A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
THE KING OF STRIKES
Don't tell me about baseball strikes. I know all about them. I was the King of Strikes on my Little League baseball team. In the entire history of Little League baseball, nobody ever had more strikes thrown against them than I did. You can look it up.
They say that hitting a baseball hurling toward you at a high rate of speed is one of the most difficult skills to master in all of sport. Well, I took that skill all the way from "difficult" to "impossible." I couldn't hit a baseball if it was dangled from a string over home plate and covered with Velcro. It's the whole hand-eye thing. I have two of each – hands and eyes – but during baseball season they never seemed to be on speaking terms.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not completely lacking in athletic skill. Why, just the other day I won a prize at the local amusement park's basketball shooting booth. Never mind that it cost me $23 before I finally made enough shots to earn a $4 plush toy. The fact is, I did it. That's the important thing. Fair and square.
But baseball has always been a challenge for me. Thanks to hours in the yard playing catch with Dad, I could catch and throw the ball pretty well. I was a better-than-average first baseman. It was just that hitting thing. And the strike thing. You know – three strikes and you're out (who ever came up with that number anyway? It seems so arbitrary. Why not "10 strikes and you're out"? Doesn't that sound like a nicer, rounder, more compassionate number?).
The worst part of it was watching how the other team reacted to me – and how that reaction changed after they saw me swing the bat a time or two. Since I was always big and sturdy (the word "chubby" comes to mind, but let's not go there, ok?) for my age, teams getting a first look at me tended to react accordingly. The infielders would move to deep infield positions, and the outfielders would back up a few steps. By the end of the game, after three or four futile at-bats, the infielders were sitting on their bases and the outfielders were chasing butterflies.
My coach was very patient with me. At first he tried to work with me and teach me how to hit properly. When that failed, he tried to get me to be more discerning and to quit swinging at bad pitches – and then to quit swinging at pitches, period. But I couldn't do it. It seemed somehow unsporting. I mean, with all the players on the other team chanting, "Hey battah, hey battah, hey battah, SWING!" . . . well, you just had to swing. It was the American way.
So I went up to bat game after game, and I took my cuts, used up all my strikes and then took my seat on the bench. My teammates were generally supportive, although there were a couple of times when I came up to bat with two outs that the coach had to talk to them about waiting until AFTER I struck out before they ran onto the field to take their positions.
Organized baseball and I parted company after two years of Little League. It was a mutual decision – we both felt it was best. But even though I experienced more failure than success during those two years I still look back on them fondly. It was fun. I got to wear Mickey Mantle's number 7 on my back (in addition to the name of a local drug store). I got to play ball with my friends on those lazy summer afternoons. And that's really all that mattered.
These days baseball is concerned about another kind of strike. To tell the truth, I don't really know who is right or who is wrong in the matter. I don't really care. I just wish the powers that be would remember that it's a game. That it's supposed to be fun. And that the only strike in baseball should come at the end of "Hey battah, hey battah, hey battah, SWING!"
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.