The Trouble with Balls

Coming from a baseball family, it was hard to imagine that I wouldn’t pick up a bat until well into my teens, let alone never really desire to. There were already enough Kirklands for that. When I think back upon my coming of age stories involving sports, there were a lot of tell tale signs that should have warned me to never pick up anything that involved fast-paced focus or quick physical skill. As part of my obsessive compulsive disorder, I like things that have endings, things that are finite. That’s why when I get nervous in a conversation, I glance into a corner: three walls that come to a point. There was just never really a place for something as clumsy and round as a ball in my life. Playing sports was like holding one of those slippery cylinder toys people my age played with when they were younger (and you do not know what kind of a struggle it was trying to find a picture of one online). It was just something I was never good at, and honestly, it didn’t bother me too much. However, imagine the surprise of my family when I started reading books at an embarrassing rate. What do we do with the child that eats a lot of Chef Boyardee in his spare time while rereading Little Women for the Accelerated Reader points? There was only one solution: recreational league soccer.
And I guess that maybe I wasn’t so horrible at it, but in rec league soccer, you learn quickly that if you’re the pudge on the team, you get placed at fullback. That’s why I jumped on the opportunity to be goalie (or keeper, which I learned is the more professional term), when our regular goaper was struck in the temple by a stray soccer ball. My padded exterior could take the hit, and I knew that it was my time to shine. That was my strategy in sports… play the sideline until someone got maimed or possibly even killed.

This is what sports are to me. An uncontrollable force that ultimately
lead you to throwing something (the water snake) across the room.

And that’s exactly why I joined the middle school men’s volleyball team as… wait for it… team manager. And sure, I sat most of the time, and my responsibilities constituted me putting up and taking down the net, picking up the balls, and making sure people had their appropriate water bottle. But the day that Jake Baker twisted his ankle was probably the best day of my life. It was the middle of a tournament, and considering that there was practically no funding or interest in middle school male volleyball to begin with, there was no second string. I was the second string. As he was taken off the court, I finally got to join in the huddle. Our coach said something about us playing like p–sies, and while everyone else seemed annoyed and bothered, I was excited. Man talk. How cool is that? I didn’t mind being called that because it meant that I was playing, and that’s all that mattered until the first shot came to me and hit me in the face. I was removed from the court and replaced by a gimp Jake, who was determined to be more valuable at half-functionality than I was at full.
So, I kind of gave up after that. I just didn’t know what to do with all the balls: footballs didn’t spiral, basketballs didn’t dribble, and I had no idea what kind of secret handshake constituted a successful bump in volleyball. The concepts were apparent to me, but there was something about making them physically happen that was just beyond my imagination. I didn’t understand the shortage that was happening between my head and my hands or feet or sometimes my chest, torso, knees, and the occasional wrist hit.

I wish there were more single or double person sports,
like limbo or ballroom dancing.

It wasn’t until college that I would try and play any kind of sport again, and that’s when I enlisted in intramurals. I was informed that it was “not competitive, and just for fun!” And that was the only exclamation mark I’ve ever associated with intramurals in a positive light. For the one and probably only time in my life, I represented the Kirkland family in an overly, and kind of intimidatingly, intense version of softball. That’s another problem that I’ve encountered with sports: people get way too involved and blame other people. That’s why I like playing tennis for four minutes, or Wii Golf, or ballroom dancing. But all that’s beside the point: let’s get back to intramural softball. Our team sucked; it didn’t take an ESPN commentator to figure that out. We were comprised of the people that weren’t good enough to play a college sport in season, so we just kind of gathered together to try and not be horrible. So it was quite a shock to me, at the bottom of the fourth inning when our “team captain” told me that I needed to step it up, or I would be sitting on the bench for the rest of the game. That’s when I responded, Or I can just leave now and save everyone the trouble. I don’t care, I could be watching TV.
I never cared enough to keep playing or be harshly pep talked into trying harder. I kind of just wanted to drink a half of a flask and stand out on some grass for a while with a leather mitten on my hand, as opposed to the normal routine of drinking half a flask and standing in my room with regular mittens on my hands. After that game, I refused to show up for anymore games or practices, and when people would text me to ask where I was, I would respond, No thanks. I’m going to take a nap instead.
So maybe my unsuccessful sports streaks have to do with most of the maxims that athletes pride themselves on: practice, a positive attitude, actual ambition, hand-eye coordination, and the hope that the other players on your team don’t get injured. I never wanted or had any of those qualities. All I wanted to do was listen to my French practice tapes and listen to some Ingrid Michaelson. But I did love the Capri Suns and orange slices; that’s actually what probably brought me back to keep trying. And I’m sure one day, I’ll find another sport that seems to be calling my name–and after I finish throwing whatever equipment comes with said sport across the field/court/etc, I’ll excuse myself for a nice juice box and fruit plate.


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