Saturday, April 02, 2011

Kicking Your Heels Up Gets You Cut

When I was a younger man, I played a lot of softball.


Fast pitch, slow pitch, it didn’t matter really. I just loved to play ball. I played up until I got married and had kids ten years ago.

One team I played for was a fast pitch team that played in London Ontario’s old PUC premier “Blue” League. A couple of friends of mine put the team together, and asked me to come try out.

Another friend of mine got wind of the tryouts – and asked if he could tryout too. A phone call later, and my friend was also invited to be on the list of recruits.

I wasn’t too worried about the tryouts. I had a lot of confidence in my fielding – infield, outfield, hitting, base running - I wasn’t too worried.

At the tryouts, we lined up for some simple drills after an opening talk about how the team would be run and what kind of schedule and commitments we would be asked to be available for.

I lined up at short stop – and my invited friend lined up at second. Some ground balls were hit to us. Some pop flies over the infield, and I handled all hit to me pretty cleanly.

The coach hitting the ball miss-hit a pop fly to my invited friend at second – resulting in a soft line drive slightly above his head. The kind you merely reach up and catch as if playing catch in warm-ups.

But my friend didn’t simply reach up and catch the ball.

No.

Instead, the friend I had asked to be invited did this silly kind of jump in the air and caught the ball in front of his chest. While in the air, he kicked up both his heels so they hit the back of his bum.

And he landed with the ball.

Everyone stopped – and stared at my invited friend.

What the &$%@# was that?”, shouted the coach holding the bat at home plate.

Ball coaches swear … a lot.

What?”, said my invited friend.

That little girlie jump”, said the coach.

What?”, repeated my invited friend.

Are you playing ball or trying out for the $@*&# lead in Swan Lake?”, yelled the coach.

What?”, my invited friend repeated yet again.

The matter seemingly exhausted – the coach flipped the ball in the air and hit a shot to first base.

After that drill, we came off the field and grabbed a bat to take some swings.

The coach was standing over to the side with a couple of veteran guys from the team, one of them my buddy who actually invited me to try out. My buddy looked over at me, and waved me over into the conversation.

I walked over and joined the group.

What the %$&@# was that little ballerina move your buddy made over there at second?”, the coach asked me.

Uh … yeah … I saw that. I forgot he used to do that a lot.”, I said. I had no idea how to defend my invited friend.

Maybe if we told him not to do that anymore?”, offered my buddy.

You tell him”, the coach said to me.

Okay”, I said. I looked over to my invited friend who was taking practice swings with the bat. His back was arched way back and the bat was swung from his ankles to over his shoulder – as though he was practicing home run swings.

Oh #%#@, he’s practicing home runs over there”, mumbled the coach as I tried to get my invited friends attention to join our conversation. He was intentionally ignoring us, hoping his grand slam swing would change the coach’s minds.

Send him home”, said the coach. And he walked away.

I walked over to my invited friend, with my buddy behind me.

I gotta talk to you”, I said to my invited friend.

Wassup?”, he saw my buddy there with me.

Coach wanted me to ask you if you wouldn’t do that jumping kick thing anymore …”, I started.

What’s the big deal, I always played that way?”.

Then he saw you over here swinging a bat …”, I continued.

Oh yeah? What’d he think?

He wants us to tell you to go home”, said my buddy.

Huh?”, said my invited friend.

You’re cut”, I said simply.

I am? I’m an all star? I played on the travelling team at home?”, said my friend, loud enough to be sure the Coach heard him.

It’s that jump thing, man. It did you in. I forgot you did that”, I said. He and I had talked about this a few seasons before, on a different team, where he informed me that was his ... style. He didn't change then. He wasn't about to change now.

My invited friend argued with us for a couple more minutes. The coach finally came over and said “You’re cut!”, turned around and went back pitching to other guys still trying out.

My invited friend picked up his bag, a hockey back, and stuck his glove and his bat inside, and turned to walk away. He looked back at me …

Aren’t ya coming?”, asked my invited friend.

I’m not cut yet”, I replied. “And I didn’t do that silly kick thing in the air”.

He turned to walk to his car … mumbling things under his breath as he left.

I thought you said he was pretty good?”, said my buddy.

He’s not bad. I guess I forgot that jumping kick thing”, I replied.

I made that team. And we had a great year. On the first of July we played under the fireworks at Labatt’s park, where the then Double A London Tigers played home games. It was really a great experience.

Except for that first day of tryouts.

I remembered this the other day, at the office, when one of our new developers was trying too hard to show me how good he was – or thought he was. And all I could think of was that guy – the friend I invited to try out for the London Blues division fast pitch team. The guy I had to tell that he was cut.

I guess the moral to the story is that – if you’re good – and you know you’re good – don’t try so hard.

If you’re good, people will see it. You don’t have to show boat it.

But I do still feel bad about that day. My invited friend never did talk to me again.

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