My scrawny physical stature should prevent me from any sporting aspirations. However, I managed. Obviously, football was out, and I never played it. But I began at an early age with soccer. Unfortunately, I did not learn to follow the action during a game. I feared touching the ball for I would undoubtedly screw things up. I did not understand passing, defense, strategy, or even how to kick properly at first. All I could do was try to boot the ball forward. But, I could not kick it very far with the top and inner portions of my foot. So I kicked it forward with my toe first, a dangerous task, because one can break his toe that way.
Contact, however, represented my primary concern. That is, I feared chasing after the ball only to see it kicked in return at a fast rate, leaving no choice but to duck. I chose the “duck and cover” strategy after taking a shot to the stomach from a solidly kicked ball. I tried this method once in the 5th grade, where I turned around 180 degrees and ducked because I thought the ball would permanently disfigure my face. Instead the ball meekly hit me in the ass, causing quite a laughter. I cringed at my embarrassment, and sauntered away from the others. I felt the “kick in the pants” was intentional, as the person ready to strike the ball did not like me. Despite my continued failures, I played soccer until the high school soccer team cut me during tryouts in my junior year.
I also played baseball for many years. I like to think I played it well. Even though I possessed no power, I could still hit for average, field the ball cleanly, throw accurately, run fast, and survive.
I began playing in the second grade, after the father of one of my friends begged me to join his team. After that first year, I never played in the county’s official league (with real uniforms, and forced candy sales), instead opting for the recreational league (the one for losers), sponsored by the Optimists club. I flourished, somewhat. Then I made the successful transfer back to the big leagues by junior high. Although I detested most of my teammates, I felt they had to respect my meager abilities.
On the junior high level, summer baseball distributed players by way of a draft. One went to tryouts, ran through the various skills tests, and waited for a call from the coach. I believe I was drafted in the fourth round once. Of course, the veteran coaches who knew each other well had all sorts of back room schemes in the works so they could have the best players. I ended up on one of those teams my first year, and we were loaded, winning frequently and by wide margins.
Most often, coaches stuck me in the outfield, because I could catch cleanly, run fast, and throw with surprising strength and accuracy. I hated the outfield. The losers always ended up playing outfield, especially right field. Every now and then I weaseled my way into the infield, and for a few years I pitched, but never on a consistent basis. After all, I threw a ball as hard as I could once (with a running start), and the radar gun clocked it at 77 miles per hour.
I picked up basketball late, despite living in a basketball-crazy town, and didn’t start playing organized until junior high intramurals. A classmate, a real prick, broke my wrist while blocking my free throw attempt from behind, which forced me out of action, and I could not try out for the junior high team. Not that I would make it, of course, but I fantasized regardless. And the next year, when I could try out, I didn’t come close to making the team. So I played two years of recreational league ball.
You would have laughed watching me play basketball. I didn't immediately know what a double dribble looked like. I once realized I needed to be on the lane for a free throw attempt-- after the referee handed the shooter the ball. Even though I'm right-handed, I shot the ball off my left fingers. My hands are too small to properly dribble the ball. I never felt like I had total control of myself during basketball games.
One thing preventing me from really succeeding in basketball was the pace of the game. I could never run hard, push myself, or do anything of equal strain for a long period of time without tiring to the point of nausea. I nearly threw up after basketball tryouts. During the summer, the high school soccer program encouraged me to attend “Dog Days,“ a physical fitness program run by a grumpy retired coach, and a grumpier retired police officer. Although I attended 21 sessions, I nearly threw up following the first one after flying through the “opening mile” at 5:55. This is why soccer and baseball suited me so well, because of the slower pace. I never sought any cause or remedy for my endurance problem. I’m sure it’s related to some disease or disorder, but because I hate seeing the doctor, I’ll never know about it.