LA Daily: this is the way I remember it…

This week’s LA Daily appears to be about playing T-ball when I was six, but it’s actually about a whole lot more than that.

Not that it matters, but most of this is true.

When I was six years old, I set foot onto on a T-ball diamond for the first time.

I was skinny, awkward and unsure of myself – basically a smaller version of the teenager I’d eventually become – and I didn’t have very good coordination, but my dad loved baseball, and I knew that if my dad loved it, I loved it too, because that’s the way things work when you’re six.

It was the spring of 1978, when smog alerts were as common as reality shows are today, and hazy, reddish gold sunlight shone down on the field at Sunland Park. The sounds of other kids playing on the swings and in the giant rocket ship at the playground mingled with the smell of barbecue smoke as I stepped up to the plate to take my first practice swings.

My first swing connected with the middle of the tee. The baseball – in those days of gas lines and national malaise, we didn’t have the soft RIF balls my kids got to play with – fell off and landed in the batter’s box on the other side of the plate. The other kids giggled while the coach clapped his hands and shouted encouraging words to me as I picked the ball up and put it back on the tee.

I looked up and saw my father’s expectant face through the chainlink fence near the dugout. I slowly and deliberately lifted my bat, held it out at arm’s length, and aimed at the top of the tee with one eye closed. I stuck out my tongue and furrowed my brow. I tasted sweat on the corners of my mouth, and felt my heart beat in my ears.

The bat touched the ball, and it fell off again. The kids giggled again. The coach clapped again. I replaced the ball on the tee again.

“Come on, Willow,” my dad said. “You can do it!”

I took a deep breath, held the bat as tightly as I could, and swung for the fences.

It’s a busy, busy day for me. I got up early to write this morning, did some voice over work early this afternoon, and now I’m racing to beat a pretty important deadline, so I can announce something awesome tomorrow.

27 thoughts on “LA Daily: this is the way I remember it…”

  1. There will always be another deadline; and another, and another. Pace yourself, and don’t let it get to you. =]
    (Great article, btw.)

  2. when i played softball i got hit in the head, chest and leg so many times. and in basketball I got hit in the head. and then in soccer i just avoided the ball now i can’t play any sport which involves balls. there was a lot of crying surrounding all this.

  3. Of course, the irony in all of this is that, when I was 16, I started playing ice hockey entirely on my own.
    The position I chose? Goalie. I played for 5 years and I loved it.
    Until I got hit in the face with a slapshot that cracked open my mask and sent me to the emergency room.

  4. Isn’t odd how a stationary ball-just waiting to be hit-is so elusive?? I remember playing t-ball in san diego and sweating just trying to hit the darn ball. Funny memories…

  5. Wil -
    You need to get some ISDN lines installed in your house, or at least some good gear and produce MP3s. You should be doing all your voiceover work from home (which you may already be doing, in which case you have to let me in on what you are using).
    My little league story – 10 years old, pitching – I throw a pitch, next thing I know I am on my back. I caught a line drive right in the face. Spent the next day vomiting with a concussion. Not fun.

  6. Reading this blog entry and the comments brought to mind an incident from my youth – and probably why I dislike playing any deviation of the game of baseball.
    In a park, (extended) family picnic, is the setting. The kids in the group were watching a baseball game adjacent to the picnic area – so naturally I joined in. Foul ball. Right in my mellon. Momentarily blacked out. The guy who hit the ball felt horrible and was leaning over me when I came to. It was the kid who played Eddie Munster (yet another ‘former child star’).
    Thanks for the dredging up the memory, Wil. :-)

  7. which brings up the phrase “i don’t like balls flying in my face” i never could get into baseball, softball, or tee ball as a player…i did like field hockey though! your dad called you willow? reminds me of the movie willow

  8. My parents didn’t support any of my sporting endeavors. Doesn’t make them bad just not the sporting type. It’s neat to see that your dad gave the opportunity to try a sport without the pressure of becoming the next Babe Ruth. The experience — good or bad — is just that…a wonderful life experience!

  9. Thanks for this. I did *not* have any traumatic sports experiences as a kid — even when I got injured, I wanted back in as soon as possible — and neither (as far as I know) did anyone I’m very close to. Until I read this, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me that my (hypothetical future) kids *could* have any traumatic sports experiences, and I probably would not have known how to respond.

  10. Every kid hit the tee, their first time. And most of us, the second time, and third, and fourth.
    (And of course, the WORST was when you’d see the entire team creep forward, when you were at bat, because they knew you wouldn’t pop one over their heads.)
    I played tee-ball for two years, then switched to actual baseball. I only swung the bat twice in my baseball career–I was one of those “statue” kids at the plate.

  11. Will, can I encourage your readers to go to paulandstorm.com and vote for you for secretary of geek affairs? You are running neck and neck with Stephen Hawking, and I know you would be the best geek for the job!

