Don't Rub It
It’s been a while since I’ve had the specific round type of bruise you get when a baseball smacks your skin with any type of velocity. If you’ve spent any time around the game you will recognize exactly what I mean. It’s a circular blue and purple hematoma with the blood-red seams of the baseball actually marked right on the skin. Some might consider it a badge of honor, others a kind of temporary tattoo. In either case, those receiving this mark generally don’t anticipate it happening. This past week of Calvert baseball saw at least two instances of which I am aware. One of those instances was me.
It happened as I instructed the outfielders to catch the fly balls I was hitting. I directed them to read the ball as it came off my bat and throw it back toward the bucket located near my feet. Ordinarily, that might seem like a bad move on my part, to knowingly put myself in danger. But with our team still learning to throw properly and as mechanics continue to develop, I considered myself pretty safe. I’ve seen them shoot a basketball with a practiced amount of precision but in the realm of baseball, our team is still learning. I was quite confident no one would even come close. It wasn’t a completely boneheaded supposition. Keep in mind, they are mostly high school students still building their arm strength from scratch. From the outfield, they are approximately 300 feet away from where I was standing at home plate. Mostly, they throw it from way out there and it bounces multiple times in the deep grass before slowing and coming to a gentle stop.
But then there is Antonio. He has an arm. I had mistakenly forgotten that fact. I looked down to grab another ball from the bucket when I heard the dreaded familiar phrase as it was hollered from far away. The wind carried it toward me from the depths of the outfield.
“Headache!” one of the boys screamed with a sense of urgency that was clearly meant to warn me. I immediately recognized that I had done something stupid and was most certainly in a position of considerable danger. I ducked my head and turned away to protect my cranium from damage. Maybe I would be okay. I thought those exact words to myself.
The ball smacked into the side of my right calf and I felt the impact shutter my entire leg. The immediate shock of the blow didn’t seem to phase me but then, like so many other traumas to the body, the pain began to register as the signal made its way up to my brain.
Owwww! I said to myself, wanting to scream more words than just that but harnessing the superhuman discipline I had been forced to learn as a maturing adult over the years. Yikes, that hurts! It was the best that I could muster inside my head as I attempted to keep standing without falling over as I looked around to make sure none of the spectators had noticed my grave mistake. Of course, they did! I looked like an idiot! There were only a handful of visitors watching practice from the stands but I still was desperate to make it look like I knew what I was doing. This wasn’t going to help. Besides that concern and the pain, the only other thought that kept surging to the front of my mind was another old baseball adage: Don’t rub it.
I don’t exactly know why it became a guideline but everyone knows it is the macho thing to do. When you get hit by a baseball, you absolutely do not rub it. No one does. It’s just a part of the game. Sure, it would absolutely help to diffuse the pain by distributing pressure across a larger surface area of the skin. But among a crowd of onlookers with anticipation regarding how this specific event is to be handled, rubbing it is something that is unconditionally not going to happen.
So, like any other idiotic baseball player of the previous decades has done, I limped a little, walked it off, and dutifully returned to my post. I took a deep breath and collected myself before hitting another ball into the air as training for the next outfielder to learn to catch. The practice session continued. I guess in this way, baseball is a lot like life. Sometimes you get to smack the ball and other times the ball smacks you. It hurts. It hurts so bad that most of the time it leaves a mark that stays with you for days, maybe even longer. But at the end of the day, both baseball and life continue. If we so desire, we can walk off the field or sit on the bench behind the safety and security of the fences. Playing the game is risky. There’s a certain danger of stepping up to the plate.
But life wasn’t designed for us to seek out only moments of comfort. Certainly, convenience and security are blessings to be enjoyed. But as for me and the group of young men and women out on that field, we proactively seek moments that challenge our resolve. It's oppressively hot and the ball is hard. The game is difficult and success is fleeting. Yet that’s what makes baseball so great. It comes with moments that are painful and others that are triumphant. What we so often fail to understand is that the agonizing times are what make the joyous times of great success that much more electrifying.
I start this week of baseball with a bruise on my leg that I received last week. It reminds me that I’m still alive. It’s a mark that showcases that I am not afraid to get dirty and to put myself out there in order to risk something great in the game of life. It also reminds me that there is a young man by the name of Antonio who throws the ball really hard and I need to remember to get out of the way. I’ll anticipate his throw next time. And I have no doubt that soon there will be others here in Calvert just like him.