The Trys and the Try-Nots

This is a true story. It is also metaphor.

I have always wanted to play baseball, but as I was growing up, it conflicted with soccer season which happened during the very short Alaska summer.

Since I was very good at soccer and played every summer, I never got a chance to try baseball. I have played a bit of baseball here and there. Some in high school, some in college, but nothing organized. I was good at playing second base, and I could switch-hit. I figured this, and my enthusiasm for playing, would help me get on a real team someday.

I found out the evening of June 7, 1998, that tryouts for the Anchorage Bucs were scheduled for the next day. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, but I figured it would be my chance to see if I could make the cut and fulfill a dream. I knew that scant experience and a love for the game wouldn't be enough, but I also knew it would not hurt to try.

All the guys who showed up looked to be about 17 to 21 years old. Most of them were wearing uniforms from former teams, cleats, and they had that "been playing all their lives" look. I'm 27. I had a T-shirt and biking pants, an old pair of indoor soccer shoes and that "I think I saw a game once" look.

We began by swinging in the batting cages. My first at-bat was dismal. I went 2 for 25. I swung through more than half of them; the rest went straight into the netting above. My second at-bat was much better. I swung through two, hit nine toward what would have been left field, hit six to right field and popped up the rest. I figured that was good for someone who had not swung a bat in four years.

After batting, we were told to play catch while the managers checked out potential pitchers. That was it for the day because the rain picked up, but I figured sticking around would help to show my interest. I teamed up with some fellow, and we went out to left field to toss the ball around. 

I found out that sometimes it does hurt to try.

I had two gloves with me: my wife's, which was brand new and not broken in, and mine, which was 15 years old and had no padding. I tried her glove first. He threw the ball, and I couldn't even close the glove around it. So I tried my glove. I tossed the ball back to him. He had to reach down for it, but at least the ball made it there. He threw it back to me. I was able to catch the ball easily, but intense pain erupted throughout my left hand.

After 10 minutes of throwing back and forth, my thumb, index finger and middle finger were swollen and bluish-purple in hue. It was difficult to move my thumb. I could barely make a fist. One of the throws , had bent my thumb back even though it was "safe" inside the glove. On top of that, I was developing a stitch in my right side from throwing. I started to realize just how out of shape I was.

Tryouts were set to continue the following day, but, I didn't go back. 

Part of it was my hand. It had swelled so much I could barely fit it into my glove. It didn't seem likely that I would make the team by saying, "I can hit and catch, I just can't grip a bat or put my hand in a glove to show you."

I also think I didn't go back because I'm better suited to play in the Couch Potato Baseball League.

I have always been confident in my athletic ability, but compared to the other players trying out, I was not going to make the team. 

I will never again say, "Damn, even I could've hit that."


This story originally ran in The Anchorage Daily News in the summer of 1998. I found a version of it saved in Microsoft Works for Mac on an old hard drive. It took a lot of editing (and guessing what the strange characters meant) to get it from that format to here.