A Baseball Life, Page 19

wiffleball

I grew up an only child in a quiet neighborhood filled with evergreens and retired people. With few children my own age nearby, I devoted much of my time and energy into devising means of entertaining myself. There were swamps to explore and forts to build during those rocket summers, swings to be swung. But also, armed with an endless supply of thrift store equipment, I hurled myself at every sport imaginable. I played the part of athlete, broadcaster, general manager, statistician, and commissioner all at once, for both sides.

Not every sport was equally viable for one player. Basketball worked well enough, though football was a near disaster. (On a given play, I would hike the ball to myself, drop back, throw the ball into the air, run under it, make the catch, and then proceed to tackle myself.) I talked my parents into letting me dig one golf hole in the middle of our yard, and then set up a course by arranging eight tees around it in each compass direction. My parents even bought and set up a tetherball pole in the driveway in what I can only imagine was a cruel and well-executed joke.

But my favorite sport of all, as now, was baseball. Of course, my Graig Nettles-signed wood bat was still too heavy as a little kid, so I turned to the svelte yellow cylinder of the wifflebat. I spread out four Frisbees, which I assume my parents gave me to play with on days with exceptionally strong headwinds, and stood at the plate, bat in my right hand and ball in the left.

When the time came I would hoist the ball into the air, rear back with the bat, and swing as the pitch fell back to earth. With a majestic “ploink”, the ball was put into play. Then things got a little confusing, from a psychiatrist’s standpoint.

I dropped the bat and ran out to where the ball rolled to a stop, while counting out the progress of my intangible runner/soul as I estimated he would round the bases. From the outfield, I would turn and fire my throw to the catcher, missing the invisible cutoff man entirely, for a suspenseful play at the plate. If the ball somehow hit the bat, I was out.

It was a formality, a last gasp effort overcome by the victorious Patrick hitting his nth inside-the-park home run. Only this one time, a miracle happened. Ball and bat collided. I had gotten myself out.

I didn’t know how to feel, so I quietly picked up my Frisbees, put everything away, and went inside.




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Patrick Dubuque writes for NotGraphs and The Hardball Times, and he served as former Bill Spaceman Lee Visiting Professor for Baseball Exploration at Pitchers & Poets. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.


10 Responses to “A Baseball Life, Page 19”

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  1. Brian S says:

    This was fantastic.

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  2. MIT says:

    Agreed. This was incredible. For some reason it reminded me a lot of an excellent baseball book called Cardboard Gods. You should think about writing a book

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    • Freest Rolexes says:

      Don’t think about writing a book, just write a book. I’d buy ‘A Baseball Life’ or a collection of one act plays starring Ricky Henderson. Just write the book.

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  3. canuckassassin says:

    Well I’m glad that I wasn’t the only child who developed elaborate fantasy sports leagues and played the part of every person involved. I became quite good at shooting a hockey ball at myself and making a dazzling save.

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    • thebostinian says:

      Heck, I did this as the oldest of three boys. I played at least 20 seasons in the NBA down in my basement.

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  4. David Wiers says:

    Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

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  5. Billy says:

    You can’t say you’re an athlete as an adult if you don’t have a similar story to this as a child. This brings back memories of playing ball with my 2 brothers (one would build sand castles the whole time so really 1 brother) and somehow keeping a low scoring game going until the 9th, when we would suddenly score 25 runs to show our dominance over the invisible New York Yankees who we hated.

    I’m sure everyone with a story similar to the one written above looks back and thinks “how did I ever let off a run to that invisible, non-existent team?? I knew I should’ve worked on my Sinker earlier”

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  6. Dayn Perry says:

    I was not an only child, but my siblings were 14 and 15 years older than I was. What I’m saying is that I tackled myself a lot.

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  7. Nav says:

    Brilliant, Dubuque. Thanks.

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  8. MustBunique says:

    Also an only child, and also threw footballs to myself. In the front yard, where neighbors saw and were concerned. I always geared it up a little bit when the schoolbus after mine was rolling by.

    Never did the whiffleball against myself, but really enjoyed imagining what that would look like though. Great stuff.

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