I grew up in the painful 70’s, a time when baseball greats Yastrzemski, Rice, Lynn, and Evans, Luis Tiant and “Spaceman” Bill Lee gave their all every season and broke my heart each September. I am no jock by any stretch of the imagination, but of all sports, I still love baseball.
Not the inconsistent way my wife loves baseball, when the ball is flying out of the park and the runs are coming in (chicks dig the long ball, they say). I can get excited about a pitcher’s duel or a close play at first base. Even the verdant glow of an empty park can have a magical feeling to it.
You might be surprised, then, to know that for my entire childhood, baseball did not love me back. (Then again, maybe not; I am a Red Sox fan, after all). Like most boys in my home town, I was involved in the West Bridgewater little league. Unlike most boys, I stank to high heaven for three solid years. Looking at the WBYAA web page, I can’t even find a mention of boys’ baseball beyond the T-ball age group, but back in the day, it was a big deal. I just couldn’t do it, though, and with my father heavily involved in the program, I couldn’t back out, either.
Looking back, I think part of my failing was visual — I didn’t get my first pair of glasses until I was much older, and I probably needed them. Being left handed didn’t help much, either — young pitchers habitually went inside on me, and in a typical season I might be hit by a pitch three or four different games. The true root cause, however, is probably a simple lack of talent: I am a zero-tool player.
I’ve done the math, and based on the number of games in which I think I played, I probably have an on-base percentage of .032, the vast majority of which was due to my high HBP rating. In all my years of little league, I have one hit. One.
Gerry Remy once speculated that he can remember every major league home run he has ever hit because there are so few of them to remember. I feel the same way about my little league career. It was a high pitch, out of the strike zone, and I took a wild hack at it. Somehow, my bat connected, and the ball flew into right field. It may have been a double– my shock at having actually hit the ball has erased everything for me beyond that memory of the way that ball flew over the first baseman’s head. Based on that hit, I have calculated my lifetime batting average as .008, which has got to be some kind of YAA record.
In Ken Burn’s Documentary Baseball, Billy Crystal recalls telling the late great Ted Williams he had once seen him strike out. Williams, who has a .344 lifetime batting average, thought for a moment, then nodded. “Curveball,” he said. “Low and away.” Remy remembered his home runs. Williams remembered his strikeouts. I remember my hits.