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Baseball Has Not Been Berry Good to Me

26 Jun


It’s  high summer and according to my calculations we are approximately 40% through this year’s professional baseball season.Perhaps its un-American, but I have never been much of a baseball fan. Sports psychologist Rick Grieve from Western Kentucky  University says that  the main factor  in becoming a   fan  is the socialization  experience. He believes that people become fans through exposure to a sport through family and friends.  Grieve also asserts that fathers play a key role,  as children   gravitate to the sports their fathers watch or play.   I  have always blamed my lack  of interest in sports on  my father,  to whom sports were always highly suspect. I don’t think he could ever comprehend the value of working up a sweat, without actually performing some practical work. Why bother swinging a bat, when you could just as easily swing a shovel and get something useful done.

Another factor may be that any mention of baseball triggers a lot of traumatic memories of my  dismal childhood baseball career. At school games, I was always one of the last kids picked for a team. It’s funny how other kids instinctually know who stinks at baseball.  In elementary school it seemed like the better you were able to read, the worse you were at baseball. I, myself, was an outstanding reader.

The summer I turned eight  I signed up for  Sav-More Market’s   new Little League team. I loved my new  leather baseball glove and my red and white uniform, but I was  constantly terrified of  getting  hit  by the ball.  I saw some  of my friends  hurt playing sports and it didn’t  take very many protruding bones, busted lips,  and  broken noses to make me  want  to reconsider the whole baseball thing. Whenever the ball was thrown or hit to me,  my first impulse  was always to get out of the way. Likewise when I batted, I jumped  about a foot back with every pitch, which didn’t make me much of batting threat.   The coach threaten to put my feet in  a bucket,  to make me stay in the batter’s box. 

I played outfield, although due to my frequent  left-right confusion, I couldn’t say which one.  I just ran out to  the empty one. I  liked playing deep in the outfield, since most of  the time I didn’t have to worry about balls being hit that far.  My attention would immediately wander from the action in the infield and I would spend most of my time fiddling with my hat, shoestrings,  or staring  at dandelions.  In the unlikely event that a fly ball was actually hit into the outfield, the aggressive dyslexic  in the adjacent field would usually run over, push me aside,  and catch  the ball.

One time all our team’s pitchers were either sick or injured and in desperation, the coaches gave me a  try-out as a  hurler. After a dozen or so wild throws, one of which hit an umpire, they banished me back to the outfield. I guess they finally decided that I was too dangerous to be allowed to pitch. We ended up forfeiting  the game.

As the season progressed,  our team started actually winning some games and I soon found myself sitting on the bench most of the time, which was just fine with me.  I rationalized it to myself  this way, “Cool uniform.  Cool baseball glove.   No pressure or yelling.  And  best of all, no fastballs upside the head”.  I think our team finished third,  but I hung up my  cleats after that one season and decided that the summer was better spent bumming around on my bicycle.

After retiring from the game at the age of eight,  I considered myself a veteran  ballplayer  and like everyone else in my neighborhood,  an expert when it came to the   St. Louis Cardinals. This is the closest I came to being a baseball  fan and it only lasted a few years. It  was all due to peer pressure, media hype, and the proximity of the Cardinals,  just across the Mississippi River from where I lived.   I was at Busch Memorial Stadium the day it opened in 1966 and was listening  when Cardinal pitching ace Bob Gibson  had 17 strikeouts during the first game  of the 1968 World Series. I also leaned to despise  our archrivals, the  Chicago Cubs. While I  pretended to  like baseball to fit in with my peers, the only game I actually attended was  miserable  and as exciting as watching paint dry.  Once I left the St. Louis area, my interest quickly waned.

Although I don’t  follow major league  baseball  as an adult,  I recently checked the standings and  was annoyed  to see the Cardinals trailing Cincinnati, in the central division. This is especially egregious  since my son-in-law, Jeff,  is such a rabid Cincinnati Reds fan. His family visited  from Michigan recently  and  he went to three  Reds games in a single weekend weekend. Jeff is also playing on a softball team at his work.  That father influence seems to be  at work,  because this summer our four year old grandson is playing on a baseball team for the first time.

My wife Diane says that I was negligent with our own three boys, because I never took the time to teach them how to properly catch, throw, or hit. In my defense, I didn’t have  very good  skills or the knowledge to be a  good coach.   I did, however, work with our youngest son some, when he expressed interest in  playing on a team. Although he seemed to have the hereditary Stawar fear of being hit by the ball, he did learn some of the basics and was adorable in his uniform. In order to be competitive in baseball, however,  I think you  have to grow up playing  the  game. Just being cute isn’t enough. I’m afraid I produced a bunch of dandelion  gazing outfielders, like myself.

As for major league baseball today,  all I can say is, “Congratulations to the Giants’ Matt Cain on his recent perfect game. I’m sure  those lousy Reds  are bound to fade in the stretch  and  at least those despicable Cubs are in the central division cellar, where they belong.”   

First published in the Southern Indiana News Tribune.  

Clark’s Mom

29 Sep

Our society emphasizes   intelligence to such an extent  that almost everyone has   been afraid that other people  might think they’re stupid.  This  fear is one of the main reasons that we often don’t ask questions, even when we don’t understand things.  Ironically  some of the most foolish things we do, are specifically intended to try to keep other people from thinking we are stupid.

