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My Call Up to the Big League (In Little League)
Little League Baseball makes you into yourself.
It’s like playing in the big leagues, but for little guys. But I was not that little when I started. I actually got a pretty late start to Little League Baseball…you could say it was more like Middle League Baseball at that point. Nonetheless, I joined my first Little League Baseball league when I was about twelve years old.
I was a big twelve years old, a much bigger twelve years old than most of the kids on my team. On the bench I would be sitting next to a small Japanese boy who spoke little English, and wore way too big horn rimmed glasses, and a small blonde boy who kept asking me questions about middle school.
“So you guys have like lockers in middle school right? Not cubbies?
“Hallo, Iham Hiroki.”
“Do you guys get a lot of homework?”
“Whuat is your favohite mohvie?”
“I am a little nervous for getting graded, like getting an A or a B.”
“Are hyou on steheroids? You are big boy.”
“Yeah, you are big… so do they make you take steroids in middle school? Wait! Is that why you get lockers? To keeps steroids in it? Man middle school is going to be different…”
By the time I cleared my name of steroids and explained to Hiroki the films “Zoolander” and “Pootie Tang”, it was already time for me to get on-deck.
Now on-deck is a big deal in baseball, especially in Little League: players do their routines, stretch, get prepared for their at-bat in anyway they think will help them perform well. All the things they practice. And baseball has a whole lot to do with preparation.
But what does a twelve year old do on-deck?
I was very confused as I stood in that on-deck circle for that very first time. I stood in the circle for a few moments, looking more awkward than the time I saw the moonwalk on TV and tried it out at my Bar Mitzvah the next day (people were concerned).
Then I thought, “Hey Ty, why don’t you do the things they do in the movies?” Then the imaginary Hiroki in my head said, “Movies like Zoolander and Hardball?”, and I responded nicely in my head to the imaginary Hiroki, “Yeah, kind of…”
I remembered once seeing in a movie a guy swinging a lot of baseball bats before he went up to the plate. So I went back to the bench and picked up all of the bats we had, about nine bats if I remember correctly.
I picked them all up and then dragged them to the on-deck circle. I tried to pick them all up at once for my warm up. But there were way too many bats to hold properly into a batting stance. So I ended up kind of cradling them in my arms like a baby. Then I tried to swing this baby of bats in my arms, and I just started swinging this bat baby like there was no tomorrow. After I loosened up I finally picked my bat of choice. It wasn't really a pick but more of a process of elimination, because eight out the nine bats dangerously flew out of my arms in numerous directions during my warm up. I probably made ‘America Funniest Home Videos’ and had no idea about it, but at that moment I didn't care about the bat baby or even the prize money on ‘America's Funniest Home Videos’… because I was … focused.
But frankly, the whole on-deck thing seemed a lot cooler in the movies…
Then I heard my coach yell out “Tyler! What are you doing?!”
I turned around to him while still doing my cradling the baby, twisting dance and replied, “It’s cool Coach! I saw it in a movie!”
The coach looked stunned. “What type of pornos you be watching boy! Looks like you are trying to have sex with a high-up ladder, or a ghost!”
I heard a yell from the bench “Sex??? Is that in middle school also???”
I dropped the bats and turned to see the entire audience in the stands staring directly at me, no longer paying attention to the baseball game.
“Sorry, Coach!” I said as I turned back.
Then I began stretching in the on-deck circle. Still not really sure what I was supposed to be doing….
Soon I got very bored and a little tired. I decided that I would just sit down for a little.
“Tyler! What are you doing?!”
I turned around “Just sitting Coach, not trying to impregnate any ladder ghosts!”
I think for a second he was about to tell a story about a ladder ghost, but then he decided not to - I’m pretty sure that was the look in his eyes.
“Stand up boy! You don’t sit down in the on-deck circle!” he screamed
“But Coach! The guy batting has been up forever!”
“Shut up Tyler!” yelled the guy batting.
“Stand up Tyler!” yelled my coach.
“Okay!” yelled me.
“And why are you wearing them silly pants, boy?” My coach roared at me.
I looked down at my legs and saw my trusty old grey sweatpants.
“Oh these old things?!” I said in a way a girl would reply to a compliment on her dress. “They are sweatpants! Kind of like jeans, but more soft - good for sports!”
