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15 December 2016 @ 10:30 am
Real LJ Idol: "Bring It On Home"  
Bring It On Home
idol season ten | week 3 | 1167 words
Brushback Pitch


When I was a child growing up in Oregon, I dreaded playing softball. I'm not talking about the fastballs, curveballs, and other tricky components of baseball—those would have been impossibly hard. No, this was just slow-pitch school P.E. softball.

When you have lousy depth perception, regular softball is already hard enough.

I wrote an Idol entry a year ago about the visual limitations I had during childhood. Third grade was when I was finally "busted" as extremely nearsighted and prescribed eyeglasses. But even earlier in the third grade, well before my vision was corrected, was when I first encountered softball.

During my three years at that school, I was often doing something different from the other kids. Usually, I was studying advanced reading or math (whenever the teachers' aid was available). Sometimes, I just did independent reading.

Imagine years of spending most P.E. sessions indoors with books, and then one day your schedule opens up during P.E. and you're dragged outside to join the rest of the class for a game. You know nothing about this game, you're just told to stand in position with a bat, and hit the ball when it goes by.

Something whips past you. What was that? "Strike." Something whips past you again. Was that it? "Ball." Then something hits you.

"Ow! Why did you—"

"Take your base."

I didn't know what that meant, and I couldn't actually see where the bases were, so I was guided to first base, then to second on a later play. At some point, I probably screwed up and got tagged out, or the team struck out too many times and the inning closed.

That is a horrible way to be introduced to a sport!

Once I got glasses, I had a much better idea of how the game was supposed to go, but I still couldn't hit anything. I couldn't catch anything either, unless it was slow and relatively flat. Fly balls are my nemeses. Even now, they climb in the air and seem to 'hang' for a while, and then they unpredictably shoot out in random directions and I fail to catch them. I know people with good depth perception must see something different, but that's what it looks like to me. Racquetballs and tennis balls are worse. Do you know what's good? Basketballs with black lines. They're large, and the lines help show that they're moving.

Schools like softball—it's a fairly low-equipment sport. A few bats and balls, some mitts, a large area of grass or dirt, and you're set. For most of my childhood from third grade onward, if there was P.E. and it wasn't raining, we'd be playing softball.

I lived in eternal hope of timely rain.

In seventh grade, P.E. became a regular event 2-3 times a week, with its own teacher. He was patient and really tried to help me, but I was more hopeless than most. I played right outfield and missed the few balls that came my way, and almost always struck out at bat. Then one day, I started paying attention to one of the boys on my team.

Yes, there was a crush involved, but that wasn't all. This boy had a really aggressive batting stance, and he swung hard. He made a lot of contact with the ball, and while he hit a lot of foul balls, everyone knew he might really slug one out there at some point. The other kids ignored the foul hits for the promise of a good one.

I observed, and I learned. Legs apart, knees bent, right leg back, cinch up on the bat, and then swing hard with the whole body. Elementary school pitchers are just trying to get the ball over the plate, nothing tricky, so before long… I could actually hit the ball! I had struggled for years to make contact, but now I finally had a shot at it. I hit a lot of hard, foul balls, mostly over the right backstop (signaling a late reaction to the ball, because again, lousy depth perception). But some of those hits were good.

It is amazing how much people will forgive if you show real commitment and potential.

Basketball and volleyball, I could actually play, and even P.E. level soccer. But for softball, my main goal was just to avoid being humiliated every time I came up to bat. That sport has everything I'm bad at (and yes—I also throw like a girl), but the illusion of potential batting skill got the other kids off my back. I never liked the sport, but at least I no longer dreaded it on a daily basis.

I left softball behind after 9th grade P.E., but it returned later in a different form.

Years ago, we used to go camping with the kids in the Sierras. Our regular campground was full one weekend, so we camped where we could—in this case, Snag Lake. It was a small, shaded campground with about 30-40 feet of lake access and an active mosquito population. Unlike Oregon mosquitoes, California mosquitoes respect neither season nor daylight. Instead of coming out at dawn and dusk, they're waiting for you 24/7, especially in the shade.

