Baseball   In elementary school, I would stand near our barn, my baseball glove on my right hand, a white ball with red stitching in the other, as I listened to an imaginary announcer intone “In the lineage of the great Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson, and Reggie Jackson, playing centerfield for the New York Yankees, the greatest living Bronx Bomber, Trevor Soderstrum.”   I would wave to the invisible crowd. Smile at my teammates Sweet Lou Pinella on my right and Reggie Jackson on my left, and give a thumbs up to Graig Nettles at third and Bucky Dent patrolling short. Ron “Louisiana Lighting” Guidry knew he was safe in the hands of his centerfielder that was flirting with a .400 batting average and destroying every home run record in the books.   I would then toss the baseball onto the barn roof, watch its momentum slow, and then slowly roll back towards me.  Mel Allen, in a voice only I could hear, would scream that the hated George Brett had just hit a scorcher towards dead center, but cautioned fans not to fear because the House That Ruth Built had a twelve time gold glove outfielder out there.   At the last moment, I would break for the descending ball, hands so soft and sure that even babies thrown out of skyscraper windows were safe with me around. Then watch the ball bounce out of my glove and roll gently through the green grass ahead of me. Okay, catching thrown babies was not a future job possibility. But, I would repeat this ritual for hours, sometimes catching the ball, most of the time looking like Don Knotts in a china plate showroom.   My grandfather might have been one of the best baseball players to come out of central Iowa and in another time and another place might have lived out his dreams of major league baseball. My dad was an outstanding catcher in high school. My twin brothers were the heart and soul of their teams.  I stunk, more than stunk; I probably would have been chosen after Helen Keller in a pick up game.    Without my glasses, I am legally blind, and at that point in my life I had not donned a pair yet, Even when I finally got glasses in fourth grade, it would still take several year for me to get a proper prescription.   In turn, I had crushes on blurry looking girls named Julie and Beth, later kept the vehicle between a blurry looking white line and a blurry looking yellow line in driver’s ed, tried to figure out what the blurry looking white squiggles the teacher wrote on the chalkboard were, and was horrible on the baseball field with its blurry chalk lines and blurry white ball.        It is an unwritten rule that the worst player on a team ends up in leftfield because few youngsters have the strength and ability to pull the ball.  A leftfielder can daydream, pick daisies, and contemplate string theory out there. Many a Noble Prize winner probably had their origins running out to leftfield.   I was that kid’s backup. I was the backup leftfielder.  If some how the starting leftfielder got worn out jogging to and from the outfield or got bit by a ladybug, I got the call.    On more than one occasion, when the coach hit fungos in practice to the starting leftfielder, who would camp under a ball, throw his arms in the air like he was going to catch a kickball in the chest, and then watch the ball bounce with a thud off his torso. He once knocked himself out just swinging the bat. I wish I was making that up. He literally hit himself in the head with his own bat and dropped to the ground with a thud. Again, I played behind that guy. The coach looked at him unconscious on the ground, and probably thought, “At least he is better than the kid playing behind him. Let’s keep playing.”   I was so bad that in fifth grade I tried to buy my way onto my school’s traveling All- Star team. I offered the coach $5. He was a schoolteacher. So, that was a lot of money for him and I worried that that kind of wealth would change his lifestyle and go to his head.  (My old coach, Mr. Billerbeck, will confirm this story.)   “Coach, I help you. You help me. Here’s $5. Don’t go spending it on frivolous things like food or duct tape to keep that bumper on your car.”    The policy that everybody plays was around even when I was a kid.  It basically meant that all the rejects were sent out as defensive replacements in the final inning, especially in the case of a blow out, and my team got crushed all the time.    You basically jogged out to your position, watched three fuzzy kids, who could not hit the water with a canoe paddle, swing and miss. Then you shook the other team’s hands and rode your bike home, hopefully in time to watch The Beverly Hillbillies on television.   To prove to you how forgettable I was, at the beginning of my sophomore year I was shocked to discover my name in the lineup at catcher. Granted, I was game for trying to catch a blurry fastball, even if it meant sacrificing future generations of Soderstrums as I did not own a cup and that was one hand-me-down from my brothers I was not going to accept, but the major problem was I was left-handed.   There have been only thirty left-handed catchers in the entire history of major league baseball, seven of these individuals played only one game at the position, and only five caught over one hundred games, all of them in the nineteenth century. Jack Clements of the Philadelphia Quakers stands alone at topping the thousand game mark, four times as many as the next lefty. In 1948, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not devoted a cartoon to the Philadelphia Phillies signing a left-handed catcher named Dick Bernard. The last left-hander to get behind the plate was for three games in 1989. In other words, a left-handed catcher is rarer than a vegan at an all you can eat bacon buffet.    While some have claimed that right-handed batters interfered with the throw to second base or that lefties have a natural curve in their throw, it probably has more to do with tradition. It is hard enough to teach the position, let alone teach it backwards to a southpaw.   This tradition, coupled with the fact that most catching equipment, especially the mitts, are designed to be worn by right-handed individuals.  (Catching equipment is often called the “tools of ignorance” because no one in their right mind would submit themselves to being nicked, dinged, hit with foul tips, and run over.) Left- handed catching mitts have to be custom made, which makes them prohibitively expensive for most kids.   So, when I saw my name penciled in as starting backstop, I approached my coach and said, “Coach, hum, you have me in the lineup as catcher.  You know I am left- handed. I would be glad to play the position if you have a left-handed mitt somewhere or I could just use my glove, but I think you are thinking of my older brother who plays that spot on varsity.”     I would quickly find myself back on the bench. This happened not just once or twice, but six times. After the second time, knowing that my reward would be picking splinters out of my backside, I would just start putting on the shin guards and chest protector to await my certain death by blurry balls. My coach would see me put on my left-handed outfield glove and ask me what I was doing.  “Going to catch like you have me in the lineup,” I would reply.   “Oh, you’re left-handed?” he would question me like somehow in the previous twenty-four hours I somehow changed dominant sides. “You can’t do that.  We will get you into right field before the game is out.” It was after the sixth game of this happening, as I watched baseball bounce off the chest of the guy I was not good enough to replace that I knew maybe my days were numbered. I turned my uniform in two days later. I was one of the worst players on one of the worst teams in central Iowa. A Bad News Bear that had survived basic training. I truly believe in a game between my team and a nearby nursing home, Vegas odds would have favored the wheelchair- bound geriatric warriors and they probably would have rubbed their victory in like the BenGay they were coated in.   Oh, there were good athletes here and there. Our second baseman was one of the fastest guys around, but only when he was being chased home by other kids that wanted to beat him up. His hustling between first and second, on the other hand, was like watching someone run in quicksand in one of those old black-and-white jungle movies.    Our centerfielder’s bat was bigger and weighed more than he did. There was the kid whose main athletic talent seemed to lie in his amazing ability to have a dip of Skoal in one side of his mouth, bubble gum in the other, a toothpick dangling from his lips, as he drank a bottle of Mountain Dew at the same time. Our pitcher had a million dollar arm and a ten-cent head. He was so wild that he could not have found the home plate with a magnifying glass and a deerstalker hat.    With large rocks in the outfield producing strange bounces, it was entertainment had by all, even from my blurry perspective at the end of the bench.  I showed up and dreamed of my future stardom on the diamond. I just needed a chance to show my talents.   No, I didn’t. Still, when spring rolls around or the playoff air of October is crisp, I turn into that kid with his glove on his hand and with that ball slowly rolling backwards down the roof. Everything is possible. Everything is new. Every hope a possibility. Every dream just around the corner. Let’s play ball.
Baseball   In elementary school, I would stand near our barn, my baseball glove on my right hand, a white ball with red stitching in the other, as I listened to an imaginary announcer intone “In the lineage of the great Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson, and Reggie Jackson, playing centerfield for the New York Yankees, the greatest living Bronx Bomber, Trevor Soderstrum.”   I would wave to the invisible crowd. Smile at my teammates Sweet Lou Pinella on my right and Reggie Jackson on my left, and give a thumbs up to Graig Nettles at third and Bucky Dent patrolling short. Ron “Louisiana Lighting” Guidry knew he was safe in the hands of his centerfielder that was flirting with a .400 batting average and destroying every home run record in the books.   I would then toss the baseball onto the barn roof, watch its momentum slow, and then slowly roll back towards me.  Mel Allen, in a voice only I could hear, would scream that the hated George Brett had just hit a scorcher towards dead center, but cautioned fans not to fear because the House That Ruth Built had a twelve time gold glove outfielder out there.   At the last moment, I would break for the descending ball, hands so soft and sure that even babies thrown out of skyscraper windows were safe with me around. Then watch the ball bounce out of my glove and roll gently through the green grass ahead of me. Okay, catching thrown babies was not a future job possibility. But, I would repeat this ritual for hours, sometimes catching the ball, most of the time looking like Don Knotts in a china plate showroom.   My grandfather might have been one of the best baseball players to come out of central Iowa and in another time and another place might have lived out his dreams of major league baseball. My dad was an outstanding catcher in high school. My twin brothers were the heart and soul of their teams.  I stunk, more than stunk; I probably would have been chosen after Helen Keller in a pick up game.    Without my glasses, I am legally blind, and at that point in my life I had not donned a pair yet, Even when I finally got glasses in fourth grade, it would still take several year for me to get a proper prescription.   In turn, I had crushes on blurry looking girls named Julie and Beth, later kept the vehicle between a blurry looking white line and a blurry looking yellow line in driver’s ed, tried to figure out what the blurry looking white squiggles the teacher wrote on the chalkboard were, and was horrible on the baseball field with its blurry chalk lines and blurry white ball.        It is an unwritten rule that the worst player on a team ends up in leftfield because few youngsters have the strength and ability to pull the ball.  A leftfielder can daydream, pick daisies, and contemplate string theory out there. Many a Noble Prize winner probably had their origins running out to leftfield.   I was that kid’s backup. I was the backup leftfielder.  If some how the starting leftfielder got worn out jogging to and from the outfield or got bit by a ladybug, I got the call.    