In a recent post, I discussed how much I love bowling. As I was writing that post, I started listing other parts of my life that felt as natural as bowling (namely, swinging a baseball bat and being a pediatrician.) That post started to get longer and longer and go off on more and more tangents. It was at that point that I came to the realization that maybe that there was more than one post in there somewhere.
My first love was baseball. Sure, I have dalliances with football and hockey, but in the end, baseball and I were meant to be together forever. It has a rhythm to it that resonates with me. While most people hate all the standing around, adjusting and readjusting, tinkering with the lineup and endless trips to the mound, I enjoy it. I like the fact that the game is untimed. I like that the season is a gigantic marathon meant to determine the best team. Growing up, if I could be anything in the world, more than President or astronaut or doctor, I would have chosen baseball player.
To that end, we played a lot of Wiffle ball in our backyard. We had all shapes, sizes and thickness of plastic. We had the traditional big red Wiffle bat
as well as official skinny, yellow Wiffle bats by the handful
but we also had a secret weapon. No matter how many other bats got cracked, bent or broken, we always had The Black Bat. It was perfect because it wasn’t comically oversized like the red bats, but it had thicker, stiffer plastic than the flimsy yellow bats. It was a thing of beauty.
As a baseball batter, I was somewhat of an oddity. I threw with my right hand, but I would bat from the left side of the plate. There are many people who are switch hitters and hit from the right and left side of plate. But very few who would throw right nd only bat left. These days, I see it a little bit more often in the majors than when I was a kid, when it was virtually unheard of.
The best part of my oddness is how it came to be. As the story goes, when I was a little kid, we would play Wiffle ball in the the backyard. I would stand at the plate on the right side of the plate (as befitting a right-handed person.) My mom or dad would pitch to me and I would swing. Hard. And miss. (Hey, I was a little kid, what do you expect. Plus, as you can tell, I didn’t exactly make the majors.)
I would swing so hard that I would spin myself around. I would spin so much in fact that I would end up on the other side of the plate where I would proceed to assume the batting position. Left-handed. I would apparently just spin back and forth from left to right and back again. At some point however, all of the spinning stopped. I settled in to the left side of home plate and never looked back.
I still remember the day that my parents told me that I was old enough to start playing Little League baseball. I was bursting with joy inside because playing baseball was all I ever wanted to do. And the way I felt standing with a bat in my hand had a great deal to do with it.
For as long as I can remember, a baseball bat was not a unfeeling instrument that was picked up and used at the appointed time. It was an extension of my body longingly awaiting reconnection. Swinging the bat was effortless. To this day, when I see a baseball bat, I have a deep yearning to pick it up, swing it a few times and set it on my shoulder. Just to get that old feeling. I never knew how rare this feeling was. I always figured this is how it always felt to hold a baseball bat. But I was soon to realize just how special this feeling was.
In the middle of my short-lived baseball career, my dad and I came upon the idea that I should consider turning myself into a switch hitter. The backyard Wiffle ball story was the inspiration for the idea. We figured that since I was more than likely a “natural” right handed hitter, I had probably already done the difficult part by becoming so comfortable from the left side. And so my journey to swinging from both sides of the plate began.
But no matter how much I tried, my swing just never felt right from my supposed “natural” side. It felt slow and awkward and foreign. I suppose it is possible that if I would have dedicated more time and effort into it, I might have been more successful. But in the end, I think that I truly was meant to be a left handed hitter.
Unfortunately, this natural swing might also be confined solely to a baseball bat. At this point in my life, I have been swinging a golf club for over half of my life. I have taken lessons at least three different times in my life. And yet, despite all of this time and effort, most every time that I swing a golf club it feels like my body is rebelling against me.
When I first started on my golfing journey, I thought the main problem with my swing was that I was too programmed to swing a baseball bat instead of a golf club. Once baseball faded away and as I gained more experience with golf, surely my golf swing would round into shape. 20 years later, I am still waiting.
Unfortunately, extreme comfort with swinging a bat does not automatically equate to professional level ability to hit a speeding baseball with said bat. But it was fun while it lasted. Despite the fact that this innate skill never led to a career, it still led to something meaningful. It furthered my love of baseball, it created a lifetime of wonderful memories and it provides me with a touchstone as to who I am. Whenever the world seems a bit off-kilter and I am not sure of myself, I think back to a time when things made sense and all was right with the world. When I was holding a bat in my hand.