The first day there, I drove off in the car for a solo hike while my husband stayed with the kids. It turned out there were no trails near the Snag Lake campground, and it was too early to go in the lake. Before long, the kids were bored and under mosquito attack. My husband took stock of what we'd brought and what was available at the campground, and in desperation, he invented the game of whackball.

Whackball is similar to softball, except that it is played with a tiny nerf football and uses a hiking pole as a bat. There are four bases (wherever you can fit them), a pitcher, a batter, and an outfielder. The advantage of the "equipment" is that you can't hit the ball very far, which is good as the inaugural game was held in a small area bounded by the lake, other campers, and a highway.

The kids really enjoyed that game, and we still play it when we go camping—making sure to take the appropriate equipment. While there is no poison oak at those elevations, there is a lot of random brush, and it's easy to lose the ball in a patch of weeds or manzanita. The ill-suited bat and the irregular-shaped shock-absorbent nerf ball really help keep things in line.

Still, the most frequent instigator of impromptu ball searches is me. Even decades later, old habits die hard.

When it's my turn at bat, I find myself striking that batting stance and gripping the hiking pole tight. The nerf football wibble-wobbles its way to me slowly, so much easier to track than any normal ball…

As soon as it comes in range, I'm right back in middle school again, lining up and swinging for the fences.

-- fin—

Voting this week is contestant-only.

i_17bingo: toileti_17bingo on December 15th, 2016 10:03 pm (UTC)
Something whips past you. What was that? "Strike." Something whips past you again. Was that it? "Ball." Then something hits you.

This made me laugh. The whole piece did. It was a lovely little stroll through memories.

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2016 10:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I have to say, that first encounter with softball was utterly mystifying. The teacher was trying to dump out all the rules at once, people were standing everywhere for what seemed no particular reason, and there was no ball to be seen. Kind of an "Are you joking with me?" experience.

It made a LOT more sense after I got glasses, though the ball still moved far too fast to hit. :D
cindytsuki_no_bara on December 16th, 2016 03:59 am (UTC)
whackball! i love it. i was similarly terrible at softball, but not because i couldn't see (i didn't really need glasses until college) - i was just uncoordinated. i didn't even have a cute boy to learn a good stance from.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2016 07:44 am (UTC)
It's a great name for that sport-- there's less hitting of the ball than flailing at it and trying to whack it.

My dread of softball was a tangible thing for so long. That was almost four years of being utterly lousy at it, and WHY did that have to be the fallback sport for most of my childhood? I guess in other parts of the U.S., kids had a similar dread of dodge-ball, but that was a different game where I grew up and thus a whole different cultural experience!
rayasorayaso on December 16th, 2016 07:32 pm (UTC)
I love these reminiscences, with the mood-evoking details and finding humor in the bad parts. I also enjoyed the movement from softball to whackball. Your description of the mosquitoes was perfect -- no relief from their attacks. I really liked that you never quit trying to play softball, and learned the value of a well-hit foul ball.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2016 10:52 pm (UTC)
Ideally, those balls were not supposed to be foul balls, but that was usually the best I could manage! Hitting them at all was a miracle-- hitting them sooner was sometimes impossible.

Whackball was such a great invention-- it has stood the test of time, at least in our family. And it makes me think so fondly of the "bladder ball" version of volleyball that my gym teacher used to occasionally have us play. Sometimes, weirdness is more entertaining than skill!
Teo Sayseternal_ot on December 17th, 2016 03:26 pm (UTC)
I am not a sports person either and dreaded my P.T lessons in school. (that's what we call it here ; Physical Training)
That is a horrible way to be introduced to a sport! Hahaha..Indeed. The description made me laugh out loud.

