This was written for a university creative nonfiction class.
Growing up, I was always a bit of a clumsy oaf.
Now, being a clumsy oaf isn’t a terribly rare trait. But me? I took it to a whole other level.
As far as I can tell, my clumsiness was a symptom of being born with a cocktail of different mental and physical quirks and conditions. ADHD, forgetfulness, a malformed hip joint, and difficulty with motor functions were all major contributors to this problem.
Thankfully, most of my childhood experience wasn’t ruined by my clutzy nature. I wasn’t too involved with sports; the expansive realms of video games and the fascinating worlds found within the pages of novels was where I preferred to spend my time. These activities didn’t leave any opportunity for any kind of physical clumsiness, and while I typically struggled to focus on things, the immersive nature of books and games helped me to counteract my ADHD somewhat. These hobbies were perfect for me.
Unfortunately, playing video games and reading books don’t amount to much physical activity. As time went on and I put on some pounds, both my parents and I realized that I needed to do something for exercise. Gym class was all well and good, but it only lasted for 45 minutes.
I talked with my family about trying out a sport. My tall frame made me perfect for playing basketball, but I had never enjoyed the sport at all. Next on the list was hockey; I loved watching the sport (I still do as an adult) but for a clumsy oaf like me, the prospect of gliding around an ice rink with skates, desperately trying to stay balanced so that I don’t faceplant into the frozen floor, didn’t sound fun at all.
Then, I thought about trying baseball.
Baseball is a relatively lax sport compared to the likes of basketball or hockey, at least at my age. Sure, you’d have to sprint down the base line, but I just decided in my head that I would hit the ball hard and far enough to compensate for my slow nature. And while I’d have to chase down line drives or keep up with fly balls, it was still better than the constant back-and-forth of a basketball game or the balancing act of ice skating. I was all for it. And so, soon after I decided that baseball was the sport for me, my father and I went down to the Little League office and I got enrolled.
Where I grew up, Little League baseball was a big deal.
I lived in Madison Heights, a fairly large Detroit suburb located in the heart of southeastern Michigan. The town was developed well and had a good amount of infrastructure, but that only told half of the story.
To put it modestly, the area wasn’t what I would call a “good neighborhood.” A lot of shady things happened in my area, ranging from petty brawls to drug deals under-the-table. Once, the windows on the front door to my school had been smashed through with a rock. Another time, I heard what I swear to this day were the unmistakable cracks of gunfire in the middle of the night, keeping me awake, afraid, for several hours.
That’s why my parents, and the parents of many other kids, were reluctant to let us hang out around the neighborhood together (the exception being if we were within the walls of a friend’s house).
However, Little League Baseball provided a golden opportunity for the community.
Since all of the parents would be at practices and games, nobody was worried about anything happening to their kids during baseball. On top of that, it gave us kids a great chance to talk to one another during downtime, which we often didn’t get to do outside of school. It was perfect.
Over the years, I came to really enjoy playing baseball. I had accepted from the get-go that I was never going to be that great of a fielder; due to both my conditions and my primary interests, I was simply not athletic. My strength (and enjoyment) mostly came from stepping up to the plate.
I loved to hit the ball. Swinging the bat was a simple action that even a clumsy oaf like me couldn’t screw up, and since I’m naturally tall with broad shoulders, I could put some serious power behind my cuts. Plus, it just felt good. There’s something so satisfying about clobbering that little ball of hide and watching it sail into a sea of green grass as you run to first base as fast as possible. It felt like what I was born to do in this game.
So I was completely shocked, then, when in one close game, my coach signaled for me to bunt.
There was a lot riding on this at-bat. Due to the importance of Little League in our community, the coaches, over time, formed a competitive spirit for the sport and really pushed us to focus on winning more-so than having pure fun. We had developed special hand signals for things like indicating when to swing, what pitches to throw, and whether or not someone should risk trying to steal a base.
For the coach to suggest that I bunt in this situation struck me as incredibly odd. We were down a run, it was the sixth inning, and we had two outs. I had a runner on third base. And my coach signals for me to bunt?
I glanced at him again to check, and sure enough, he was holding three fingers up. The signal for bunting.
“Okay…” I said to myself, raising my bat and stepping to the plate. As the pitcher planted his feet and began doing his own hand signals with the catcher, I noticed that the other team’s infield players were playing farther back than their normal positions. They thought I was going for a big swing.
As the ball came down the plate and I quickly morphed my swing stance into a bunt, knocking the ball down into the ground in front of me and running for dear life towards first base, they were caught off-guard completely. As I reached the base safely several feet ahead of the throw to get me out, I then realized the genius of my coach’s idea. By doing the last thing that anyone expected, I was able to help my teammate at third to score while also get on base myself. I might have done that with a hit, true, but they were prepared for that. They were not prepared for a bunt.
There was just one problem, though.
When I got back to the dugout, my coach asked with a laugh, “Why did you bunt? I signaled for you to swing.”
And then I remembered that three fingers was for swinging. Two fingers was the signal for bunting.
I couldn’t believe it. My clutziness had struck yet again.
I looked at him and stammered out an apology, flabbergasted. “S-sorry, coach—”
He laughed again and clapped me on the back. “It worked out, didn’t it? Don’t worry about it.”
Growing up, I was always a bit of a clumsy oaf.
I’ll always be a bit of a clumsy oaf.
But sometimes, it ends up working out.