It’s not the person you remember…it’s the rotational spin

September 17, 2015 at 10:17 pm (By Ron)

This is a small memory….but one I’ve never forgot.

As kids we played a lot of baseball.  A lot of baseball.  Did we have organized leagues with adult supervision?  Hell, no!  Kids vs kids….we taught ourselves.  And I’m certain we would have pounded the snot of formal little league teams; we played with a viciousness more associated with 19th century baseball than the polite sport we play today.  By practice and constant reading we learned how to play the game right; bunting, baserunning, hitting the cut off man with throws from the outfield, reading pitches….if you didn’t learn this stuff you didn’t play.  As a kid I had a good arm, so I played 3rd, right field, and would often pitch.  I loved to pitch, but wasn’t very good at it because of control.  And what we used to do as pitchers!  Everything today that would be heavily frowned on!  Breaking pitches, goofy curves, evil, evil, evil screwballs; I wonder how many of our pitchers wound up with messed up arms.  Screwballs were the worst; you rotate your arm in the opposite direction of what is natural to get the strange break.  I remember pitching 2 9 inning games one hot day and the next day my arm and shoulder were so sore it hurt to comb my hair.  I lost track of the number of kids I hit in the head or ribs trying to pitch inside.

But this story is not about my numerous poor efforts on the mound; it’s about hitting.  For years I used a thick handled 44 oz “Harry Heilmann” bat that didn’t have a knob on the end of it.  I had to make a knob out of electrical tape!  But that day….I had saved my pennies and bought a 32 oz slim-handled “Hank Aaron”.  It felt like I was swinging a wiffle bat!  I was ready to rip!

There was a big kid whose name I’ve forgotten who used to get me out all the time.  I just couldn’t “read” him; I couldn’t tell his fastball from his curve or slider based on his release and I’d usually guess wrong.  But with my new quick bat, I was seeing and guessing a lot better!

And then he threw me the pitch I’ve never forgot….I saw it before his hand came over the top of his shoulder and I said in my own voice in my head, “Well…there’s a nice fastball!”  Almost 50 years later I can still hear and see that memory like it just happened.  I could see the spin and the name of the league president on the ball as it headed plateward.  Everything mechanical in my body “knew” what to do and I absolutely powered that baseball.  The center fielder took two steps back and conceded it was way past him into the HR area.  No showboating;  I put my head down and ran out the HR.  That pitcher gave me a lot of respect after that;  he didn’t think I could do that to his pitches.

How many such little tiny victories do we get in life?  The sublime melding of skills, opportunity, execution….it’s what we want in so many ways and never get.  Something is usually missing.  My whole life seems to me like a Wagnerian opera of failure;  just when I think I couldn’t be stupider I prove myself wrong.  But that day…..that at bat….that I’ll always remember.  I suspect this is closer to the way we experience joy in sports than winning The Big Game, or The Championship.


  1. LouiseM said,

    Another one, out of the park!

    I grew up on stories, as my dad thought TV stunted imagination and was resistant to having a television in the house until 1967, when the whole country took a rotational spin in a different direction. The stories you’ve been sharing are the kind that not only bring pictures and thoughts to mind as they are read, they also tap into sensory awareness and invite memories.

    That day…that bat…

    My sixth grade teacher would come outdoor on lunch recess and play organized games with us, with boys and girls together on mixed teams He’d annoy the boys who wanted to play games with the correct equipment, by insisting on using a half sized orange plastic football for touch football, and a six inch red rubber ball for baseball, with one bounce allowed.

    He was one of my favorite teachers, and I remember the catch and the feeling that day when he threw that football to me and I managed to make a touchdown. That’s been the only official touchdown of my life, accompanied by a feeling akin to joy if not the real deal.

    Thank you for another good story. One with enough color commentary to rival and balance the deadly silence at the table when the storm troopers barge through the door!

  2. mockturtle said,

    Nice memories! Both of you! :-)

  3. wj said,

    (Gotta check in here more often!)

    My own sports memory is from 6th grade. We had 6-man teams from each classroom. Our class was different, we had actual plays, that we drew up, practiced, and used in games.

    But the real difference was this. The kid who played quarterback ended up being a high school quarterback for 3 years. Two of the other kids became track stars in high school. The center was a big burly kid that nobody could push anywhere. And the 5th kid was (relative to other 6th graders) a classic tight end. In short, we had 5/6 of the makings of a great team.

    But then there was me. I like to play, but could charitably be described as totally unathletic. I ran far slower than anybody on the team (or any of the other teams), including the center! I also wasn’t very coordinated, and everybody knew it. So when play started I was obviously irrelevant . . . and all the other teams knew it, too. To the point that they didn’t even bother to cover me on pass plays.

    But if nobody was near me, I could usually manage to catch a pass. At least, an easy one — which was fine, because nobody was bothering to cover me anyway. And I could run for at least a little while, until someone from across the field got to me. As a result, I ended up being the leading scorer on our team. (And we swept the league.)

    Sometimes a (deserved) reputation for incompetence can be a plus, if you aren’t quite as incompetent as they think.

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