One day, after we got to CA, I was wandering around the neighborhood and came upon a baseball field. Kids were playing with adults and I saw that the following week Little Leagure tryouts would be held. As part of my never ending attempt to get out of the house, I tried out and got on a team mostly because they took everybody.
I had never played the game before and quickly learned a) that I could not hit the ball, and b) if I accidently did, it didn’t go anywhere, and c) I was afraid of being hit by the ball, and d) I couldn’t catch a fly ball, and e) I could hardly throw from third to first. But I was undeterred; I was reading baseball fictions for kids and even some histories of baseball teams, and I watched parts of games on Saturday with Dizzy Dean as the announcer.
Because I knew my limitations and faced them squarely, I decided that the only way I would play on a team would be to become a pitcher. I had observed that pitchers lost when they could not get the ball across the plate and walked everybody. So in the backyard, I drew a square on the block wall about shoulder high for a little leaguer and went out back and threw the ball over and over again in the direction of that square. Over and over again, until I had the control problem under control.
I had also observed that most Little League batters, about 75%, were in fact just as afraid of the ball as I was. They were really afraid of big guys or short compact guys who threw the ball fast and hard. Unfortunately, I was not short and compact or big; I was skinny and gangly. In my readings, I had become fascinated with the spitball pitcher and generally with pitchers who threw junk. I decided I would throw junk and further to scare the batters I would throw side arm. I perfected the motion so that for an instant the poor batter would feel I was throwing the ball directly at him but then it would zip across the plate at the knees and sometimes I got it to drop directly on home plate.
Something else I think was going on. Perhaps I had settled on pitching because one could practice at it with nobody else present. Dizzy Dean threw rocks at a barn door. Usually one throws a ball to somebody else; but to do that one needs somebody else to throw it to. I played pickup games of course, but I never recruited anybody to pitch to. Instead in deciding to be a pitcher, I was beginning to show in late childhood that I was an insipient outsider or solitary. Moreover, by deciding to become a pitcher—something at which I could practice alone—I was learning how to manage as a solitary.
Baseball is a game for people who love people (are the luckiest people in the world). I always loved that walk to the mound. Alone. And while I don’t watch baseball much anymore, I hate those commercials that keep us from watching the reliever walk causually in from the bullpen. Out of nowhere.