I like sports. Maybe I love sports. Loving something like that (or is it those?) seems odd to say out loud, but it’s possible that I do. Why? I’m not sure, but I know this much: It isn’t because I was ever good at any of them.
If you’ve read any of my sundry blog posts, you know that I will opine on almost any topic–politics, religion, TV, movies, fighting girls, self-help and, yes, sports. These things interest me, and I like to write–and talk–about such things. One might call me self-centered. One might be correct about that, too. I assume that others will be interested in these subjects since they interest me. Mostly, I believe that others are, or at the very least should be, interested in what interests me. If not, they must be interested in me, generally. With that in mind, let’s talk sports.
I’m not an athlete. I never was. Oh, I tried my hand at various sports. Never, though, did I find my game.
I played a lot of baseball growing up. I wasn’t particularly good, but I played. I had one God-given skill and that was speed. I was pretty fast. That was helpful, to some extent. I also have decent hand-eye coordination–decent, not excellent. I couldn’t hit very well nor did I have a good arm. In my 20’s, a doctor told me that it was likely that I had torn muscles in my shoulder when I was young, which would explain chronic pain and weakness. I use this now as an excuse to explain my overall mediocrity. I am now convinced that I tore my shoulder when I was 4 years old.
My baseball career, as it were, can be summed up in one game when I was 14 years old. My team faced a pitcher who threw side arm. I couldn’t hit him neither could my team-mate batting in front of me in the order. In the last inning of an extra inning game, we both had struck out four times. There were two outs, and I was on deck. Since we both had the dreaded Golden Sombrero (four Ks), I silently prayed that my team-mate would get out so that I would not end the game for us. He did. On strikes. I was happy. There may be no “I” in team, but there damn sure is one in “strike out.”
I was also volatile and difficult to coach. I would argue with my coaches. I would argue with opposing players. I would argue with my team-mates. These may seem to be attributes of the modern athlete; however, they are best reserved for the modern, outstanding athlete. The borderline, average teenager in the 1970’s did not benefit from such behavior. One time, I even got into an argument with my coach’s father during a game. Not a good move.
I combined lack of skill and bad attitude with laziness. If I needed to work on something, I preferred to just sit around and hope I improved. Oddly enough, it didn’t work.
I also played basketball or, more correctly, tried to play. To say that I was not a good basketball player is to say that William Shatner is not a good singer. The speed which I flashed playing baseball disappeared with a basketball in my hands. I couldn’t go to my left at all. I could barely go to my right. But, could I shoot? No. Try as I might, my jumper was always an awkward “push” shot. It would have looked good in the days of the two hand set shot.
My lack of skill limited my play to pick up games, except for a brief period in elementary school when I played what we called “Little League” basketball in my home town. I played for Loyall Christian Church. Although I did not attend church there, they sponsored our team. I played three years and might have scored 10 points total. Honestly, that’s probably a stretch. I do know that my high game was four points. Wow.
The highlight of my organized basketball career was a fight–not involving me, of course. My Dad had an older kid walk me to my games at night (Dad was often on the road for work during the week). One night, we encountered a hoodlum of some renown. My guardian slapped the cigarette out of the hood’s mouth, picked it up and took a long drag off it. He then flicked the butt off the hood’s chest. I can still see those ashes exploding against his chest in the dark. Why did he do this? I think it was just to make a point. Okay, that’s not really a fight, but I was just 7 or 8 years old, and I thought it was cool.
I would occasionally play pick up games, usually quite poorly. The only time I ever recall playing well was in a one on one game with a friend in high school. For reasons now obscure, I had mouthed off about how I could beat him. I don’t why I did that since he was taller than I was and, by all appearances, more athletic. He challenged me to a game to 20 by ones. Something possessed me and, for that one game, I could really play. I couldn’t miss a shot. My awkward, two-handed J hit nothing but net. The game winner was made after a quite accidental cross-over dribble off my knee. My opponent slipped and I nailed a jumper from about 15 feet. My friend was wowed. I used up all my basketball luck in one game.
