Sabbatical: The catch

   Playing baseball as a 12-year-old, I once made the All Star team. Coach told me it was because I could bunt. My tendency in all aspects of baseball was to let the ball play me, as if it were a living thing, and I the object of its pernicious pursuits. Playing infield, grounders chased me like wild rabbits. In the outfield, flyballs came at me as if it were a game of dodgeball.

   So it happened one day that I was in left field (symbolically as well as actually) when the most powerful hitter in our league, a kid named Rudy, came to the plate. Coach kept motioning me to back up deeper into the outfield. By the time he signalled okay, I felt I was so deep, I could barely make out the players on the infield. Anything hit this deep would surely be a home run, because I'd certainly never see it.

   Sure enough, Rudy lifted an amazing flyball so high and so deep that it appeared to me to disappear into the clouds. As far back as I was, I started backpedaling even more. I thought, the only way I'd catch this is if it plunked me on the head and stuck in the crater it made in my skull. As the ball came down with apparent reentry burns on its cover, I threw up my glove above my head, shut my eyes and prayed the impact wouldn't kill me. To my complete amazement, I felt a whump like a meteor hit my glove and stay there. I opened my eyes and stared into the glove, where the still-smoldering asteroid sat perfectly ensconced in the webbing.

   As I trotted back to the dugout, I saw my teammates standing and staring at me, as if they'd seen some sort of miracle, at which in truth was only a routine long, loud out. "None of us thought you'd catch that," one said, as I took my seat on the bench. I couldn't argue with them. Truly, the ball caught my glove and not the other way around.

   The end of my baseball career came when I saw my first - and last - curve ball. I was at the plate, preparing to bunt when I saw the pitch leave the pitcher's hand and head straight for my head. I froze, my eyes wide with the death projectile speeding at me, bent on crushing my cranium. My legs fell out from under me, arms akimbo, the bat flying out of my hands, as I desperately crashed to the ground to avoid certain death. I heard the ball hit the catcher's mitt, and when I opened my eyes, I saw the catcher and the umpire staring curiously down at me. "Strike one," the umpire intoned. I took two more pitches, standing so far off the plate I would have needed a 2x4 to make contact. Out on three pitches, I walked sullen and defeated back to the dugout. "That curve made you look like you were being attacked by bees," one of my teammates remarked.

   When I started high school the following year, I sought the more agreeable competitions of the debate and forensic team.

  

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