October 21, 2009 at 8:00 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
People always ask me if I played baseball. I can see why, honestly. My nerdy side certainly shines through in my writing. I also frequently reject commonplace baseball wisdom. So it doesn’t surprise me that people wonder whether or not I played. I figured I should just go ahead and write this post so I never again have to write something when someone asks me if I played.
I was born in south Georgia, where little league baseball was as much an institution as Church or Elementary School was, to a family of Braves fans. My father is a 2nd generation Braves fan and my mother, though she doesn’t care for sports in general unless I am (or my school or sister or her school is) involved, is also nominally a 2nd generation Braves fan. I remember my grandfather telling me stories about sitting in his car listening to the Braves on the radio (he wasn’t very affluent and didn’t have a TV, not that most people in south Georgia had TV’s at the time) when they were so bad it was extremely difficult to be a Braves fan. The point is, the Braves have been a part of my life for a long time. Of course, this was the default in south Georgia. The culture of that time and place was largely infused with the Braves. And baseball in general. So you can see why little league baseball was so widespread when I grew up.
Naturally, like every other kid I knew at the time, I started playing baseball at a young age. First it was T-Ball, then coach pitch, then machine pitch. I believe I played T-Ball when I was 4 and 5, coach pitch when I was 6 and 7, and machine pitch when I was 8 and 9, though I’m not exactly sure. I mostly played on the left side of the infield, mainly 3B. My best friend played SS next to me for 6 years. I occasionally played one of the OF positions or on the right side of the infield. I’m fairly sure the only positions I never played in little-league were P and C. Then again, I might have played P in T-Ball, but does that really count?
I was generally regarded as a good fielder and a good base runner, but a rather lousy hitter. I wasn’t particularly fast or sure-handed, I was just a smart player. I used my head on the field. Still, it didn’t really make up for the fact that I had probably less than a dozen extra-base hits my entire 6-year little-league career. I spent most of the 6-year career hitting 7th or 8th in the line-up. I hit a few inside-the-park home runs in coach pitch (with my father pitching) and I hit two home runs in one game in machine pitch, but those are the only home runs I ever hit. In fact, the inside-the-park home runs probably would’ve been scored doubles if anyone was paying attention to the rules. It was more about family, friendship, and fun to the people I played with than rigorous competition and strict adherence to the rules. Perhaps not the best environment to cultivate top-flight talent, but life is simpler and more beautiful down there. Ambition is probably the last thing you’ll see, but we learned a lot more about life and morality on the playing field than we learned about baseball. There’s something to be said for that, I think. Maybe they weren’t teaching us how to be the best baseball players we could be, but they sure as hell were teaching us how to be the best human beings we could be. I think that generally has more utility.
The summer after 4th grade my family moved from south Georgia to northwest Georgia. It was rather surreal for me. The new position my father accepted necessitated him to move in June, leaving my mother, sister, and I back in south Georgia for two months. My sister was pretty much too young to know what was going on. I had attended a summer camp the previous summer and planned to follow suit. It just so happened that the move coincided with my summer camp. My parents drove me up to North Carolina from south Georgia, dropped me off, then two weeks later they returned to pick me up, but instead of returning to south Georgia, we drove to our new home in northwest Georgia. With only one parent scrambling to tie up loose ends before a move on top of dealing with my sister and me on top of all the scheduling issues, I didn’t get a chance to play baseball that summer. It was fine by me, I enjoyed playing basketball and throwing baseballs around in my back yard just the same.
