Sunday, September 25, 2016
Little League Baseball, First Row, Second from Right, Emporia, KS
In the course of a lifetime we all have had thousands upon thousands of experiences in our daily lives. The vast majority are uneventful and mundane. They pass without notice almost immediately. As we age, they pass with even more immediacy. For instance, there are days when I have to pause and consider what I had for breakfast! But a breakfast of cereal and coffee which I have enjoyed for years is mundane and uneventful.
However, there are those milestone events in our lives that will stay with us forever. Somehow, our memory cells keep these on a short leash and we can recall them at a moment’s notice. And It’s certain that one man’s eventful experience will have a much different priority than another’s. When you think about it, there may be some that are universal like graduations, marriages, births, deaths, first loves, near death experiences, etc.
For some reason, one of the early milestone memories for me occurred when I was probably around the age of ten. That’s now over sixty years ago for me. And this memory has popped up in my mind’s eye off and on all of my life. It wasn’t an experience that the hundred or so other people who witnessed it were even aware of at the time. I alone knew that it was special.
My father was a very good baseball player and he had me fielding baseballs at an early age. I especially liked to catch fly balls. When he was available to assist our little league team practices, he would hit fly balls to us kids. After a few years, I was catching fly balls that were as far as he could hit them. It was even more challenging in the ever present Kansas winds that always are moving around the land. I got good enough to finally make the All Star game one season as a right fielder. The wild card for that game, however, was that it was played under the lights at night. I didn’t have a lot of practice catching balls at night.
Right fielders don’t get a lot of action in a ball game. I had been moving around the outfield looking for four leaf clovers. But then the game got interesting as the batter singled to left field. The next batter up was a pretty big kid, so we all shifted and backed up. It only took a couple of pitches before he found one he liked and he hit a long fly ball to right field! I quickly maneuvered over about a dozen steps to my right and backed up another few steps with my glove over my right shoulder in anticipation of a throw to the infield. The ball sailed up into the night sky and suddenly I was blinded by the overhead flood lights! I totally lost sight of the baseball that was hurling towards me. I had about two seconds to react. I could duck to avoid getting a concussion or I could trust my instincts and stay put. So without much time to debate my choices, I held my ground and no one was more surprised than me when the ball smacked into my baseball glove. I quickly noticed the runner at first base running to second knowing that the skinny kid in right field couldn’t possibly make that catch. So I fired a strike into first base for a double play. The stands erupted (as much as our parents could muster) and I trotted into our dugout amid shouts of “nice play!”
To this day I still remember that blinded catch. On reflection, I probably would have never made that play if I hadn’t practiced catching hundreds of fly balls prior to that one catch. I didn’t realize it at the time but all those hours of practice had prepared me for the only catch I still remember. I remember the days of practice, but I don’t remember any other catches. That one catch taught me early in life that there’s only three things that we need to do to get better at anything—practice, practice and practice! Something I taught my daughter as she grew up. And the older I get I’m still not certain in the midst of that bright white light that I made that catch by myself. My guardian angel has worked overtime on many occasions and just might be a baseball fan.