I also played in the occasional pick up game in college. Again, poorly. My friends tolerated me, because…well…they were my friends. I’m sure it pained them to watch me. Sometimes, I would play against girls. They were also better than I was. Perhaps the highlight of my college career was a violent body check/pick laid on me by a University of Kentucky football player. He was about 6′ 4″, 350 maybe. No front teeth and he wore a down vest to play basketball. After his bone-pulverizing pick, I predictably collapsed in a pathetic heap. He then screamed obscenities at me, rightfully questioning my manhood.
I used to play basketball with my kids. Then, they got better than me, too.
I also tried golf. There weren’t a lot of golfers when I was growing up in Harlan County, Kentucky. Some people belonged to the Harlan Country Club. I heard that they played golf up there on a 9 hole golf course. Other than the occasional miniature golf game (they had miniature golf in Evarts), I didn’t touch a golf club until I was in my 20’s.
I thought golf would be a good game for me. It didn’t require much (or any) athleticism. I imagined myself strolling the links with fellow hot shots, playing and making lucrative business deals. Sadly, my golf play resembled nothing so much as Spaudling Smails in Caddyshack. Here are some of the reasons golf didn’t work:
- I discovered that most people didn’t enjoy playing with someone in a blind rage the whole time.
- People would give me pointers which I desperately needed; however, I HATE pointers, advice, helpful hints or whatever the hell you want to call them.
- I broke my pitching wedge beating it against a tree after sailing an approach shot over the green.
- I broke my 9 iron. By running over it with my car. On purpose.
- I bent my putter. Throwing it.
- I would curse loudly and often.
Ultimately, I abandoned the game because I was just terrible at it. Terrible. The only thing I liked about it was that one could drink alcohol while playing. In my case, it didn’t affect my game at all. Now, I often think about what my father said of golf: “If a man has enough time to play golf, he should do something productive instead. Like work.” That gives me some comfort. Some. I don’t do much productive, either.
I tried other sports. Bowling, for instance. Sucked. Like golf, I can tell you all the fundamentals one must embrace to excel, but I can’t execute any of them. Once I stopped drinking, I found out that the only reason I ever bowled was for the alcohol, anyway.
How about pool? I love shooting pool. I can visualize every shot on the table. I can’t execute any of them. I’ve broken a couple of pool cues over my leg. I used to have a nice pool table, but I gave it away. It taunted me every time I walked by it. Again, though, one could drink beer and play. It had that going for it.
In the 1970’s, there was a yo-yo craze. That’s right–yo-yo. Everyone had a yo-yo, me included. The craze even reached Harlan County. Every hay-shaker and hill jack in the county was walking the dog, rocking the baby and going around the world. Me? I cracked myself in the mouth once trying to go around the world. Split my lip. Sometimes, I would walk the dog, and the yo-yo would pop up and hit me in the forehead. It was just sad.
My mediocrity knew almost no limits. Ping pong, darts, dodge ball, volley ball and softball all mastered me. PE in high school was a struggle, because there were no games at which I excelled. Our PE teacher was an affable enough fellow who went on to a successful career as a college football assistant coach. He was affable, that is, until he had a psychotic episode of yelling and screaming about something. He once hit a kid with a desk. He was better, though, than the head football coach who someone once aptly described as a “shaved ape.” They brought to mind the old Woody Allen joke: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.”
Of course, it was a right of passage that one take PE. At the time, I suspected that it was because of a homoerotic desire to force us all to shower. I guess that was wrong, but–hey–I was 14. It made sense at the time.
One sport I never tried was football. I was WAY too small and have an aversion to being hit. I also don’t like injuries of any kind. When I grew no one played soccer. I never ran track or swam competitively or played Frisbee. I like to think that I could have excelled at any of those if I’d only tried.
Later in life, I met many people who didn’t grow up with me. Someone would ask if I played basketball, and I could say, “Oh, yeah. I was pretty damn good, too.” Or I could say I was baseball star. Fortunately, when you reaches a certain age, people don’t challenge you or invite you to join their teams. If they do, you can alway claim some injury like a torn rotator cuff or unresolved sports hernia prevents it.
Now that I’ve written this, I think I know why I love sports. It’s precisely because of my incompetence. Perhaps, I live vicariously through these athletes. Perhaps, I admire their expertise. It could be that they represent all that I wanted to be. Or maybe it’s because I REALLY love watching TV. I am very good at that.