Many of us were forced to play sports as a child. Crystal Chan’s parents signed her up for tee-ball. One disastrous outing led to a change of plans.
I am not good at baseball. When I was a child, my parents enrolled me in tee-ball, and I had the chance to demonstrate my hand-eye-coordination failings. You know how they put the big softball on top of that bright, orange cone? I kept thwacking the orange cone, over and over and over.
“Keep your eye on the ball!” they would say.
I squinted at that stationary ball and swung. Thwack: the cone would topple over and the softball would dejectedly hit the dirt. My father would shake his head.
Without fail, they would allow me to walk to first base just so the game could continue.
Baseball was not for me.
But I lived in Oshkosh, in a neighborhood called Westhaven, and I lived across the street from a tennis court, a playground, and a baseball diamond, and the kids would regularly round up groups for a game.
One day, my best friend, Maria, her uncle, my father and mother and a number of neighborhood kids and parents decided to shake off the winter blues and play a game of baseball.
Of course, I didn’t want to play.
“Come on,” they said. “Just try.”
“I can’t hit the ball,” I protested. In my mind, I instantly saw a bright orange cone toppling over.
“Sure, you can,” they said. “Just keep your eye on the ball.”
They were persuasive. So I joined the team that my best friend, Maria, was on.
When it came my turn, I stepped up to the plate. The pitcher moved in almost halfway up and made a long, slow underhanded pitch.
I swung and missed. My face burned bright red.
“Keep your eye on the ball!” They shouted.
I swung and missed again. Maria was on deck ten, fifteen feet behind me, taking her practice swings.
“Keep your eye on the ball!” They shouted. Shame and humiliation welled up in my chest. I grit my teeth. I will not fail this time, I promised myself. I cannot.
The pitcher slowed down his pitch even more, and as the ball arced toward me, I squeezed my eyes tight and swung.
A sound. The sound of ball upon metal bat. I didn’t know what happened.
“Run!” They shouted. “You hit it! Run!”
Beyond joyous, I flung the bat and sprinted to first base as fast as my little legs could take me. They were shouting and hollering and yelling for me, Crystal Chan, and my first real hit. It happened. My god, it actually happened.
When I approached the base, the first baseman, ignoring me, was running toward home. I was confused. What’s going on? I thought.
That’s when I saw a group of people surrounding Maria, my best friend, who was on the ground from being hit in the head from a joyous and flying baseball bat.
“How could you have thrown the bat?” people were shouting at me. “You never throw the bat!”
I had never hit the ball, so I didn’t know that you never throw the bat.
The game was over. I ended it. I don’t remember if Maria went to the hospital or not, but if she didn’t, she certainly should have. After that day, I decided to get into tennis instead. And everyone was fine with that.