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Every year millions of little boys and girls, all around the world, reach that magical stage in their lives where they can finally compete in organized sports. Whether the sport is Baseball, Basketball, Football, Soccer, Rock-Paper-Scissors, Curling, or even Cup Stacking, there is a sport for everyone. Some people have natural talent, others must work for their talent, and then there are the unfortunate ones with absolutely no talent. While I hope to have fallen into the first two categories, I have met many who are in the third (though they will never admit it).
My parents love to tell the story to relatives/teachers/girlfriends/police officers that my first word as a baby was “ball”. I find this hard to believe because I seem to remember my first phrase being, “No dear father, I would not like to watch that gigantic balloon-shaped dinosaur referred to as Barney, I would much rather watch a film such as Braveheart or even Rocky if that’s available”. They seemed to misunderstand my requests and immediately enrolled me in a little organization known as Little League T-Ball.
For those who are not familiar, T-Ball consists of two teams of youngsters who take countless attempts to hit a small ball off of a plastic tee. While one team hits, the other team waits in the field and, in theory, are supposed to achieve “outs”. What usually happens when the ball is put into play is ten little youngsters go in ten different directions with wild whoops and yells. The entire concept of playing specific positions is completely abandoned with no regard for human life. The parents of these little monsters meanwhile are screaming their lungs out while pointing at the ball, desperately pleading with their child to please stop trying to see how the dirt tastes, and instead go after the baseball.
My T-ball career began on a little team coached by my father. The teams in the league were named after the Major League teams, and ours was supposed to be the Baltimore Orioles. A problem occurred when we received the team hats in a big box in the mail. I eagerly opened the package and stared at the contents quizzically.
“Dad, there is a slight problem with these hats”
My father looked up from typing up spreadsheets (this seemed to be all my father ever did. In fact, I’m still not exactly sure what his job actually is), “What in the world are you talking about?”
“Well we are the Orioles, and these are clearly not Orioles hats”.
“How are they not Orioles hats?” he grumbled, stepping away from his spreadsheets to check out the situation.
“Dad this is not an O on the front of the hat, that is clearly a Q”. This was true; the curly O that was supposed to prominently be displayed on the cap was printed upside down which gave it the clear appearance of the letter Q. We pleaded our case to the printing company but after many hours of being put on hold, and many debates on whether the letter was an O or a Q, we finally gave up the fight and were now officially the Qrioles.
Besides myself, the team was filled with other youngsters including one of my neighbors, Matthew. Let’s just say that Matthew and his brothers kept the other families in the neighborhood on their toes with various shenanigans (such as the great ketchup sandwich incident of ’98). They were a nice enough family but the children found great pleasure in driving me crazy. One of their favorite pastimes was asking me to come over and look at something really cool, wait until I was close enough to them, and immediately pull down their pants and display their Buzz Lightyear underwear they frequently wore. This was not, and will never be, something really cool.
Matthew showed up to practice each time, decided that there was no way he could stand being there, and began to cry while swinging one of the bats around wildly. One of the parents would attempt to approach, while trying to pry the weapon from his fingers before one got their head bashed in. These battles were great entertainment for the rest of the team as we sat on the bench, legs swinging, writhing in mirth at the sight of Matthew being surrounding by five adult males waiting to strike. Eventually we would get bored and play a little game called “Throw the baseball as hard as you can at someone not looking”. This would provide equal pleasure at the sight of poor Jerry Gonslick taking a baseball to the glasses.
Our season went about as well as anyone would imagine, with the only goal in mind during the games being who got the after-game snack and juice box first. The games were uneventful, with the real fun happening on the bench. A little friend of mine, named Ronald Johnson, introduced the team to the fact that Gatorade mixed with water tastes absolutely terrible. We spent hours sitting there on the wood, drinking our new creation, and giggling incessantly while squealing, “Wow! That really does taste terrible!”
This eventually got boring and Ronald came up with a new idea. He figured out a way to get the yellow Gatorade to resemble a not-so-polite liquid. We would gaze in wonder and nod our heads as we collectively agreed that it was almost identical. We would try to entice some of the stupider children to drink the stuff, but even they wouldn’t dare. Even though we all knew the bottle wasn’t filled with urine, but we still didn’t trust it. There was always one poor sucker who would drink the concoction while wild eyes stared, waiting for him to drop dead immediately.
One day Ronald was fidgeting uncomfortably on the bench next to me. “What’s the matter buddy?” I enquired.
“Oh man, I really gotta go but there are no bathrooms anywhere!” He exclaimed, rocking back and forth.
A thought suddenly crossed into my young brain, “Here, just use this empty Gatorade bottle”. I handed him the nearest bottle and he sprinted off behind the dugout to do his business. Minutes later Ronald returned, clearly relieved, and smirking as he held up the now not-so-empty bottle. He carefully placed it on the bench and ran off to cause trouble somewhere else.
The rest of the team returned, after playing in the field, and sat on the bench. Jerry Gonslick plopped down next to me, unfortunately (for those who don’t know, Jerry Gonslick is the worst human being on the planet). Jerry adjusted his glasses and turned to me, “Boy am I thirsty! Do you have any water I can borrow?”
“For you Jerry? Never”. I replied.
He shrugged and went searching for liquid to quench his thirst. Eventually he came back and asked me a second time if I had anything to drink. Again I informed him I would much rather join the Taliban than offer him any water of mine. Suddenly something caught his eye. He reached behind me under the bench and held up the bottle which Ronald had previously returned with. “Jackpot! Just another one of Ronald’s stupid creations”, he grinned.
I know what you’re thinking, Oh dear god, please tell me you stopped him. Please Ben, please say you wouldn’t allow such a vile act to occur! And to this I would reply: Hell, I was 6. And yes, Jerry drank the bottle dry, smiled, and walked away; his thirst finally quenched. Go Qrioles.