Saturday, September 20, 2008

There's No Right Field in the GAA

I was about ten when my parents signed me up for a summer softball league. I went to the first practise very excited to find out what position I would get to play. All of the other girls had been playing for several years and it didn't take me long to realise that I was miserable at it. No co-ordination at all. It was determined that I would be the catcher because no one else wanted to crouch behind the plate for half the game, wearing the sticky and smelly facemask.

It was a long summer and our team lost every game. I got a few walks because I was short enough to barely have a strike zone. My big victory came in the last game, when I actually managed to put the bat on the ball, resulting in a little dribbler in front of the plate. I could run fast and I did, managing to eke out my first and only base hit of the season. I played for several more summers, improving with each year until I ended up a versatile infielder and a dependable extra-base hitter.

Middle Brother, being a boy, got to play baseball. I was especially jealous when he moved into the league where they started throwing overhand. It was so not fair that girls were stuck playing softball while the boys got to play baseball, where they got to pitch like major leaguers and steal bases. If youth is wasted on the young, baseball was wasted on MB. It just wasn't his thing.

MB and another kid, who I will call Joshua Perkins (because I don't want to use his real name, but I cannot think of this kid without using his full name), took turns playing in right field, which is the leper colony of youth sports. It's the place to which you are exiled when you've no interest or ability in baseball. The right fielder is the kid most likely to sit down and play in the dirt. He's also the kid most likely to wear his baseball glove as a hat or just wander right off the field. (I'm not saying MB did any of these things personally, I'm just saying that these are the sorts of shenanigans that go on in right field.)

Joshua Perkins had something wrong with his muscles. His mother explained it to me once, but I don't remember the name for it. His muscles were like really tight rubber bands and that made it extremely difficult for him to co-ordinate and move his arms and legs. It gave him the shuffling gait of an old man, which, combined with his coke-bottle glasses that he wore strapped to his head, made him a target for all sorts of bullying and abuse.

But my memory is that Joshua Perkins really seemed to enjoy baseball. (MB can correct me on this if I've strapped on my own rose-tinted coke bottle glasses for this look into the past.) I remember him being quite smiley as he shambled out to right field or shuffled back to the bench after striking out.

I hadn't thought about Joshua Perkins for years. But then in the middle of the summer, during a particularly grueling football practise, I realised that I was Joshua Perkins, albeit without the muscle condition. In my case, it's my age and lack of speed that have me trailing along after everyone else. But I still go to practises. I still try my best but I'm not nearly as cheerful as Joshua Perkins.

There's only one problem with this analogy. There's no right field in GAA sports. I tend to get stuck in the forward line, since that minimises the damage I can do to my own team. But there's no place with quite the same lack of action as right field.

Last Sunday, I had the honour and joy of sitting on the bench and watching my team win the Intermediate County Football championship. I enjoyed the game immensely because the girls played great and the victory was an special achievement, since it was their third county win in a row. (And they've had to move up to the next level with each win, so it's an extra challenge to win consecutive championships.) After the final whistle went, I joined my team on the field, feeling every inch the Joshua Perkins - cheerful and smiley, part of the team but slightly apart, but somehow comfortable and content with that.

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At 20 September 2008 at 08:09, Blogger Babaloo said...

Congrats on the win! Even if you were Joshua. Who cares. As long as you enjoy the game!

I loved the description of right field in baseball. I think I'd probably be located in right field, too. :)

At 20 September 2008 at 16:16, Blogger Felix said...

as a boy in Canada I remember being the Joshua Perkins - at home in the right field- and I still retain a soft spot for baseball

At 20 September 2008 at 18:05, Blogger Kaycie said...

I played softball, too, up until I was about 13 or 14 years old. I pitched. And played right field. I could pitch well and hit better but catching was harder and I've never been especially quick on my feet. Pop flies to right field were the bane of my existence. My father used to take me to the ball field that was a block from our home and hit pop flies to me in the evenings until it got too dark to see. Later, we found out my eyes don't work together properly and no amount of pop fly catching practice would remedy the problem. Unlike you, though, I gave up team sports long ago.

Congrats on the big win and hanging in there!

At 21 September 2008 at 13:27, Blogger Irene said...

I am a Joshua Perkins when I comes to team sports. Individually I do fine. it is the pressure of the team that makes me fail and incapable of good action. I do the opposite of what I should do, so convinced am I that I'll fail. When I was a kid, nobody could outrun me or jump further or higher. I was in my element then.

At 23 September 2008 at 06:58, Blogger -Ann said...

Babaloo - I enjoy the games so much more when I know I won't have to play. :)

Felix - Baseball is a lovely way to spend a warm, sunny afternoon.

Kaycie - I'm impressed you were about to hit if your eyes weren't co-operating with each other.

Irene - The pressure of not wanting to let down your teammates can be pretty intense.


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