As spring is settling in here in Minnesota, summer is in the on-deck circle. And with summer around the corner, this means many things to different people: Going to the beach house at the Jersey Shore every weekend, heading up to the Maine coast, traveling “up north to the cabin” here in our state and . . . stepping inside The Batting Cage.
Ever been in the batting cage? It’s usually packed with three distinct groups:
– Little Leaguers of various ages trying to improve their skills.
– Adults wanting to recall their glory days in Little League.
– Adults wanting to hit the ball . . . just once.
I fall into category three.
I was once in Little League. I played left field. My strengths:
- Good fielder.
- Strong arm.
- Fast baserunner.
Once again, please direct your attention to point No. 3. And let’s be clear about something here: I was a GREAT baserunner, easily the fastest kid on the team. Every year. And every teammate knew it. The only thing that actually stood in my way was the concept of getting on base.
I couldn’t hit the ball to save my life.
Since the glory days of my youth, strutting around with my .037 batting average, I took it upon myself to reclaim that singular greatness. Or find it. Finally.
A few years ago, my wife and I ventured out to one of those miniature golf/batting cage mini-amusement parks. The grounds are lavishly adorned in a way to make the whole compound look like Disney World light. As we made our way to miniature golf, I heard a voice. There wasn’t anyone around us, but I heard it. A deep, resonant voice saying . . .
Excuse me . . . hello? Where you going, Christopher? I’m over here . . . I know you see me. Hello? I’ve got a pitch speed that will be to your liking. Yeah, now you see me. Hi there. Why don’t you come on over and try to make up for that .037 batting average.
It was The Batting Cage. It called to me and it called me out. I kept asking my wife “you hear that . . . . . . right?” She heard nothing. But I knew. I understood. I heard my calling. I was beckoned to the cage. I made one step and right then, at that moment, there was no turning back.
Wendy, former softball player that she was, seemed delighted at the idea of going over to the cage.
Upon arrival, there were a few big boys – as in, BIG BOYS – from the local beer league ripping the cover off the ball in the softball cage. You know these guys: They crack a homer 7,000 feet, round the bases and then eat the bat in the dugout like it’s an energy bar.
We moved over several cages to the one that read Fastball: 60 M.P.H. THIS cage wasn’t for BIG BOYS. This cage was for me. The 6’2″, 190-pound Greek Sultan of Strikeout. But that would all change today. Of that, I was certain.
Being the gentleman that I am, I invited Wendy to step into the cage first. I would watch her go in, encourage her, wait for her to swing and miss on 20 straight pitches and then . . . stroll in and show her how it’s done.
And so there she stood, wearing her little helmet waiting for the first pitch. She had a look in her eye I don’t think I’d ever seen. I really wasn’t quite sure what it was saying until the first pitch came and BOOM! . . . . . SAY WHAT? The woman nearly tore the cover off the ball. She hit the thing so hard, BIG BOY No. 1 two cages away yelled, “SWEET!”
I watched as he then threw his fist up in the air in her direction, as if my wife was now an unofficial member of The BIG BOYS Club.
Of the next 19 pitches, she cracked 18 of them. My 5’6″, 115 lb. wife had just turned in a performance that was worthy of ESPN’s Plays of the Day.
She came out and a few Little League-aged boys were high-fiving her. One said “WOW, you were AWESOME!.” And indeed, they were awestruck. I was stunned. Wendy has always been a good athlete, but this performance came out of no where. Then it happened.
One of the little boys said “Hey, aren’t you goin’ in?” He was onto me. He knew. He understood I now wanted no part of that batting cage. But junior would have none of it. And Wendy said to me, “Come on, you’ll do great.”
After a few minutes I got my confidence up and actually began feeling a little juiced, a little like “Today is going to be my day.” I was ready.
Just what the hell was I thinking? Did I actually believe I was going to stroll in there – wearing a golf glove – and crack a few line drives, rip a few deep shots that would tear right through the protective netting . . . the way Wendy did?
20 pitches. 20 swings. I had one foul ball. That one foul ball was the only time my bat made contact with anything other than air.
The Little League kids, so cute a moment ago, now sounded like Yankees fans in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium. And I was a Red Sox player.
I’ve not been back to The Batting Cage since. And Wendy – The BIG BOYS Club called yesterday, for the third year in a row, pleading with her to join their team.
About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of the cleverly named Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. You can hear him weekdays from 9 to Noon. As a writer and humorist, his work has been been published online by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters and publications within the Sun-Times News Group.