“Your wear baseball pants in baseball!” he screamed. This point really seemed to be important to him. “And put your hat on straight like a baseball player!”
My hat was stylishly worn, a little up in the front and off to one side. It was how I maintained my dreamy exterior at all times. “But my hat this way is cool Coach! Girls think it’s hot!”
“There aint no cute girls around here! Put it on right!”
I looked around, “Hiroki’s mom is actually pretty cute!”
Then I am not sure if it was real Hiroki, or imaginary Hiroki in my head yelled “Hey mahn, not coohl!”
“Sorry Hiroki, but she’s hot!” I’m not sure if I said this out loud to Hiroki, or in loud to imaginary Hiroki.
Then an attractive Japanese lady yelled “Thank you Tyler! I find you very attractive as well! You are too young for me now, but after your bar mitzvah we should go out! You’re a real stud...”
She didn’t really say that, but if she did….it would have been awesome.
“Awesome” I would have replied if she had actually said that “I’ve been studying for my bar mitzvah for months, and I’m almost ready!”
Then I broke out of that teenage boy fantasy…
“Tyler! You’re up! Get into the batters box!”
I stood up from my seat in the on-deck circle. I could have been embarrassed by all of the people around me who had heard my altercation with the Coach. However I was too frozen to notice them. I couldn’t feel any other emotional besides fear and nervousness. I had never actually been up to bat in an actual game. I had been to the batting cages, been going to the baseball afterschool for years…but never an actual game!
I slowly walked up to the plate/coliseum, with bat/sword in my hand.
I looked the pitcher directly in the eyes. Usually this would help me realize that we were both nervous, or that he is only human, and I could take him.
I looked the pitcher directly in the eyes…but I just couldn't read him...because he had on extremely cool sunglasses (I'm talking Tom Cruise “Mission Impossible: 2” cool)...his coolness and non-existent eyeballs (I just assumed) terrified me.
He threw his first pitch.
I didn’t swing
My first pitch ever in little league and it was a called strike! Great, one more and I'm out, oh wait, is that right? Or is it two...
Before I could finish my thought he threw his second pitch.
I swung straight for it….and missed it completely.
That one was unfair…he caught me off guard.
I was a little angry at the pitcher now -- call me crazy but I think he's was trying to strike me out, what a jerk.
I dug my feet into the ground, and didn’t even care enough about the pitcher to look him in his eyes sockets…the only thing I was going to be looking at was that red and white circularly shaped ball he was about to toss.
He tossed his third pitch.
I locked my eyes onto it immediately. I saw it flying towards me, with a mix of rotation and speed. I saw into that balls, past, future and present. Its’ past being the pitches before, its’ present being its flight, and its’ future being hit out of the ball park.
I lifted my left front foot a little, shifted my weight onto my back foot and swung my bat with more power than I knew I had. The second the sweet metal touched that ball, I felt the vibration from the bat go directly from my hands, to all through my body. Awakening the deepest most inner recesses of my soul. I let my body drive that ball off my bat and into the air….
And it was gone. Nothing more could have been given to that ball, except maybe a proper funeral.
I ran around those bases for the first time in my life.
Stepped on home plate. And walked to the bench.
My teammates all ran up to me giving me high fives, and congratulating me.
“Awesome hit Tyler!”
“Wow, so that's what a middle school home run looks like.”
“Tyleh, dah was Amaydin! Would like to go on an extravagant date with my attractive Mother?”
Okay Hiroki didn't say that second part (but imaginary Hiroki in my head did).
Then my coach comes up to me and says “Tyler my boy, you have some crazy techniques, but guess who else has some crazy techniques.” (I didn't answer because I assumed it was rhetorical...it wasn't, he waited in silence for almost two straight minutes)
"You got it...great hit, see you next weekend."
We won that game, and we ended up winning the championship two weeks later (which I missed because of food poisoning, and the season was only five games long, but I still got the trophy anyway).
Baseball taught me to be me. To be different, and to love my differences, and everyone else’s as well. Baseball is and will always be special in the hearts of millions. It makes us believe in ourselves. It makes us believe in others. And it teaches us to always live and learn, with people by our sides along the way.