A good read. Well written!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 12:07 am (UTC)
I was a decently well-coordinated kid, but thanks to the lack of good depth perception, almost any sport that involves balls and sticks (including tennis and racquetball) tend to be a challenge. Which does not leave much, at least in those school years!
penpusher: ESPNpenpusher on December 17th, 2016 06:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. Sports can sometimes be the means to a mean. After all, if you aren't good at sports, that's just another reason to be hated by your classmates! I don't think P.E. instructors fully understand that, as, I'm pretty sure, they all excelled in gym class!

But I'd love to take a crack at Whackball! Do they still make Nerf Footballs? So much fun! (Except for the painful parts.)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 12:11 am (UTC)
I think it's hard for those who are physically gifted to even imagine the plight of those who are not. I was actually pretty good at a couple of sports, but softball was hopeless. Most coaches think that if you just try harder...

Whackball IS fun! The original ball was a promotional thing from a bank, which got accidentally deleted from our household at one point. You can still buy those mini Nerf footballs, though-- and I do mean mini! They are 5-6 inches at most end-to-end, which is perfect for the tiny hands of very small children.
bleodsweanbleodswean on December 18th, 2016 01:09 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this, K. I love how much of your "can do" attitude was there, even as a child with a visual limitation that must have been incredibly mysterious to you and those around you. Children are so...infamous for their low tolerance for such differences. You persevered and learned to hit the ball!

The camping story is classic! I love how families have these small inventions that are so intimately particular to our unique constitutions.

Nice work on this non-fic piece!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 12:17 am (UTC)
Children can be just horrible when they spot something they can make fun off. Really, by 7th grade there were a lot of girls and some boys who weren't any better at softball than I as-- but they were usually popular, so they were forgiven. It was SUCH a relief to be able to really smack that ball, after so many years of failure.

It's funny, where we usually camp there are several trailheads, a stream with a swimming hole (which is pretty darn cold, but still), and large boulders and open spaces to climb and explore. That "backup" campground had dirt, lots of people, and an opening into the lake, but it was all in the shade all day, and swarming with mosquitoes. Ugh.
encrefloueencrefloue on December 18th, 2016 03:51 pm (UTC)
Loved this bit of rumination into your past. And you're right! That was a horribly poor introduction to the sport. I wish PE hadn't been so cookie-cutter; movement is so important, but not everyone finds these group sports to be accessible or even logical! Well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 12:19 am (UTC)
:D After that first encounter with softball, I would feel justified in resenting the sport even if it hadn't continued to be an ongoing problem!

Back in those early years, we had a lot of running around games like tag, and there was foursquare and dodgeball (which was a 2D game played up against a wall, 1 on 1, not the thing you see in movies). But once softball reared its head, it never went away. :O
(no subject) - encrefloue on December 20th, 2016 02:41 pm (UTC) (Expand)
mrstottenmrstotten on December 18th, 2016 11:50 pm (UTC)
Wonderfully written as usual :)

My son had a visual impairment and we didn't realise how bad it was until he turned three even with glasses his vision is still affected so he thrives better at solitary sports so this rang very true

From a writing perspective it flowed well and the descriptive touches pulled the reader in. Well done
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 12:25 am (UTC)
I'm sorry your son has some experience of this also. When you're the child, you usually don't realize that other people see something you can't. You think you're just not clever enough or trying hard enough. And if it's bad enough, you may have no memory of ever seeing better. Discovering that a three-year-old needs glasses is probably not something that would have happened in my day. When I was very young, they didn't really test you until you could recognize the alphabet, so around age 5. At 5, there were no letters anywhere in the doctor's office that I could see, so I faked my way through. For my kids, they start earlier with shapes (like houses or cars), which helps identify the problem much earlier!

I hope your son is able to do better with sports than I did. He may have gotten glasses soon enough to develop depth perception, which would really help.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
veritasveritas_st on December 19th, 2016 01:33 pm (UTC)
In the UK we have a similar sport called Rounders and I always hated it. I never seemed to hit the ball ever. I was better at Cricket, and Field Hockey but something about holding the bat high like that...just could never do it!