Nothing feels worse than having someone think  that you’re incompetent, when there is nothing you can do about it. There are times when people will judge you unfairly,  based on  appearance or some random behavior.   The accompanying feelings of  frustration and hopelessness may give us all some small inkling of what  discrimination really feels like.  

Back when our  youngest son was playing little league baseball, we received a notice that  parents were expected to volunteer at the baseball park. The next Saturday my wife Diane signed up to work  the refreshment stand and I volunteered to do the scoreboard. In high school I ran the basketball scoreboard, so I thought I could figure  out  how to do it. Since I  expected to do this all alone, I was looking especially shabby and unkempt that day, despite Diane’s warning.   I climbed up to the room where the scoreboard console  was located to practice  before the game started. After a few minutes an immaculately dressed woman, looking quite severe, came marching into the room. She gave me an expression of disgust, usually reserved for hobos, and   hesitatingly introduced herself as “Clark’s mom”.  She said that she too had been assigned to the scoreboard. She eyed me suspiciously at the console and asked me if I knew what I was doing. I told her that I was sure I could figure it out. Scrutinizing my uncombed hair, raggedy jeans,  dirty tennis shoes and day old stubble, she looked even more doubtful.  I started randomly punching buttons on the control box, to see what they did and this seemed to upset her even more.  She announced decisively  that she was going for help. But she spoke  in  that exaggerated calm  manner, used when telling a small child, or perhaps a maniac,  exactly what you intend to do, so as not to startle them.  It was then that it  dawned on me that she had concluded that I was too stupid to  operate the scoreboard, and quite possibly  dangerous.  I leaned forward to reassure her that I could handle it, but she jumped back and insisted that we needed  help. As she left I felt a mixture of  anger and despair,  realizing  that  I was never going to convince this woman that I was competent. I was thinking of ways that  I  could bring up the fact that I had graduated from college, but she wouldn’t believe me. Maybe I could run home, shave  and bring back my diploma.  I considered asking Diane to vouch for me, but I was afraid she might see it as a teasing opportunity and  whip upClark’s mom even more.   

By the time Clark’s mom returned with one of the coaches,  I had already  discovered the rudiments of  operating  the scoreboard,  but she wasn’t  impressed and insisted on running the scoreboard  herself. To this day, the phrase ”Clark’s mom”  is  Stawar family code for someone who treats you like an idiot for no  apparent reason.      

Since we are all fallible, there are obviously  times,  when our judgment is inadequate. Usually we hope we can slide our missteps by others without notice. This, of course, is easier if you are not closely supervised or married. But if you happened to pull one of these boners, just when someone  is evaluating you,  the “Clark’s mom” phenomena  is always a possibility.      

There are some  people who are so arrogant  that they automatically  think that everyone else is stupid, so there is no  escaping their judgment. Humorist  P.J. O’Rourke  is a case in point.  Psychologists are always trying to fit people into categories, like thinkers or feelers, introverts or extroverts, or  Type A or Type B.  O’Rourke bases his classification system on the Three Stooges. He claims that you can sort everyone you meet into one of three categories:  1. Stupid (like Larry) 2. Stupid and Mean (like Moe) or 3. Really Stupid (Like Curly).   ToClark’s mom,  I  was undoubtedly a level three Curly.

There may occasionally be some advantages in being “misunderestmated” as former president George W.  Bush once said. I had an acquaintance  named  Bob, who, when we would play poker,  would ask a lot of questions.  “Does a straight  beat a flush?”, he would innocently  ask.   I was usually hooked  and would go out of my way explaining poker hands to him. It was a gratifying  way to show off my expertise.  But then I notice that Bob kept asking these same questions. It was an old hustler’s trick– a devious and subtle way to get others to underestimate his playing ability. He  must have been greatly amused hearing me explain poker to him.  

  There is occasionally  that   rare instance when there is  an inverse of the Clark’s mom experience and someone attributes greater wisdom to you, than you deserve. Jean Shepard’s short story  Lost at C, describes such a  situation. Jean was taking  high school algebra and as he famously said,   “The class wasn’t 30 seconds old and I was already six weeks behind.” 

Algebra  refused to yield to  his  bluff-your-way-through approach to school  and  he was about to be exposed as phony. His teacher wrote a complicated equation on the blackboard and called on Jean to solve it. Totally baffled, he looked around the classroom and saw the number 3 on some kid’s football jersey and lamely gave that as his answer.  Of course, that turned out to be the correct response and the teacher  concluded that he was a math prodigy.

I have known many people who simply by luck  or some irrelevant aspect of their  status,  are always given the benefit of the doubt. Even when they do something completely inane, others  still  believe it is unfathomable  genius at work.  This is neatly portrayed   in Peter Seller’s  film, Being There, in which he  plays a simple-minded  gardener,  whose solemn  pronouncements about gardening are metaphorically interpreted  by others  as an indication of his brilliance.

I suppose we have all  taken advantage of “dumb luck” to booster our own credibility,  when the opportunity presents itself. Years ago, for example, I was using hypnosis with a client and I gave a standard suggestion that the client might feel a slight sensation in one of their shoulders. Just as soon as I spoke, from nowhere, a tiny spider fell from the ceiling onto the client’s bare shoulder.  I knew exactly how Jean Shepard felt.

You have to use every advantage you can,  since you never know when a “Clark’s mom” might be lurking nearby.