So, I played baseball for a few years when I was a kid. I was never very good at it. In truth, before I started playing organized baseball, I don't think I'd ever watched a whole baseball game or played anything closer to actual baseball than wiffle ball. I was a pretty solid athlete back in those days, so I could usually bluff my way through just about any athletic endeavor.
Baseball wasn't very different. I couldn't hit for jack and couldn't field a grounder for jack and had a scattershot noodle of a throwing arm, but I was fast and otherwise fairly coordinated and, crucially, pretty short. I'm still pretty short. I don't like to talk about it.
A kid who is used to bluffing his way to success, fast, and short, has one key way of becoming a useful player on a little league baseball team: drawing a base-on-balls literally every time he takes the plate. And so that's what I did. My advanced stats were off the fucking charts. I think I took the bat off my shoulder maybe, maybe once per game, and only if the pitch was absolutely grooved. There were exceptions to this rule, of course—one time I faced a classmate of mine who, despite having no ability whatsoever, was thrust into the starting pitching role of the opposing team. I decided this would be the time when I cut loose and cranked the ball all around the yard, and so of course I struck out wildly swinging at three pitches that weren't within a couple zip codes of the strike zone. Buh.
So, at any rate, I stuck with baseball during baseball season through middle school and into high school. I was never very good, but I could chase down a fly ball just about anywhere in the park, and man oh man could I get on base. This made me a sort of ideal outfielder who could bat near the top of the order, and so, uneventful at-bat after uneventful at-bat, I bluffed my way into moderate success on a series of otherwise not-especially-good baseball teams.
Eventually this routine was going to unravel, and, as you would expect, it happened around the time opposing pitchers could reliably find the strike zone. This point of no return happened during my final year of organized baseball. I was the youngest kid on a team full of upperclassmen, most of whom played what we called Legion baseball (is that still a thing?) and skipped high school ball altogether. What I'm saying here is they were all a lot better than me and were more committed to the sport than I ever was or would be.
Around this time I was dating a girl who, socially, was way the hell out of my league. She was mature and confident and smart and sexy and I was a dipshit stoner goofball trending horribly downward as a student, pointed disastrously not toward adulthood, but toward a second round of early childhood. That's a trend that has continued into my thirties, in case you were wondering.
So, she happened to be neighbors with one of the more committed players on the team, a decent enough guy and solid player whose name I will never remember. By this time my bluffing as a player was only very rarely worth a damn, and so I was batting near the bottom of the order, while he was batting somewhere near the middle. I would take the plate three or four times a game, take a low, closed stance, crowd the plate, and either walk or look at strike three. Often I would lean into a pitch and cheat my ass to first base. That was my ceiling as a baseball player.
There came a game where, in the ninth inning, with our team down a run, Mr. Gung Ho Ballplayer scorched a liner deep into the outfield and hoofed it heroically all the way to third base. The next player up couldn't bring him home. The guy after that couldn't bring him home. Eventually, as you will have guessed, it came to pass that it fell to me, with two outs, to find a way to bring homeboy in and be the goddamn hero.
There was only one way this was going to happen. I would need to find a way to put the ball in play. My only other tricks—walking or getting hit—would keep me from being the big fucking loser, but they would also not allow me to be a goddamn hero, an outcome that is generally unacceptable to a teenage kid with a girlfriend and his girlfriend's buddy-buddy neighbor on third base. I was, myself, interested in getting to third base, if you take my meaning. This was an opportunity to be a cool guy, is what I'm saying.
That is all apparent to me now. What you should know is I was not a normal teenage kid with a linear and endlessly possible view of the world. I was a chicken-shit bluff artist, and so the one thing in the world I was sure of was if I just crouched down in there and kept the bat on my shoulder, I would not be the fucking loser. I would extend the rally! A hit's as good as a walk, they say!
This was how I found out my baseball career was already over. The pitcher was not meaningfully intimidated by my shrunken batting stance. He cooly fired a pair of strikes right down the middle, either of which would have made for a fine opportunity to slap the ball in play and beat out an RBI infield single. I was pretty fast, after all, and fielding, at that level, is notoriously spotty.
This direct expression of purpose should have been a clue to go ahead and use the bat in my hands, but no. The pitcher, working from the stretch, reared and fired a grooved fastball, not especially fast and not particularly carefully located, just a fat ol' grapefruit cruising straight as an arrow down the center of the plate, and I watched it the whole way in. Of course it was strike three. The fictional blind version of Stevie Wonder could have seen it was a goddamn strike.
But! The catcher, being a dipshit kid in pounds of gear, failed to grip the ball, and it hit the dirt and squirted away. Mr. Hero Big Shot on third base, focused with laser-like intensity on the action, noticed right away, and, because he was a smart and good baseball player, tore off like a desperate madman. The catcher, in full-blown panic mode, made a few clumsy grasps for the escaped baseball but could not secure it in time to beat out the dash home, and my teammate slid in, to the delirious screaming of the small crowd, with the miraculous tying run.
I had a great, amazing view of his heroics because, like a fucking idiot, I stood there like a goddamn tree instead of running to first base. The catcher, the very moment he missed the tag on my teammate, turned and rammed his glove into my chest. The crowd was going so goddamn bananas that only I and the catcher seemed to hear the umpire call me out. My teammate, emerging like some kind of horrible blond-and-blue-eyed hero of another piece of trash Michael Bay flick from a big cloud of brown dust, sweaty and disheveled and handsome and wonderful, saw the opponents celebrating, looked at me with a face full of pure disgust, and shouted what the hell happened????
I couldn't come up with anything better than a confused and desperate I don't know!!!
The next day, my girlfriend asked me if I played on the baseball team with her neighbor. I played dumb as long as I could. Eventually I made a show of figuring out who she was talking about. He's says you're not a very good player. The bastard. He was being incredibly generous. The goddamn bastard.