Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Slow And Smooth

Dave and I love baseball or anything like it. Softball, Little League, beer ball, it doesn't matter. So when we saw a bunch of people on the field at the neighborhood park, we hurried over to watch.

Something about the structure of the game fits my interior life like a ligand on a macromolecule. Or an mRNA sequence on a viral membrane. You get the picture.

[No, we don't.]

Okay, baseball just plain matches up to my insides. I watch baseball and life snaps back into place and everything makes sense again. Don't ask me how. I don't question these things.

Anyway, once we got to the field, it turned out to be a distant cousin to baseball. "My word," I said to Dave, antiquely. "It's adults playing kickball!"

I hadn't seen a kickball game since I was in one. I loved that game. If one kid on the block had one of those big plastic dime store balls, you could play it in the street. You had to work out the baselines according to whose car was parked where. The adults who were assigned to any of us kids liked the game fine, because we were "out from underfoot." Unrelated adults were annoyed. They didn't like seeing all these greasy kids smearing up the fender of their Pontiac rounding third. And if they were actually driving, everyone was annoyed. We kids were annoyed because we were expected to step out of the way so the car could get through. The drivers were annoyed because nobody ever stepped more than three inches further away than they figured the car needed, and then the kids were annoyed all over again because the driver took so long to squeeze through, pounding his steering wheel and using language we weren't supposed to recognize. Then it was back to the game.

But I sucked at it every way you could. No skills at all, couldn't kick, couldn't catch, couldn't throw, couldn't run so's anyone could tell I was running.

My memory sucks too. I remember only the seminal moments of my childhood, in three categories: the humiliations. The triumphs. And the times I got in trouble when I didn't think I deserved to. (This third category is by far the smallest. Mostly, I knew I had it coming.) Kickball once furnished such a moment across two categories at once: triumph followed almost instantaneously by humiliation.
I was playing second base. And, in a plot twist, I was playing baseball, for the very first time. I was no more than eight and had never seen anyone play baseball--apparently, our television only got Huntley-Brinkley. But they said it was just like kickball. The batter swung and squeaked a dribbler out past the pitcher and to everyone's shock and amazement I corralled it somehow, and to my shock and amazement the runner on first was just then passing by on the way to second, and holy moly I threw that baseball and thudded it right into the runner's body even though I was fully four feet away from him at the time. I had never gotten anyone out in my life. I was a dang hero!

We've got trees in our parks...
For one second. The runner kept going and made it to third and all my teammates were howling and groaning and waving their arms and I was given to understand that in this game you do not get a runner out by whacking him with the ball, even though that's exactly how you do it in kickball. Presumably, a person could hurt someone throwing a softball at him. I couldn't, but a person could. I'd never successfully either caught or thrown a kickball but I'd certainly had them thrown at me. It was possible to knock me all the way off the base path into the infield and I do believe a number of the bigger boys rather enjoyed seeing how far I would carom, as though it were a game of human marbles.

Anyway, the young adults at the park were indeed playing kickball. I struck up a conversation with one of the spectators on the sidelines. "Wow!" I said, antiquely. "I used to play that when I was a kid!" 

"Huh," she replied, looking me up and down and lofting a thought balloon in which I could clearly be seen in knickers and a jaunty wool cap rolling a hoop down the lane with a stick.

I watched for at least ten minutes. I never saw one player catch a fly ball. I never saw one player throw anyone out. I never saw the other team take the field but they didn't run very well. They all kind of sucked.

They were my people.


  1. My brain is a little meaner. I don't remember any triumphs, but whoo! the humiliations are engraved on the inside of my eyelids.

  2. Don't know nuthin' about sports of any kind. When Paul tries to explain one to me (unasked, I might add), my eyes glaze over and I MAY even snore a little bit.

    In any case, I hope that you and Dave (and your menagerie) have a very happy Thanksgiving!

    1. We don't all have the same tastes, otherwise cows wouldn't eat grass, as my mother used to antiquely say.

  3. I can still see in my mind's eye the snowflake-like pattern on those reddish colored inflated rubber kickball/dodgeball balls.

  4. You said carom, another ball-like reference. Clever girl.

  5. Thanks for remembering what I'd forgotten. Didn't matter what game we played in the street: yep, we gave cars 3 inches to get by. Today's kids need more practical, but dangerous experience. Hope the kickball doesn't land on your turkey gravy! Linda in Kansas

  6. I used to be able to run, but was never interested in any sports, because I dislike getting hurt and I'd seen enough classmates limping into the classrooms or not being able to take a test because they had a broken arm or wrist. Also team uniforms and fees were something my dad totally disagreed with. Mostly the fees.

  7. The thought balloon sentence is a keeper!

  8. OMG - Kickball!! I haven't thought of those reddish-brown kick/dodge-balls in years. I remember that when they bounced on the schoolyard blacktop, they made a very distinctive sound. Kind of like a 'ping', with an under-note of 'poing'...and speaking of memories, wasn't the 'blacktop' of the 1950s just a large asphalt patio? Or did the slightly crunchy texture make it something else?

  9. From an age so young I can’t recall it, I was terrified of any situation in which a ball would be flying toward me. At the other end of the parabola, I had a lousy throwing arm and poor aim. I saw participation in any sport as nothing but an opportunity to be humiliated, injured or both. In any sport, all I had to do was get one extremely minor injury and I was done with that sport for life. I learned so little about the rules of baseball that I was the only boy in the school who ran into a double play just because I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to run yet. (I still recall the second baseman, I think it was, in a ready to catch the ball stance, while glancing sidelong at me and yelling "DOUBLE PLAY! DOUBLE PLAY!" After the play I said I said "I didn't know I wasn't supposed to run" and another boy looked me in the eye and said "Yes you did!") Somehow I was able to hide my attitude well enough to avoid passing it on to my sons, both of whom played Little League and were on the high school varsity tennis team. It took great effort, and, basically, plenty of lying.