Sunday, April 25, 2010

Just as you suspected, I stunk as a ballplayer

I'm sitting in the press box three hours before today's game and I see about 3,000 Pony Leaguers in the stands listening to Tim Flannery talk about signs and Eli Whiteside talking about catching and Duane Kuiper going on and on about that one home run he hit. OK, one of those three things is a lie. Anyway, it made me hark to my own Little League days, which can be described in one word:

Awful.

I would have been known today as Moneyball player because I had a .500 on-base percentage to go with my .000 batting average. I walked a lot, because I was afraid to swing the bat, and I led the Poinsettia Park Little League in getting hit by the pitch. I had a lot of, um, padding on my body, and my coaches knew a good thing when they saw it.

"Put yer fat ass in front of one," they said in crucial situations. Fortunately, the pitchers stunk as much as I did and it was easy to oblige.

I was a catcher my first year. You hear about how the fat kid is always the catcher, but somehow league officials never get the word when they order the equipment. My mask was too small, my chest guard was too small and, most important, my shin guards were too small. They covered only half the knee, which meant many timeouts in anguish when I took a foul tip, or more likely just whiffed on catching a pitch. My glasses wouldn't fit under the mask. Also, my family was too poor to buy me a cup, so I'm fortunate I never took one "there."

OK, we had enough money for a cup. I just couldn't figure a way to broach the topic with my mom, who was our family's purchaser. Yeah, I would have preferred a baseball in the cojones to actually describing to my mom how I needed a device to project them. Boys just are that way. Many moms anticipate that particular need, but my mom, being an immigrant from a non-baseball-speaking country, was not in the loop. Where she came from, bruises in that region ordinarily meant the police were just doing their jobs.

The kids who listened to this morning's pregame lecture at the ballpark got to watch Brad Penny of the Cardinals pitch. Penny was a Giant for a month last year and the first player in many years to drop the old "you never played this game" on me when chafed at something I wrote. I stood my ground, and I will not accept that from a player because I've watched enough baseball and talked to enough baseball people to know what I'm talking about most of the time. I've never flown a plane, but if I see two pilots head from the bar to the jetway, I believe I have the expertise to call them on it.

One funny thing in a clubhouse is watching a writer tell an athlete, "Yeah, one time in a high school game I . . . " Memo to all sportswriters: Players don't give a rat's backside what you did in high school and do not respect you for playing at that level. College maybe, but even then. . . I do respect Haft because he played high school ball in the South Bay, but as he told me the other day in an attempt at self-deprecation, "Oh, we weren't that good. You could have made that team."

I seriously doubt that, though I played a mean first trombone and could have owned the band.

In fact, this one time in band camp . . .

8 comments:

  1. Don't be modest: you stink as a sportswriter too.

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  2. Too poor for a cup??!! Wow. I do want to hear about band camp.

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  3. Keep up the good work Mr. Schulman! I always appreciate the insights that you couldn't fit into your SFGate blog

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  4. I can see baseball players saying things like, "You never played the game," but I agree it's totally unfair. A beat writer watches baseball for a living -- he or she definitely knows enough to write a critique. In football, even regular fans can tell when a QB makes a bad pass -- it wobbles, or comes up short, or sails over a receiver's head. None of us have to be pro football players to pick that out.

    The same can even be said in other industries. You know when a paint job is sloppy -- though you may not have painted a house yourself.

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  5. Ahh...the pleasures of band camp...

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  6. I don't know the context of Penny's comment, but have read enough of your work over the yeas to appreciate your understanding of the game. Still, I've heard it repeated that no one who hasn't actually stood at the plate, bat in hand, can really understand the movement on ball thrown by a good major league pitcher when he's "on."

    It looks easy from the stands, but holding that bat? Not having been there, I'm not sure any of us -- even such an experienced baseball writer -- can fully appreciate the nature of that experience.

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  7. "You never played the game" from a ballplayer is about as ignorant and arrogant as it gets. Most of the guys who did play couldn't put two independent clauses together without dangling a participle or two.

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