Saturday, July 04, 2020

If there’s one thing I learned from my time in elementary school, it’s that kids are expected to love running around and playing sports. If you don’t…then you’re weird. The school I attended was pretty good at providing the students with a healthy number of opportunities for physical activity, but I was just one of those kids that never really saw the appeal. Whereas many of my classmates loved spending recess getting together for a game of touch football, I just had a lot more fun reading and writing stories. I was clearly in the minority in my grade though, and I remember riding home on the bus and oftentimes hearing my schoolmates talking excitedly and with such passion about how great a season the Giants were having or how epic a play Derek Jeter managed to pull off the previous night. They may as well have been speaking French for all I understood.

Growing up, my family was just never really all that into sports. Between me and my two siblings, my older sister was the one with the most athletic capabilities; she was on quite a few teams back then and was actually pretty good. With her showing such passion and love for sports, it was no wonder my parents made the decision to sign me up with a local baseball Little League.

My time playing in the league culminated in one outing that took place at the end of the season, in the championships. I was around 10 at the time and we were a close team; everyone, even me for once, wanted this win badly. To this day, I have never in my life been so invested in a baseball season as I was while I was on that team. Every one of us played our hearts out all season. This meant a lot. We were ready to bring it home.

When the game started, things got serious quickly. Like something straight out of an Air Bud movie, the game went back and forth. Everyone was so tense that you could feel the growing hype among my teammates as we pulled ahead, and then their overwhelming dread when the other team tied it up. Fitting of the movie theme, it all came down to the final inning. It was bottom of the ninth, we were down by one run, there were two outs, and we had runners on second and third.

And that was when I heard the worst thing imaginable.

“Alright, Samuel, you’re up.”

Oh dear God. Oh no.

My heart was pounding as I rose from the dugout and walked nervously to the plate. I’ll never forget how weak my legs felt, how my head was starting to swim. One of the coaches handed me the bat and gruffly said, “All up to you, kid,” which only seemed to exacerbate the tension I was now starting to feel down in my bladder. Squinting against the bright sunlight, I stopped by the plate and adjusted my oversized helmet. I looked the pitcher dead in the eye. He was a big, scowling fellow, tall for his age and way more built than any of the other kids. All game he had been throwing hard and fast, the kind of throws that had kids like me recoiling and afraid to approach the plate. And I’ll never forget how his face looked: determined, self-assured. He was very much aware that I was now all that stood in the way of him and his team winning the championship. Looking at him in that moment through my tense and nervous eyes, he’s what I’d imagine a child-version of Goliath might look like.

Time felt like it had slowed down. I felt a hush fall over the crowd and I knew everyone was watching me. I dared not steal a moment to glance at my parents for reassurance for fear if I broke eye contact with the giant my eyes would fill with tears from the tension. A gust of wind could have blown me over at this point. I muttered a prayer and raised the bat, my fingers sinking deep into the grip.

And then this weird feeling filled my body.

It was a feeling of opportunity, a realization that this didn’t have to be the pitcher’s winning moment. It could be mine. The game was in my hands. If I got a base hit, just a lousy single, the runner on third would score and tie up the game. Even better, if I got a double we’d win! This was my chance to be epic. This was my chance to be “the man.” If he was Goliath, then I was gonna be David.

I gritted my teeth, met the pitcher’s scowl and swung as hard as I could…

…and of course I struck out.

I didn’t even make it back to the dugout before I was full on bawling. I cried a lot that day, more than I had in quite a while. I just remember my teammates’ crushed faces. That was the day I quit playing in sports leagues for good. It was awful.

From then on I fully embraced the fact that I’m best with sports from the sidelines. Nowadays I enjoy watching the Super Bowl and attending the occasional baseball game with family (have you tried Cracker Jacks?!). Granted, if it’s not raining, you just might find me outside playing frisbee with my friends, little brother or brother-in-law. I’ve even taken up biking recently, which I guess kind of qualifies as a sport. I’ve learned from my experiences to appreciate the fact that, though I’ll never be much of a player, even sucking is okay as long as you’re having fun.

And that’s what I think is most important about sports.

(Note: This is an excerpt and edited version of a larger article that was published on adamssoapbox.com. For the full article, visit https://adamssoapbox.com/2018/06/28/my-relationship-with-sports-as-a-kid/)

By Adam Samuel

Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. He blogs at adamssoapbox.com.