Last night I had a flashback to my childhood. I was probably eight or nine, and playing shortstop for my Little League team, Moran’s Pedal & Wheels bike shop. Late in close game with two outs, a routine grounder came my way. Booted it for an error. Nothing too unusual about that in Little League.
Next pitch, another grounder. Same result. At this point I’m just hoping that the next ball goes to someone else.
It doesn’t. Nor the next. Or the next. Or the next six straight batters. Six balls hit to me. And I missed every one of them. In front of my mom. In front of the other kids’ parents. In front of my teammates and friends.
Two of my close friends were on the opposing team. I remember Greg yelling out "hit it to Drew" after my fourth error or so. And I remember the teams howls of delight from the dugout when the batter followed Greg’s advice.
I remember the tears rolling down my face. Not being able to see through the tears. And making another error. I don’t remember what happened after that.
I just remembered the whole incident as I thought back on to the events of last night. On Thursday nights in the summer I play softball. The foundation of our team is more about camaraderie than competitiveness. Still no one likes to lose, right?
Anyway, we didn’t really show up to play last night and we’re getting our asses handed to us. No big deal. Lots of guys showed up and everyone was getting a chance to hit and play the field. In the late innings of a meaningless game, a teammate, John, jogged out to right field to get some playing time.
John is not a very good softball player. His body is Homer Simpson-esque. He’s tentative going after fly balls. He does not run well. He is, however, a genuinely nice man. Right field is usually the safest place to put someone you’re trying to hide in the outfield. But this team had a lot of left-handed hitters. And balls started to find John. One after the other.
He caught one for an out. It was an adventure to behold, but he caught it. And then the troubles began. John missed three fly balls in a variety of manners. Runners circled the bases. The other team celebrated. At this point in the evening the teams that were to play after us were warming up. And watching. So were their wives and kids. So was John’s wife. From my position at shortstop, I could hear some jeers from other players.
Another ball hit in John’s direction. But this one was really hit closer to our right center fielder, Pat. Where John is round and soft, Pat is hard and stocky — a power lifter with cartoonishly large biceps. I’ve no way of knowing what Pat’s intentions were, but even though the ball was closer to him than John, he did not move. My thought is that he didn’t want to be associated with John’s struggles in the field. By making John chase another ball, I got the feeling that he was punishing John for his previous mistakes. For being weak.
The ball rolled deeper in the outfield. John glanced at Pat, recognized that Pat was taking no responsibility for the ball, expressed his displeasure with Pat, and he lumbered after it. The batter had crossed home plate as John was getting the ball.
And John had been embarrassed again.
When the inning finally ended, John threw his glove and told his wife "That’s it! I’m done!" He wasn’t far from tears. Back on the bench. Most of the talk was about getting together after the game.
Again, I think John is a very nice guy. I felt for him and I told him so. I was also very disturbed by Pat’s behavior. He easily could have helped, but his (in)actions made someone else look foolish. Someone phsyically weaker than him.
As is often the case when something strikes me, a song popped into my head. A Jane’s Addiction song called "True Nature" kept playing in my head (and later on my stereo, loudly) the rest of the night. The hook of the song goes like this:
treat the weak
is your true nature calling
This may read like an indictment of Pat. It’s not meant to be. He just happened to be in this story. As is always the case, when I point the finger of judgement back at myself, it’s clear that I can be a first-class touchhole (my dad’s word) every now and again. I express contempt for people whom I perceive to be less intelligent, athletic, attractive, awake, than I am. Mostly out of habit and unconsciousness
For whatever reason, the playing fields of his life are not even. Perhaps people are doing the best that they can. Even when they are not. Perhaps in finding compassion for other people, we find the compassion we so desperately need for ourselves and our own weaknesses.
Perhaps through love and compassion we experience our truest nature.