A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



I am a freak of nature. Not a super freak or a mega-freak or a freak to the fifty-ninth power. No need to call Guinness or Barnum and Bailey, and I'm nowhere near freaky enough for Jerry Springer. I'm not Dennis Rodman, for Pete's sake. I'm just a little freaky. A freak-ette, if you will.

It's just that I've always been big. When I was born I weighed 10 pounds, 14 ounces, and I was 22 inches long. The other babies in the hospital nursery looked so cute and delicate tucked away in their little bassinets; I pretty much filled mine up, with arms and legs dangling over the sides.

Dad says it was embarrassing. He'd go to visit me, and people would be lining up to see the huge baby. "Look at him," they'd say. "He looks like he was held over from the last class."

I wasn't held over, but I was always the biggest in my class. Well, OK, there was fifth grade, when Jan Davis was a little taller. But I surged past her in sixth grade and left her in the dust at about 5-foot-6. It wasn't until junior high that I encountered guys my age who were as tall as me. But they tended to be skinny, so I still had weight on them (I probably still do, but that's another story).

While being big had its downside (like being called Tubs, and always being in the back row for school pictures), mostly it was a good thing. Especially for basketball and football. I wasn't the best basketball player in the neighborhood (that honor probably went to Ron or Don Thomas, whichever twin was hottest at the time), but as the biggest I was usually one of the first players chosen when teams were picked. Ditto football. I wasn't the most athletic player, but I was tough to block or tackle. And I suspect a little self-preservation came into play here, too, since there was probably less risk of me falling on top of -- and consequently crushing -- players on my own team.

But baseball was different. My size didn't give me a competitive advantage. In fact, it seemed to work against me. It was hard to get my big body moving around the base paths, and I was never as quick at the plate or in the field as my smaller friends. Opposing teams would move their outfielders back when I batted for the first time, assuming that someone that big could really hit. But by the end of the game the outfielders would move in when I was up. Or they would take a little nap.

In my mind, the problem was my size. Clearly baseball wasn't a good game for big guys. It favored smaller guys who were closer to the ground (easier to scoop up grounders) and who had shorter arms (tighter, more compact bat swinging). I could live with that. There were plenty of advantages to my size in other sports. It was OK if smaller guys had the advantage in baseball.

But then I went to one of Ron and Don's Triple A games (I was in lowly Single A), and I saw them playing against two guys who were my size or bigger. And these big guys were -- gulp! -- good ball players. Really good. When I found out they were our age, I was suddenly . . . well, excuse-less.

That's a frightening position to be in, isn't it? We're exposed, with nothing to hide behind and no one else to blame. We're cornered by facts, trapped in truth. At such times, it seems to me we've got a couple of options. We can either deny reality, or we can accept it and move on.

Of course, moving on can mean a lot of different things. For me, it meant coming to terms with my lack of athleticism. It took a few years, but eventually I discovered that I could still enjoy sports without being a star athlete. I even discovered a few non-athletic things that I liked, and was pretty good at. The funny thing is, those things had nothing at all to do with my size. They had to do with what was inside of me -- in my heart and my soul. That's usually the case, I think.

Even for a freak of nature.


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--- (c) 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 and