“Purple haze---all around my brain. Lately things don’t seem the same...»
Once again an old song sends me reeling back to the daze of my youth, this time to the 1968 Little League tryouts, my first. I was a skinny, bespectacled 10-year-old who couldn’t hit a lick. I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a baseball bat!
Needless to say, I didn’t make majors that year, but as a small consolation, my mighty minor league squad, 20-30 Club, the blue team, did win the championship.If memory serves, we were undefeated, no thanks to yours truly, however, because although I played every inning of every game, I hit at a spectacularly lackluster clip, failing to muster a single base hit. Ouch?
At the plate, two sounds were all too familiar: the sound of the unscathed baseball hitting the catcher’s mitt, followed by the sound of the umpire bellowing, “Stee-ee-rike three-ee-ee!” Double-ouch. I hated striking out because I hated letting down my teammates. I swung the bat, but simply swung and missed a lot, as in every single time. Perfect. Ju-u-u-ust perfect. Zero contact? Ever? That’s hard to do! Each pitch was a mirage. I’d catch a glimpse of the ball as it left the pitcher’s hand, but somewhere between the mound and home plate, the baseball seemed to vanish. Disappear-o. I’d swing away anyway. Whoosh! Better luck next year, slugger.
Soon enough, it was time for the following year’s tryouts, leading up to a fresh new season. Thankfully, during the off-season I’d turned in my thick, Coke-bottle-bottom eyeglasses in exchange for my first pair of hard contact lenses. Yet I was still less than confident about the upcoming tryouts. Okay, so I was flat out a-skeered!
Ah, tryouts: a necessary evil, of course, but like it or not, the time had come, so bring it!
’Twas the annual gathering of the nervous and fidgety, and those were just the parents. For we wee wannabees it was the obligatory cattle call of petrified yoots, each trembling hopeful hoping against hope to catch the eye of at least one major league manager willing to take a flyer on some sketchy newbie. To standardize the process, each suspect, er, prospect, would take a turn facing the dreaded pitching machine from Hell, a rickety contraption of unknown vintage which seemed ready to shake itself to pieces with each snap-delivery, serving up automated chin music with every wayward pitch. Prepare to duck, and that rhymes with...
As I took my place in the batter’s box, I was quaking in my cleats. All eyes were on me. Coaches and parents and friends, oh my!
I took my stance. The pitching machine convulsed. As soon as the pitch was on its way, I noticed something peculiar about the baseball. I could see it!
Well, this was a first. I could clearly make out its rotation, location, and velocity, rather than that same old invisible blur. Hello! With my new contacts (...thank you, Dr. Easton) instead of my old “bottles,” the pitch seemed to approach in slow motion, and appeared the size of a medicine ball. Stunning. So this is what it’s really like? This is what I’d been missing all along, so to speak? Awesome-sauce! But now it was time to stop thinking, and just hit the dang ball! So I swung, and to my surprise, made solid contact. Ker-rack!
Well, well, well, this was new. This was absolutely fine! The next pitch? Another solid ker-rack.
The pitches after that? Ker-rack. Ker-rack. Ker-rack. Get the picture? This was hella fun.
Finally. And I fell in love, at first sight, literally.
I was picked for the majors by the manager of Crawford Plumbing, the red team. We won the ‘69 championship, taking both halves of the season. Suh-weet!
I played sparingly, but eked out a few base knocks, doing well enough to send me well on my way to a lifelong love affair with the game I adore to this day, although nowadays only from afar as a fan, alas.
I vividly recall putting on my major league uniform for the first time, a family photo-op, to be sure. Blaring from my trusty transistor radio was the new mega-smash hit “Purple Haze” by the very much still-alive-and-kicking Jimi Hendrix [sigh].
“...Excuse me---while I kiss the sky!”
Far out. And solid!