Saturday, April 30, 2016


Set out to pasture in what should've been dubbed a single mothers' encampment, my mother was given a small sum with which to provide for my basic needs and told to get a job. Two jobs, in fact.

She was a victim of the failed Sexual Revolution. Promising she could have it all, society wasn't quite ready for a woman with only a high school diploma and no real work skills to have it all without a husband. 

By the late 1970s, my father was more or less out of our lives. He'd come around when the spirit moved him, but his career and chasing pussy took priority over that other life, that past life. 

Mother did what she could. She settled into service work, holding down a job in the day time as a secretary. At night she was a convenience store clerk. 

Though I wanted for little, I was left alone. A latch-key kid, they called it. The key to my apartment was strung through a tennis shoe lace and made into a necklace. I was admonished never, ever to take it off. Dutifully, I didn't even remove it when opening the dead bolt on the apartment door, leaning-in to unlatch the device.

This meant I had a lot of time to myself.

This meant a lot of television.

This meant I watched a lot of sports.

By 1979, I'd fallen in love with baseball for some odd reason, as that year's team to beat was from Pittsburgh, a city I had no connection to at all. They wore black and yellow colors. They had their own theme song (We Are Family). Their hats were the stove pipe sort, the old-timey sort. They caught my attention something good.

It was my first real obsession.

Baseball was tidy, rule based, individualistic with just enough team ethos to allow me to connect with something larger. 

I can still remember the 1979 lineup of the Pirates in the World Series. Yeah, obsessed.

The apartment was two levels and fashioned with a back area of concrete before giving way to an alley. The yard, as we called it, was walled off, sunken. We kept odds and ends out there, nothing much.

My mother was keen to make up for the loss of real time with me, and as she sensed my growing love for baseball, she suddenly popped up with equipment. My first glove was from Toys R Us, a piece of shit I absolutely adored.

Around that same time I had quite a collection of tennis balls from the local courts I walked by on the way home from school.

Ball. Glove.

That magical combination kept me active for hours. Against the concrete lower wall I threw the ball, and it shot back quickly as a grounder. Over and over and over again, on it went, until my arm grew in dexterity and strength, my fielding posture and grabs matching that of my televised heroes.

Soon, mom brought home a smallish bat. With it, I asked for a tee, a makeshift home plate with a stick to hold a ball from which to hit off. I'd seen them on television as hitters took practice before practice, hitting off a tee. I knew it'd be a nice fit my little back yard.

Mom obliged.

After defensive work, I'd set up the tee and place a plastic whiffle ball upon it. Whack. Over and over and over again. I learned how to get the sweet spot of the bat upon the fat part of the ball. I learned to move my feet to position in which direction the ball would travel once I hit it, mastering the ability to hit it to all fields (left, right, center) at will.

My mother loved that I had a muse. It was time to bring it into the real world. She brought me to a local batting cage, where an automated pitcher hurled balls to be hit.

I rushed for the fastest I could find. The sign read 80mph. I couldn't even track the ball, it was coming so fast. But I stayed in there. I knew that if I went down to the lower cages, it would be a tough climb back up. So I took my lumps. I missed a ton of balls. Kids snickered. They laughed at me. Some even openly wondered why I wasted my money. Even my mother asked, privately, if maybe I'd like to go to a slower cage.

I resisted.

This went on for weeks. Each time I'd make a little more contact. I'd get a little better each cage time, each allotment. Soon, I was in 5th grade hitting with fellows from high school. They almost shit themselves watching me.

I had exactly zero natural talent. No one in my family played sports. What about baseball captured me I can only guess.

But it taught me a lesson I never forgot. I need lots and lots and repetition to master anything, be it a language, concept, task, job, etc.

When I have become the best at something (and I have been awarded as The Best in a number of areas, none connected), it was due to those many hours in my concrete shitty yard and in batting cages. 

I never gave up. Even when I sucked. I just kept plugging along. I laughed at my failures and pushed on.

I need to heed that lesson again.

And I mean it.



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