I do not jog. Neither do I ski, swim, hike, golf, bicycle, or play tennis. I do walk rapidly on my way to the car, however, and I do enjoy watching ice skating on TV.
I studiously avoid watching football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, boxing, wrestling, weight-lifting, auto-racing, bull-fighting, bob sledding and any other activity (besides ice skating) that might be construed as an athletic sport.
At least two nights a week and for several hours on weekends, I suffer through football season as my son Matthew keeps the TV honed in on the adventures of the Seattle Seahawks, the U.W. Huskies, the Oregon Ducks and Beavers, etc. As an escape, I keep occupied on other activity (like working on this blob) reminding Matthew at every opportunity as to how graciously and nobly I am giving up my favorite TV shows.
The reason for my limp interest in spectator sports probably rests in the fact that since childhood, my own athletic skill and coordination have been – well, haphazard. Except for jacks, which I mastered with no trouble at all, I seem to have made a lifelong career of being physically unfit.
At the high school I attended in Iowa, I actually became a legend for my ungainly lack of athletic talent, and at least one demeaning incident that I know of, is probably still haunting those venerable corridors.
This school had a hard-rock tradition that nobody including the blind, lame and infirm could weasel out of gym period. I know. As a Conscientious Objector, I feigned illness, emotional hardship, nearsightedness, the burdens of study, and even tried to trap my family doctor into testifying that one of my legs had mysteriously become shorter than the other, due, no doubt, to the insidious influence of volleyball.
Well, the Sisters were having none of it. Nothing would do but I would join my colleagues twice a week, rain or shine, to give my all for Mount Mercy.
It was bad enough during indoor winter gym, but every fall and spring, we had to go outdoors to the hockey field. It was there that the gym teacher would lead us on to the ladylike conquests of baseball !
I despised gym in any form, but especially any kind that required that the girls be divided up into teams. For a very good reason. No one, not even my “best friends”, ever wanted me on their side. I believe that if Sister Perpetua, the tiny, fragile, 89 year old Spanish teacher would have hobbled down to the field to play, SHE would never have been the last to be “picked”. It still would have been ME. Never in my life have I encountered as much resentment as the team that won me would level in my direction.
To illustrate how humble my aspirations were, I never felt bad about striking out. It was only at the gym teacher’s insistence that I even bothered with the formality of going up to bat, because as my team knew full well and bitterly, it was time to chalk up another Out for our side. After a while, even I got hardened to that.
No, that wasn’t what my dream was. It never occurred to me to wish for something as greedy and selfish as not striking out. All I longed to do was to actually hit the ball. Just once. And I did. In my four-year career at Mount Mercy, that’s how many times I hit it. Once.
It happened one spring afternoon. As usual, my team members were grumbling and muttering and wishing I would disappear, and the opponents were leering gleefully, as I strode to the lonely plate.
“Please, God”, I pleaded, inwardly. “Please let me hit the ball just once, so I won’t be a laughing-stock evermore. I’m not asking to be a star. All I want is to hit that crummy ball just one single time. Puhlease!”
When the pitcher threw the ball, I closed my eyes and swung. It was incredible. My bat had connected with something. THE BALL. Starry-eyed, I watched as it hung in the air for an instant, and then sort of fell down on the ground. Altogether, the ball had travelled about eight feet.
Raw with disappointment, I stared at it. Open-mouthed, the gym teacher stared at it. Thunderstruck, both teams stared at it.
One minute, you could have heard a pin drop, and then it was chaos. The gym teacher was yelling and jumping up and down like she’d just been named “Teacher of the Year”, and the girls were screaming and cheering, and I was being dragged up the hill to school where all hell broke loose. The village idiot had finally hit the ball.
Well, I was the School Hero for about three days. My olympic feat on the baseball diamond wasn’t exactly what I’d been hoping for, but apparently my shell-shocked school was willing to settle for anything. It seemed to take some of the sting out of what failed to be the triumph of a lifetime.
When you consider that the reason most people like spectator sports is that they can fondly “identify” with the players, it’s miraculous that my attitude toward baseball centers on indifference rather than the urge to kill.
Thanks to my heroic resolve and determination, though, I was able to alter my fantasies of becoming a professional athlete in favor of another career. I started taking ukelele lessons. One way or another, I became a “player”. On second thought, maybe I should have taken poker lessons.