The following summer, the summer after the big move, I resumed playing baseball. The competition in northwest Georgia was stiffer. They had been facing live pitching for at least three years. I was on a team (and in a league) comprised mostly of kids a year older than me. For some reason, most of the people in my grade didn’t play baseball. And it wasn’t just a school thing, either, it was virtually a county-wide phenomenon. Combined with my 18-month hiatus from the sport and limitations even when I had previously played, I was understandably terrible. Rather than my usual hot corner, I was relegated to the role of 4th outfielder, so to speak. I started in ~30% of the games. I wasn’t very good in the field, either. In general, I was fairly worthless. Not that I didn’t try, I was constantly at the batting cages attempting to improve, but my lack of experience and ability was too much to overcome. About halfway through the season I still didn’t have a single hit and the coaches instructed me to attempt to bunt in over 75% of my plate appearances, regardless of the situation. Probably wasn’t a bad idea, though it didn’t really work, and I didn’t get any hits doing that, either. As my production failed to increase, my playing time began to decrease. I was playing very infrequently and contemplated quitting (of course, there’s no way in hell my dad was going to let me quit. No sir. That’s just not the way things were done in my family). I should add that I was probably a metaphor for the team. The team was awful. We entered the last game of the season having failed to win a game and I still hadn’t gotten a hit. I was given the start in left. For some reason, a switch clicked for me that game and I went something like 5-for-5 (I didn’t make an out, I know that) with a stolen base. Additionally, I made a running catch for the last out of the game, something I’d failed to do all year (most of the time if the ball was hit in my direction, no matter the difficulty of the play, you could consider it an extra-base hit. The only plays I had made in the outfield were of the “beyond routine” variety). The team narrowly won and we ended our season on a high note.
For me, that was pretty much the last meaningful baseball game. I elected not to continue for a number of reasons. Probably most importantly, academics came, always have come, and always will come first in my family. I attended a public school when I lived in south Georgia but switched to a private school in northwest Georgia. It’s not that I wasn’t capable, but I simply wasn’t prepared for middle school. The curriculum was rigorous, I was slightly ADD, and I had never studied a single thing in my entire life. It was a rather big adjustment. My parents didn’t force me to quit baseball, but I was at the age where a kid sort of decides his strengths and weaknesses, his passions and joys, etc. Basically, I couldn’t continue my 5-sport regiment (Swimming–by far my best sport as a child, Soccer, Baseball, Basketball, and Football), and was forced to choose which ones to cut out.
I wasn’t the most athletic kid. I wasn’t fat by any stretch, or even pudgy, but I wasn’t particular muscular and certainly wasn’t skinny. In an effort to become more athletic, on top of the fact that I wasn’t very good at it to begin with, I decided to discontinue my baseball career in favor of sports that required more running (Soccer, Lacrosse, Cross Country, Basketball, and Swimming. I played at least two of them every year for then next 7 years of my life). I later made an attempt to pick baseball back up, but it’s not exactly like riding a bike and I was unsuccessful.
I don’t regret quitting baseball. It would’ve had nothing to do with what I’m doing now. I was never going to be a professional (or even collegiate) athlete anyway–I’m just under 6’0″ 180 LB and considering my academic load (I took an extremely grueling schedule in high school. My junior year, I had no free periods (lunch included, I had to eat during the 15 minute break). Freshmen and Sophomore year I had a lunch period, but no additional free periods. The default was to have a lunch period and two additional free periods. Not to brag or anything, it’s important to my point), I wouldn’t have had time to develop the skills needed considering my physical limitations. Additionally, with all of the baseball knowledge I’ve accrued over the years through observation, discussions, and research, I don’t think playing in high school would’ve given me a significant advantage in what I do for this space. I’d like to think so, at least. Though I did greatly enjoy my time playing (especially in south Georgia) and if I could do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same.
So there’s my story. I hope you either found it useful or entertaining or it helps you understand a bit about where my writing comes from. In some ways, I think my detachment from the game gives me a unique perspective that you don’t find in a lot of places. Not that it’s any better, hell, it’s probably not as advantageous. But it’s unique, which has some sort of value.
Lastly, I don’t consider it an insult when people point out that I never played in high school. Neither did many of the great minds in the game and writing about the game. And frankly, if someone devalues my, or anyone’s, opinions simply because I (or they) didn’t play baseball in high school, they’re probably a close-minded sack of shit anyway.