Ants in the outfield

[S]ome people take pride in every chance to relive their glory days, to tell their children tales of days gone by and often remembered.

Some tell stories of incredible athletic feats of yesteryear, and back them up with testimonies from old teammates they see in Wal-Mart or moments frozen forever in framed photographs on the walls of hometown restaurants.

Those stories take them to a time before their backs hurt, before they worked long hours to pay for mortgaged houses.

They take them back to when they had all of the time in the world, when they lived for Friday nights and thought they were invincible.

I was one of the lucky ones who played tee ball for the local rec center at the dawn of the 1990s, when a jersey was just a T-shirt with a number on the back and adjustable trucker hats sat too tall on little ballplayers’ heads.

I wasn’t much of a ballplayer, but I had a good glove.

It was green with a yellow web and a picture of one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I think it was Leonardo, in the pocket.

I used it to keep the gnats away while I watched for ants in the outfield.

Like I said, it was a good glove.

When I emerged from the dugout to hit, I carried a faded red bat with a black foam handle.

I took swings with one hand, and took off toward first with a walker.

Somebody thought it’d make a good story so I made the newspaper once, even though cerebral palsy left me with a pretty low on-base percentage.

It took some time and a lot of outs for me to learn you don’t cry on the field, but it’s tough to find evidence I ever did since I taped an Iron Bowl over Mama’s home movies.

I did get on base some, though.

Once I didn’t budge from the bag when a throw just missed my head.

My tee ball career ended then. Mama and Daddy had seen enough.

Later, I ran what I’m sure still stands as the record for the slowest shuttle run in the history of Pinedale Elementary School.

The year I played church league basketball I’m sure I set the record for slowest cut to the basket.

By the time my buddy mastered his batting stance, which he modeled after Ken Griffey Jr’s, I had just about mastered whatever it takes to not throw up during the mile portion of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

The fall of my fifth grade year brought playground football.

Playground football had few rules and almost no structure, the latter of which explains how I found myself in the right place at the right time to make the only play I ever made.

I just stood in the middle of the defense, and I caught an interception. I still remember the quarterback’s name, but I’ll keep him anonymous since he threw me a gift.

Playground football was forbidden soon after my pick, because of a ketchup war in the lunchroom.

Sixth grade brought softball, with a plastic bat and ball.

It also brought my debut as a pitcher, which was short.

There was an athlete at the plate.

For some reason I chose to pitch her up and away. I regretted it because she blistered the ball, which blistered my wrist.

My arm swelled up pretty good.

I went to the nurse when my eyes started to water, because you don’t cry on the field.

The highlight of sixth grade was the softball game at the end of the year, which pitted the teachers against the sixth graders.

I was behind the plate for the game, and it got out of hand fast.

We had no chance when the game started, and even less of one by the time my teacher stepped in the batter’s box.

My teacher was wise.

He had supervised us throughout my successful attempt at the stock market game.

He fostered healthy classroom debate right around the time Nana told me I’d argue with a fence post, and I said I would if the post were wrong.

He kept a picture of Cindy Crawford on his desk, for which every boy in the classroom was thankful.

Before the first pitch of his at-bat I looked at him, and from my vantage point he looked bigger than Goliath.

Then he swatted a pitch into the stratosphere.

I just stood up and watched the ball fly.

I thought it finally landed in the Oldsmobile lot across the road from the school, but I’m not sure where it came down. It was an effortless home run.

We lost the game a lot to a little or nothing, but it was OK because I found out my teacher was Babe Ruth with a beard.

Time started to fly a few years ago, and my back has started to hurt some.

I don’t have a child with whom to share the tales of my adventures in athletics.

If I did I’d say play to make memories, not money.

Savor every minute you’re young, have fun and watch out for ants in the outfield.

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