Batter Up

By Debbie Koenig

My fifth grade teacher believed that every child should know how to play two quintessentially American sports, baseball and football. In addition to our regular gym glasses, twice a week he’d take the whole class out to the field and teach us the basics—the rules as well as the techniques. As a fat kid, I was teased and mocked pretty mercilessly even by this teacher, who seemed offended that I was an enthusiastic participant.

The thing is, I was good at sports. Better than my three brothers. Better than a lot of the other kids in my class. I may not have run as quickly or had as much stamina as some, but I caught and threw well, and with a bat in my hand I was fierce. I loved competing. But in high school I chose to play field hockey and lacrosse. I didn’t swing a bat for a good 30 years.

I’d forgotten all about that until this past weekend. For Father’s Day, my husband decided on a visit to a batting cage instead of bowling ( He hadn’t been to one in a decade, and our son and I had never tried it at all. As a family we’re not particularly sporty. We don’t watch or play anything organized, and junior cringes at the thought of being forced into a game with rules. My husband was traumatized by Little League as a child, so he never wanted to push the kid into team sports. But we’re aware of how we’re setting up our son for unhealthy habits, so we like to try new ways to move.

As we signed in and picked out bats and helmets, I mentioned that I used to be pretty good at this. I wondered aloud what it would be like to swing a bat again, though secretly I suspected I was going to rock this. We opted for the beginners’ cage, which offered the choice of hitting either baseballs or softballs.

My husband went first, borderline giddy with excitement. He chose to hit baseballs. It turned out to be harder than he’d expected, and the first half-dozen zinged right past him. But soon he got into a rhythm, hitting a stream of fouls and eventually some solid hits. By the end, he’d hit about half his pitches.

Next went junior, who’d never swung anything heavier than a Wiffle bat. He went for softballs, once we explained they’d be larger and slower. We coached him on his form from the sidelines until he, too, was hitting about half his pitches. At one point he connected five times in a row. He came out of the cage beaming.

And then it was my turn. I started with softballs. After I pushed the start button I lined up my feet and took my stance, wondering if my body was up to the task. I swung and missed at the first pitch, but the muscle memory roared back. I connected with the second pitch, and after that I went on a streak. My husband and son became a cheering section—I kept hearing “Wow!” and “You’re really good at this!” I hit 10 out of my first 12 pitches. For my next round I decided to challenge myself, upgrading to baseballs, and hit 8 out of 12. If my husband and son could’ve lifted me up and carried me out on their shoulders, they would have.

I’m not sure what I enjoyed more, hearing their surprise and enthusiasm as they watched me, or experiencing that sense of power and physicality. No wait, I definitely enjoyed the physical part more.

Follow Debbie on Connect @debbieskoenig

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