Before this weekend I had never subjected myself to the pleasure of facing a baseball hurtling in my general direction within the confines of a chain link “cage.” It turns out that this pleasure can be had for only $1.50. That $1.50 gets you twenty pitches. That is twenty opportunities to humiliate yourself in front of strangers, family and friends alike. That is less than eight cents per humiliation. EIGHT CENTS!! Just when you thought you couldn’t buy humiliation like that, it turns out you can!
I have never played organized baseball. I have never played disorganized baseball. The sum total of my base trotting experience consists of elementary school kickball and two games of pick-up softball. At one point in my life I actually owned a baseball and bat. They got a lot of use, but almost never in a manner they were intended (I was a strange child), and never together. This was the backdrop to Friday night’s trip to Celebration Station, and my first experience in a batting cage.
BEHOLD, THE ELUSIVE BATTING CAGE!
Leave it to a man to decide he ought to be good at something he had never tried before. In this way, the verdict has come back guilty: I have an XY chromosome pairing. I reached for the mandatory batting helmet and picked out a bat. I went for a small bat, thinking I would be giving myself the advantage of bat speed. It turns out that the heft of a bat has something to do with how smooth the swing appears, and a very light bat reveals all of the flaws of your swing, but more on that later. Oh the hell with it, we’ll get it over now. It was pathetic. I was so eager to jump right in and stare down the pitching machine with my icy glare; I didn’t even take a practice swing. Yeah, you can’t intimidate a machine. The first pitch flew past and I was caught looking. The second pitch flew by and I watched it go past, as if I suddenly wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Panicked, I figured a swing and a miss was better than playing possum, so I took a swing. Then I thought to myself, “O.K. that was better. Now lets try that again when a ball comes out.” The next pitch flew and I took a swing. It had “infield out” written all over it. Well, it would have if I had made contact. Three pitches, two swings (only one of which was at a pitch), and no contact with the elusive orange ball. I was beginning to rue my choice of bat. Yeah, it was the bat. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
Playing possum never looked so good.
My swing was awful. I knew it was awful. Doing a quick calculation in my head, I realized I had 17 more opportunities to bring shame to the Kauffman name. Being a reasonably intelligent person (my choice to submit myself to this not withstanding), I decided it was time to change something. Too embarrassed to change my surroundings, I decided to try and relax a little. How many times have you heard some coach in a movie tell his fictional charge to just relax? So I relaxed. I relaxed my back. I relaxed my legs. I relaxed my arms. I relaxed my grip. I took a deep, cleansing breath, and I swung at the next pitch. I made contact and I regretted it immediately. It turned out there is a very good reason why you are not supposed to relax your grip. Hitting a baseball with a relaxed grip felt something like having someone hit your hands with a baseball bat. The pain traveled right up my arms like an electric current, stopping just short of my shoulders. It was quite an experience.
I never dropped the bat. I never cried out in agony. I stood in like a trooper and took my lumps. I made contact a few more times (barely). When it was done, I hung up my helmet, put aside my child sized bat, and exited the cage, grin in tow. Why was I so happy to embarrass myself? Why was I so happy to perform so pathetically in the “slow pitch” cage? I was so eager to learn why; I tried it again… this time in the “medium pitch” cage.
It is two full days later and my arms still hurt. My ego remains strangely unharmed. Oddly, I have this desire to try again.
Anyone up for “fast pitch?”