Ah, the tools of ignorance. I've felt a special brotherhood with the guardians of the backstop ever since my high school years, when I was the starting catcher for my co-ed CYO softball team. I loved softball, because it finally provided me with a chance to look like a competent athlete. I'd had a brutal two-year cameo in little league when I was in middle school, so it was a relief to have a ball twice as large being tossed to me underhanded, rather than fired in my general direction in an overhand fashion. I'm not too proud to admit that. One thing that little league had taught me was that I was not gifted as a flycatcher, so I settled in behind the plate for softball. If I thought that I was going to have it easy, I was soon disabused of that notion.
We played out our seasons during the late spring and early summer, which meant several innings of crouching at home plate in the heat. Fortunately, our games were played under a strict time limit, sparing untold wear and tear on my knees. Also, stolen bases were not allowed. But I did have to deal with our pitchers, one of whom was a younger girl with major temper and self esteem issues. Fun? You got it. I essentially became an on-field coach, coaxing and encouraging her between every pitch, offering a low, wide target with my glove (I actually wore an outfielder's glove instead of a catcher's mitt for some reason), and most of all, working to tamp down my own temper while suppressing hers as well. But she thanked me often, at least. There's nothing worse than an ungrateful pitcher.
I took pride in my modest skills as a softballer, since I knew it was as close as I'd ever get to emulating my baseball heroes. Even with the increased ease of facing slow-pitch floaters, I never hit for much power, functioning as a line-drive and scratch hitter. I had enough speed to beat balls into the infield and leg out numerous infield hits, and in fact I led my team in batting average at least once that I can remember. (So I was told at the end-of-year party; I swear I didn't keep track of my own stats!) I was also honored to be named a team captain, even though there was no oversized "C" to wear on my chest like those that certain ostentatious major league teams give out.
Though catcher is a fairly unglamorous position, I occasionally made some attention-grabbing plays, throwing out a runner attempting to advance to second or third base on a throw home or a dribbler by the batter. My favorite play occured one afternoon when we were playing a team that included a few peers from my high school track team. As I was warming up our pitcher before the game, those same schoolmates started teasing me from behind the backstop, suggesting that I had been put behind the plate to hide my bad glove. They took it a step further, pointing out that most teams in our league used girls as catchers. (Not a very Christian or enlightened attitude, huh?) I simply laughed it off and went about my business. An inning or two into the game, one of my hecklers came to bat and hit a foul tip to my right side, toward my throwing hand. I made a diving attempt, reaching across my body with the glove and snagging the ball out of the air for the out. The batter shook his head in disbelief, smiling increduously. I'd let my on-field performance do the talking.
So there you have it: my own version of Al Bundy's football stories. I'll work on embellishing it more as the years go by.