  12. Truth is, as they say, stranger than fiction:
    I never played tee-ball. I first played softball when I was eight. I was a scrawny kid, and while I was decent at sports and had played much whiffleball in the backyard, the idea of playing softball in an actual game terrified me.
    I wasn’t worried about injury. I’d already taken a bat to the mouth and a ball between the eyes in my short life, courtesy of my older brother, my male cousin, and the boy across the street.
    No, it wasn’t injury that scared me.
    It was failure.
    I was convinced I’d strike out when batting, most of all.
    I played for a truly horrible team.
    Spoiler alert-we lost every game.
    Badly.
    Every one of us was a caricature of a Bad News Bears player, but we never got any better. The one exception was the coach’s daughter, who, well, could actually play.
    I was one of two kids on the team who flat out refused to swing the bat for fear of striking out. Once I found out that I could maybe get a walk and get on base, that was my strategy. I could run just fine. Hitting? Not so much. So, I prayed for a walk every time in the box. If I could just get on base, I’d be fine.
    The other girl’s name was Dawn. Our coach, whose honest-to-God name was Mr. Cool (his daughter was Kim Cool), was the nicest guy. He always encouraged us and told us it was okay if we struck out and the important thing was to swing the bat and all that.
    Still, we never did.
    Or rather, I never did. Dawn came along a few games before the end of our abysmal season, but I steadfastly refused to ante up and swing.
    In our last game, when we were losing badly (again), Mr. Cool pulled me aside and once more encouraged me to just swing for the ball. After all, Dawn had managed a few hits already with her swings. Maybe I could, too. I promised I’d try.
    I walked to the batter’s box and swallowed hard.
    I could do this.
    I was brave, right?
    And Mr. Cool hadn’t lied. Dawn was hitting the ball now. She even got a double once!
    I made up my mind.
    I swung.
    Strike one!
    My heart fluttered and I almost cried. See! I told them this wouldn’t work! But no…I’d said I’d swing, so I’d swing.
    I swung again.
    Strike two!
    Oh, no! I was going to fail! I needed to stop swinging! But I was between the proverbial rock and hard place. I could fail here by striking out, or I could lie to my coach retroactively by not trying. Which was worse?
    The pitch came.
    I swung a third time.
    Strike three!
    The game ended. I’d been the last batter, you see.
    Both teams swarmed the field, as per usual, to shake hands.
    But my team did so with a frenzy.
    Mr. Cool ran to me and picked me up high in the air and my teammates cheered. My mom clapped madly from the stands. I literally rode on my coach’s shoulders for a moment before he put me down and I lined up to slap a line of dirty hands.
    When the game was over, we went to Dairy Queen. I got a peanut buster parfait, even though I didn’t like peanuts in my ice cream, because everyone else did. My parents, teammates, and my coach told me how awesome it was that I swung my bat.
    Several weeks later, we had a party at Mr. Cool’s house to celebrate our season (or to mourn it?). I got a certificate for ‘most improved player’ for swinging my bat.
    I didn’t play softball again until I was thirteen.
    I batted cleanup.

  13. Whoa. Sorry for the length, there. I didn’t actually mean to tell that story per se, but your post is dredging up all kinds of bittersweet for me. I was actually going to post this:
    http://tinyurl.com/67roz8
    Your mention of the rocket ship playground reminded me of it.
    Sigh…
    I learned of this from a friend’s blog. She had this to say:
    “It’s been two weeks since the Rocketship came down. I’ve been meaning to post about it, but it’s been too painful. Intellectually, I understand the dangers the equipment presented; but for both my Son and me the Rocketship, the Planet, the Submarine, the Giraffe, the Radar and even the old Jungle Gym capture the memories of childhood. Now the Rocketship Park is part of a childhood that is no longer Earthbound, but can only be touched in our minds.”

  14. Wow, I barely remember much when I was 6, and I’m only 22. Although, there are a lot of dance recital moments that are forever embedded into my brain.
    Also, when you announce your pretty amazing news, I expect fireworks, marching band, the whole enchilada. ~gooniegirl

  15. Thank you, Wil. I sincerely appreciate your kind words. This story is real, but I never would’ve shared it even just a year ago. I am a writer of sorts, but I’m just a fledgling. It’s hard to get up the guts to share things sometimes.
    But I’m trying to swing. Honest.
    I only hit well after years of batting practice with my dad. Maybe by writing posts like this, one day I’ll hit clean up with words, too.
    Thanks for giving me a place to play where the other kids aren’t too mean, Wil, and thanks again for the praise. It means the world.

  16. Your description of the ball park… the sunlight, the sounds… took me right down memory lane. Beautiful writing Wil.
    I played from 9 to 11… softball; a co-ed team. I sucked, but it was awesome, and I loved every minute. Your description though, brought back memories of playing at the ball park with my sister while my Dad played for his work team.
    Thanks.

  17. I was hit in the head once in softball, too, and broke my thumb playing volleyball. I have always been athletic in some ways (running, weights, etc.) but uncoordinated when learning new things. I’m willing to make a fool of myself until I get it in my gymnastics, martial arts, and dancing classes, but I’m scared of having balls come flying at me fast!
    I agree it is really important for parents to let their kids stop if they don’t enjoy something, but keeping trying without any pressure to be good at it right away can help keep it fun.
    BTW, I was one of the girls who *did* have a big crush on your character in ST:TNG, starting from the first episode when I was 13. He was one of the few characters on TV at the time that I could actually relate to. I still like geeky guys, and went into computers myself.

  18. You’re lucky Will. I was so bad at little league that the parents of my own teammates (mothers mostly) made fun of me when I was at bat.
    My mother recently reminded me of this fact. Something I’d pushed to the dark recesses of my mind and forgotten.
    Thanks Mom.

  19. This kind of reminds me of T-ball, baseball from my youth. My dad was always the coach. I played Baseball and Football, he was my coach in both. One day, practice before the game, one of the coaches was hitting ground-balls to us, and I missed it… and it bounced into my face. I lost one of my front teeth on that one. *sigh*
    I was a HORRIBLE batter. I wasn’t much better on the field, either. My ONE saving grace, as a big guy, is I could accurately throw the ball further than anyone else on the team… very valuable skill for a perpetual outfielder. :-)
    Years later, like in my mid-twenties my dad admitted to me, he was always a little disappointed that I wasn’t good at baseball (I NEVER knew this, he always supported me as a kid). It kind of surprised me. Of course, in his youth, he was an awesome player.
    I am very lucky, that my parents were so supportive, even when I didn’t do what they really wanted/hoped I would do. :-)

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