You Don’t Become A Baseball Player By Putting On A Uniform

I love baseball. Always have. Always will.

Baseball Field

Baseball Field (Photo credit: howsmyliving)

That doesn’t mean that I was especially good at it. I never threw particularly well. I could field adequately, but I wasn’t all that fast. The one thing I could do was hit. I didn’t hit the long ball, but I could get myself on base. When I was old enough to try out for Little League, I made the team.

I always made the team. That’s where I’d hit the wall.

I made the team, I had a uniform, I went to practice and I showed up for the games. I usually didn’t make it into the games. I’d go on the field for pregame drills. Sometimes I’d get the catcher’s mitt and warm up whatever pitcher the coach was going to put in the game next. A few times, he sent me out to coach third base.

Late in my first season on the team, I made it on to the field. A long fly ball came out to me in right field. I dropped it. I was back on the bench the next inning.

I still loved baseball.

I came back the next season.

Some Things Never Change

And the season after that next one, I came back for that one too. I still wasn’t playing. I loved the game, but I started to get frustrated. I’d get in a game occasionally, if the occasion was that the game was out of reach. My chances at bat were rare.

I griped to my dad after another game where he’d rushed home from work to watch me sit on the bench. He let me rant for a bit, then he passed on a lesson that I still carry with me:

  • No one knows what you want unless you tell them.
  • You don’t become a baseball player by putting on a uniform.
  • Show or tell people what your goal is, then hustle to show them you mean it.

I thought about what he said, then I called the coach and told him I wanted to play the next week. I went to practice and worked hard. I made sure the coach saw me.

The Day Comes

The next game started with me on the bench and my parents in their usual spot, waiting. I was pretty sure that my dad’s lesson hadn’t worked. But then, it happened.

“Get a bat.”

I’d heard him say that to other kids so often that I didn’t even look up. It wasn’t until the coach swatted me on the bill of my cap that I realized he was talking to me. I got a bat. I took a few practice swings. I smiled at my folks. I had a uniform, and I was a baseball player.

The umpire looked over and I walked up to the plate.

The Sort Of, But Not Totally, Miraculous End Of The Tale

My dad and I agree on the start of the end of the story. I stood in the batter’s box. The pitcher wound up and fired the ball my way. I stepped in to the pitch and swung the bat. The ball sailed down the left field line; it climbed and climbed. I watched it for a moment, not because I was trying to show off. It was because I couldn’t believe what was happening.

When my father tells the story, it ends with the ball going over the fence, me rounding the bases and returning to the bench. There’s a lot of truth in that version because that is how he remembers it.

I started running as the ball sailed toward the left field fence. I was certain it was a home run. The outfielder had turned and started back toward the fence, but he slowed to a trot. He was certain it was gone too. We were both wrong.

The ball came down as it reached the chain link outfield fence. The metal tube that made up the top of the fence rang out when the ball hit it and then popped back into the air.

It landed back in the field of play. It was a live ball.

Because the left fielder and I were so sure that I’d hit a home run, neither of us were hustling. He’d stopped running; I was in the home run trot I’d waited twelve years for. When the ball landed back in the field we both started running hard. I reached third base with a head first slide. The next batter singled and I scored.

Like dad has always told the story, I went back to the bench and sat back down like I’d been hitting the long ball all season.

I didn’t get to play the next game.

But I always remember that no one ever became a baseball player by putting on a uniform. Like a lot of other things Dad told me, it’s served me well.

It was a little like Carlton Fisk in ’75 – ripped down the left field line. We both kept it just inside the foul pole, but he didn’t get to do a head first slide like I did.


38 Comments on “You Don’t Become A Baseball Player By Putting On A Uniform”

  1. We Found Him Captain! says:

    Either way, you did good!

  2. Wendi says:

    Oma, I am totally filing this story away…the take away is timeless.

  3. If you didn’t cry, you’re good. There’s no crying in baseball.

    I love the disclaimer at the end.

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Oma’s Father, Sir.

  4. planetross says:

    I played baseball for one year as a kid. I didn’t like it because there were times when you weren’t playing (sitting on the bench waiting to bat).
    I liked soccer though: (aways on the field) … or almost always on the field.
    I played football when I was 16: I didn’t like it much. (only sometimes on the field).

    I don’t know about basketball … I just didn’t like it for some reason.

  5. Awesome job! You hit the fence…what are the chances of that. You were robbed!

  6. Laura says:

    “No one knows what you want unless you tell them.” – I was in my late 20s when I finally learned that. A lot of things got a lot better once I did.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I played baseball as a “youngster” and love the game. I also love this story and the lessons there in. Thanks for sharing Oma. It is home run as far as I see it!

  8. Jackie Cangro says:

    Great story! And life lessons!
    You and Robert Redford have something else in common: the final at bat in the movie went out of the park, but in the book, it was not a home run.

  9. Dufmanno says:

    I spent so many years padding around the dusty outskirts of Mitch Miller’s little league field watching all my boy cousins play I could’ve used it as my home address.
    Lots of grape soda, firecrackers and lik-um-aid later I miss those games.
    Great story…

  10. Amy says:

    I love how your dad remembers that you got a home run. That’s so sweet.

  11. Lenore Diane says:

    Happy birthday to Oma Sr.
    This is a great story, Oma. I love this kind of stuff. Thanks for taking your Dad’s lead (via his comment) and sharing the story with us. I relate to your tale, though the sport was slow pitch softball for me. Played many years – college, too. Always played – never played well. My best friend doesn’t remember me playing poorly, which is one reason we’ve been best friends for over 30yrs. (smile)

  12. We Found Him Captain! says:

    My boy Oma’s heart is as big as his brain. What I love most of all is that he uses both at the same time. He takes after his MOM……she’s the best!!

    Many thanks for the birthday greetings!

  13. Debbie says:

    Happy Belated Birthday, Oma’s Dad! Great life lesson you passed to him!

  14. I was planning on plagiarizing…er…quoting this post title (in response to something over at Life in the Boomer Lane) and I breezed by here to make sure I had it right so as to avoid provoking any legal action on your part.

    I got to thinking. What with the “Chinese food and cheese” wisdom and this baseball wisdom, there’s a lot of wisdom in your family, which is not intended to imply that youse are a bunch o’ wise guys.

    Maybe you should put all of this in a book and illustrate it with stick figures, ‘natch.

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  17. […] loved baseball, even though I was never good at it. I love baseball, even though I never will be good at it. I’ve missed a lot of games over the […]

  18. […] League player, I was a contact hitter. I never hit a home-run, and was a liability in the field. My playing career when I was twelve years old. Now I’m fifty-one. The train to me being a great baseball player left the station a long […]

  19. […] You Don’t Become A Baseball Player By Putting On A Uniform relates some sage advice I got from my dad back when I played Little League Baseball. We both remember the story slightly differently. In the end, life validated his advice…as usual. […]

  20. omawarisan says:

    Reblogged this on Blurt and commented:

    I wrote this about my dad a few years ago. The wisdom of his lesson has served me well throughout my life. Ironically, he taught this lesson using a game that he never played.
    Call your dad today, if you can. He remembers you at your best. Sometimes he remembers you better than you actually were, and that is kind of cool too.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Over all these years, you have always made me proud. Thanks for all the happy memories!
    Hope to see you soon.

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