Baseball – Day 8
With my list of 100 sports, I have categorised them in my mind in 3 sections: excited to try, sceptical and dreading it. Baseball fits into the first. It is the most popular game in the US, with 40 million people playing some form of the game and it is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK but, unfortunately, those facts are not reflected in my home county of Cornwall, as we don’t have a team. So, off I go to my first “away” cross-border fixture in Torquay, home to the Torbay Barons.
In the films, you see flood lit, huge stadiums with thousands of roaring spectators. In Torquay, it happens on the playing field, behind the leisure centre, encircled by dog walkers. I am now getting used to randomly rocking up and interrupting a team’s training session. Mid-introduction to Laurence (who runs the team) and the rest of the guys, I mentally kick myself for forgetting to pack my baseball cap to complete the look.
After introductions, Laurence hands me a baseball mitt to try on. This specially imported glove is heavy. In fact, it feels like I have half a cow hanging off my arm. The first thing to master is the catching. Sounds easy, but it does feel quite alien. Imagine a crab with a glove on its pincer; this is my initial attempts before I was encouraged to catch the ball in the centre of the mitt, which made far more sense. I also moved to a lighter glove, which was much better.
After a bit of catching, we went to a game situation and I tried to select the place in the pitch where I would cause the least damage to my team. The first time seeing a ball pitched is quite something to behold: this thing travels! So much so, that getting a connection with the ball doesn’t happen that often. However, when it does, the ball is collected in the field and in most cases thrown to first base. My self-allocated job was to clap – a mitt muffled clap which produced no noise.
Unfortunately, my catching seems to be a massive weakness and as with cricket, this is what continually lets me down. When the ball is hit in the air and I have to get under it to catch it, I follow a 4 step process. Firstly, I emit a noise like a pterodactyl. Secondly, I swear – usually one word which I stretch out for at least three seconds. Thirdly, I duck and cover. Lastly, after the ball lands beside me, I apologise. I call it the old SH approach to catching: SHOUT, SH*T, SHELTER and SHAME – not to be found in any good coaching manual. The lads were very encouraging and pointed out that I “covered the space” well as the batter jogged triumphantly around the diamond for a home run.
Just as I was getting into the banter and my confidence was building, it was my turn to bat. Having seen the ball being pitched at somebody’s thumb, somebody’s thigh and lastly somebody’s head, I wasn’t relishing giving it a go. However, I didn’t want to be pity pitched to (I have a bit of self-respect and pride) but at the same time, I didn’t want to go home with a trophy bruise. I was given a quick tutorial on holding and swinging. The catcher behind reiterated that I had to keep hold of the bat, not let go of it and hit him on the head (he was the one who had just been hit in the head with the ball).
As I couldn’t pitch and couldn’t catch, I was determined to hit the thing and hit it I did. In fact, I managed to connect most of the time, which was really exhilarating. I have hand-eye-ball coordination, people. I have some sort of co-ordination! If only there were piñata style dances on a dance floor, I would no longer be ridiculed.
We finished up with a “whoever catches the ball can go home” activity. Obviously, given my previous attempts, I expected to be there until dusk. Being last, I did encourage a pity throw and on my first attempt, caught the damned thing without squawking! Progress!
Baseball didn’t disappoint at all. I mockingly suggested to friends beforehand that it was just rounders with a hat but certainly there is a lot of skill involved and providing you can find a team near you, I would definitely encourage anybody, young or old, to give it a go. Don’t forget the hat, though!
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