Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Nothing Soft About Softball

I enjoy watching baseball because it’s one of the few sports I actually understand…other than bowling. It’s also one of the few sports (other than bowling) that I actually have played.

Okay, so I played it way back in junior high, and it was softball, not baseball. And I didn’t play it because I wanted to, I played it because it was part of my mandatory physical education class; a class that I loved so much, I usually spent the night before praying I’d come down with the bubonic plague just so I’d have an excuse to stay home from school.

Back when I was in junior high, girls had to wear skirts or dresses to school. And, heaven forbid, if any girl ever dared to wear pants, the reaction from the teachers would be one of such shock, such revulsion, you’d swear she’d shown up naked. The student also was sent straight back home to change into a “proper” dress.

So whenever our physical education class involved playing softball out in the field near the school, we usually stood out there in skirts or dresses, complete with nylon stockings and our stylish “squash-heeled” shoes. We looked more like a group of tea-party goers than softball players.

To be honest, I wanted nothing to do with softball. For one thing, I’d expected the ball to be, well…soft. The first time I picked up a softball, I figured that the guy who’d named it must have been out binge-drinking beforehand. Instead of the wad of cotton I’d expected, the softball felt more like a rock wrapped in leather. That’s when I decided that there was no way I was going to try to catch that thing. Past experience already had taught me that I was lousy at catching stuff (even big stuff) so anything smaller than a beach ball was destined to conk me on the head.

Unfortunately, the physical education teacher had other ideas. She told me I had to play first base, which, technically, did involve some catching. So I took my place at the base (after someone told me which one it was), and there I stood, wondering how on earth I was going to be able to do any serious running in my fitted black skirt. The only thing I was wearing that looked even remotely softball-ish was the bulky baseball glove on my right hand.

The glove didn’t make my hand feel any safer, though. Heck, I’d have needed something the size of a laundry basket strapped to my wrist to give me even a remote chance of catching the ball. So under the circumstances, I did the only thing I could do…I promised God that I would eat my spinach without giving my mother a hard time ever again, if only He wouldn’t allow any balls to be hit in my direction.

Well, I guess God thought that the prayer from the girl who wanted to hit the ball and not strike out in front of her friends took priority over my spinach prayer, because the second batter hit a fly ball right in my direction. When I looked up and saw the ball coming straight down at me, I immediately reacted…by covering my head with the baseball glove so I wouldn’t be knocked unconscious.

The ball missed me by about two inches.

I just stood there, smiling with relief, while the batter ran right past me and kept on running. For some reason, the physical education teacher wasn’t pleased.

“The object of the game is to CATCH the ball before the runner gets to your base!” she said to me.

I shook my head. “I’m not about to try to catch that thing! It’s gonna hurt!”

And if I thought my catching was bad, my batting was even worse. I held the bat as if it were an ax, and “chopped” at every ball. I never hit a thing, other than my own kneecap.

I volunteered to sit on the bench for the rest of the softball season, but that sort of thing wasn’t allowed in physical education class. Every student had to participate in every activity. So I was relegated to the outfield during the rest of the games. In fact, I was so far out in the outfield, I could have walked home, had a snack, watched TV and then come back, and no one would have known the difference. Even Joe DiMaggio couldn’t have hit a ball that far.

Junior-high softball did change the history of physical education at my school, however. You see, one day one of my classmates was running to second base when her wraparound skirt unwrapped and fell down around her ankles. She kicked the skirt out of the way and finished running the bases in her slip.

After that, girls were allowed to wear pants on the days when physical education classes were held because even though pants were considered to be shamefully improper attire, slips were considered to be even more shameful.

Personally, I think they should have handed out crash helmets, too.