Want to know what it felt like to be a geeky kid playing little league in the south? You know, where victory in sports is second only to getting a front row seat to the apocalypse so you can fling boogers at all the sinning yankees? This is sort of what it felt like.
Can't blame my parents for this one. I put myself through two, three years of athletics hell. I sat out baseball season during the summer after 3rd grade because I thought sitting in my room building model airplanes was a lot more fun. I'd get drug out to the pool or the river by my family, but mostly I wanted to just be left alone to build my airplanes and my fantasies all at once.
When I came back for the 4th grade, on the first day I was the victim of being "dogged" by all the other kids. "Dogging" someone was southern-white-redneckspeak for "juvenile insult", and I was defenseless against the onslaught. It was a miserable first few months of school.
The only thing I could think of that was different from the summer previous was that I had sat out baseball season. So you can bet the next summer that came around I went out for baseball even though I was miserable at it and miserable doing it. My dad tried to coach us the first time through, but he had this bizzare idea that kids baseball should be more about fun than about winning. We were the worst team in the league that year, although we did get to savor beating the pricks-of-the-western-world #1 team on a technicality, their only loss of the season.
And guess what... the first day of school in the 5th grade was much more tolerable. I suppose it was something like how diseases worked when the Spaniards encountered the Indians... having no natural immunity to "dogging" (in the 4th grade), I was prostrate before its powers. But by "immunizing" myself against it by slowly building up immunity over the summer, I was "resistant" by school time.
And so it went throughout grade school. For some reason I always ended up on winning teams after that. I think this was due in no small part because my brother, who was much much better at all of this than I was, was playing in the same league as me and the really good teams would pick him and then pick me, I guess as part of the package. I never got a hit, but for some reason kept getting beaned on the noggin (thank god for helmets), and therefore got on base more than once.
But it wasn't always awful, especially when your team won, even if you didn't have much to do with it. To this day the sound of Abba, the smell of Deep Woods Off, or the feel of a hot, humid night take me back to 1978, ten years old, and the unbearable Charlie-Brownish doomed-but-still-trying-anyway excitement of stepping up to the plate.