Now give me an old roll of gift wrap and a stress ball, playing in the office and I'm your girl!

Thank you for this sweet insight into your memories.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 06:10 pm (UTC)
I always wondered what Rounders was! People always talk about baseball being derived from cricket, but rounders sounds much closer. The small leather ball and the long, rounded-end bat up high make it SO much harder to hit anything.

It sounds as if you have your own office version of whackball, plus the lack of a competitive atmosphere to make it easier to succeed. :D

Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment. :)
(no subject) - veritas_st on December 20th, 2016 04:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Raised by Wolvessinnamongirl on December 19th, 2016 06:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your entry!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 08:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading! :)
mamas_minionmamas_minion on December 19th, 2016 06:41 pm (UTC)
This was fun to read. In the schools I went to it was kick ball most of the time instead of softball for PE at least in elementary school. Whack ball sounds fun.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 08:40 pm (UTC)
Oh, I would have loved kickball as a tradeoff! Though we often had 30+ kids at a time, so I wonder if that's too many?

It wouldn't have saved me in third grade, even though the ball is bigger-- I still wouldn't have been able to see the bases! But I probably could have at least kicked the ball. ;)
magazhchimagazhchi on December 19th, 2016 07:19 pm (UTC)

I really enjoyed reading this.Whackball is something I would try next time I am in a group. Thanks for sharing this and also for the laughs.

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 08:41 pm (UTC)
Whackball is surprisingly fun! Introducing an element of intentional incompetence and unpredictability into a sport helps people not take it so seriously, and kind of levels the playing field a little, too. Both help!
Rebeccabeeker121 on December 19th, 2016 07:56 pm (UTC)
I relate to a lot of this - I got glasses at age 7 and also played right field in our pee-wee league. I'm impressed you figured out hitting by observation, you're right about potential goodness being as good as at that age, especially in PE. This was fun.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 19th, 2016 08:44 pm (UTC)
Nice to know there are other people who can relate to this. Not that they've shared the experience, really (because that was NOT fun), but that they definitely know where I'm coming from.

It helped that I wasn't wholly uncoordinated. I learned a free-throw method from watching one of my favorite professional NBA players. It helped me get the ball all the way to the basket and in much more predictably than the other girls. 3rd All-City among 8th graders in a shootout competition, even though my percentage (probably 66-70%) would have been a disgrace in the NBA. It was still impressive among the crowd I was in. ;)

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
(no subject) - beeker121 on December 19th, 2016 11:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
marlawentmadmarlawentmad on December 19th, 2016 08:48 pm (UTC)
Well done! I hate sportsing. I do not have a great reason for it.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 20th, 2016 06:58 am (UTC)
:D It's okay to hate it just because. Forced participation in sports, especially if you're not good at it, can be the stuff of nightmares. :O
Murielle: Scrunchedmurielle on December 20th, 2016 09:54 am (UTC)
I'm kinda dyslexic. Never diagnosed, but so many symptoms that as an adult it was easy to figure out. I cannot see a white object against a blue sky. Baseball was a nightmare for me. I can relate to almost everything you wrote about your middle school experience with the game - even when things changed for you. For me it was something of a nine day wonder that lasted three weeks. For three weeks I not only hit the ball but sent it far far into the outfield. So instead of being the last one picked - but the one when the captain did the math and figured out I was going to be on his team, he would beg and sometimes even cry, not to have me - I was picked first a time or two. Of course it didn't last, but while it did the sun shone a little brighter.

Thank you so much for sharing your memory with us. Thank you!

Edited at 2016-12-20 09:58 am (UTC)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 20th, 2016 08:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, so nice that you had that window of awesomeness! Even though it didn't last, knowing you were capable of doing that probably eased up the attitude from others, which had to help.

I'm glad you could relate to this. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. :)