, sure, I was horrible and had no business being on the diamond. But it was so much fun. I still have fond memories of hanging out with my friends, running around in the sun, the smell of my new baseball glove, the feel of the bat in my hands. Despite the near constant embarrassment I endured, I still looked forward to trying out for the team the next summer, only to learn that second-year players had to actually, well, be able to play.
The national pastime has long since been usurped by other games when it comes to fan base and passion. But I defy anyone to argue that any game is still tied to the American soul as closely as baseball. That’s why every spring I feel a smile in my heart as Opening Day approaches. And every now and then, I’ll drive by that same diamond in Luckey, and take a moment to remember my summer spent in the sun. That horrible, embarrassing, awkward, awful, wonderful summer. O
Jeff McGinnis is Pop Culture Editor at Toledo Free Press. He can be reached at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.