On more than one occasion, when the coach hit fungos in practice to the starting leftfielder, who would camp under a ball, throw his arms in the air like he was going to catch a kickball in the chest, and then watch the ball bounce with a thud off his torso. He once knocked himself out just swinging the bat. I wish I was making that up. He literally hit himself in the head with his own bat and dropped to the ground with a thud. Again, I played behind that guy. The coach looked at him unconscious on the ground, and probably thought, “At least he is better than the kid playing behind him. Let’s keep playing.”   I was so bad that in fifth grade I tried to buy my way onto my school’s traveling All-Star team. I offered the coach $5. He was a schoolteacher. So, that was a lot of money for him and I worried that that kind of wealth would change his lifestyle and go to his head.  (My old coach, Mr. Billerbeck, will confirm this story.)   “Coach, I help you. You help me. Here’s $5. Don’t go spending it on frivolous things like food or duct tape to keep that bumper on your car.”    The policy that everybody plays was around even when I was a kid.  It basically meant that all the rejects were sent out as defensive replacements in the final inning, especially in the case of a blow out, and my team got crushed all the time.    You basically jogged out to your position, watched three fuzzy kids, who could not hit the water with a canoe paddle, swing and miss. Then you shook the other team’s hands and rode your bike home, hopefully in time to watch The Beverly Hillbillies on television.   To prove to you how forgettable I was, at the beginning of my sophomore year I was shocked to discover my name in the lineup at catcher. Granted, I was game for trying to catch a blurry fastball, even if it meant sacrificing future generations of Soderstrums as I did not own a cup and that was one hand- me-down from my brothers I was not going to accept, but the major problem was I was left- handed.   There have been only thirty left-handed catchers in the entire history of major league baseball, seven of these individuals played only one game at the position, and only five caught over one hundred games, all of them in the nineteenth century. Jack Clements of the Philadelphia Quakers stands alone at topping the thousand game mark, four times as many as the next lefty. In 1948, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not devoted a cartoon to the Philadelphia Phillies signing a left-handed catcher named Dick Bernard. The last left-hander to get behind the plate was for three games in 1989. In other words, a left-handed catcher is rarer than a vegan at an all you can eat bacon buffet.    While some have claimed that right-handed batters interfered with the throw to second base or that lefties have a natural curve in their throw, it probably has more to do with tradition. It is hard enough to teach the position, let alone teach it backwards to a southpaw.   This tradition, coupled with the fact that most catching equipment, especially the mitts, are designed to be worn by right-handed individuals.  (Catching equipment is often called the “tools of ignorance” because no one in their right mind would submit themselves to being nicked, dinged, hit with foul tips, and run over.) Left-handed catching mitts have to be custom made, which makes them prohibitively expensive for most kids.   So, when I saw my name penciled in as starting backstop, I approached my coach and said, “Coach, hum, you have me in the lineup as catcher.  You know I am left-handed. I would be glad to play the position if you have a left-handed mitt somewhere or I could just use my glove, but I think you are thinking of my older brother who plays that spot on varsity.”     I would quickly find myself back on the bench. This happened not just once or twice, but six times. After the second time, knowing that my reward would be picking splinters out of my backside, I would just start putting on the shin guards and chest protector to await my certain death by blurry balls. My coach would see me put on my left-handed outfield glove and ask me what I was doing.  “Going to catch like you have me in the lineup,” I would reply.   “Oh, you’re left-handed?” he would question me like somehow in the previous twenty-four hours I somehow changed dominant sides. “You can’t do that.  We will get you into right field before the game is out.” It was after the sixth game of this happening, as I watched baseball bounce off the chest of the guy I was not good enough to replace that I knew maybe my days were numbered. I turned my uniform in two days later. I was one of the worst players on one of the worst teams in central Iowa. A Bad News Bear that had survived basic training. I truly believe in a game between my team and a nearby nursing home, Vegas odds would have favored the wheelchair-bound geriatric warriors and they probably would have rubbed their victory in like the BenGay they were coated in.   Oh, there were good athletes here and there. Our second baseman was one of the fastest guys around, but only when he was being chased home by other kids that wanted to beat him up. His hustling between first and second, on the other hand, was like watching someone run in quicksand in one of those old black- and-white jungle movies.    Our centerfielder’s bat was bigger and weighed more than he did. There was the kid whose main athletic talent seemed to lie in his amazing ability to have a dip of Skoal in one side of his mouth, bubble gum in the other, a toothpick dangling from his lips, as he drank a bottle of Mountain Dew at the same time. Our pitcher had a million dollar arm and a ten-cent head. He was so wild that he could not have found the home plate with a magnifying glass and a deerstalker hat.    With large rocks in the outfield producing strange bounces, it was entertainment had by all, even from my blurry perspective at the end of the bench.  I showed up and dreamed of my future stardom on the diamond. I just needed a chance to show my talents.   No, I didn’t. Still, when spring rolls around or the playoff air of October is crisp, I turn into that kid with his glove on his hand and with that ball slowly rolling backwards down the roof. Everything is possible. Everything is new. Every hope a possibility. Every dream just around the corner. Let’s play ball.