It all started when my friends Mike and Meryn invited me to go hit some baseballs with them at the local batting cages. I immediately wanted to say no. I couldn’t hit baseballs. I’d just make a fool of myself.
I immediately went back in thought a couple decades to my little league coach patting me on the shoulder, sending me to the plate with one nugget of advice. “Just don’t worry about swinging,” he would tell me every time. “Take the walk.” I can still see my teammates faces pressed against the chain link dugout, all hoping that I didn’t blow the inning for them. We just need to survive Dan’s turn at bat… I could read it in their faces. When I got to the plate, I usually heeded the advice of my coach and kept from swinging. He was right, I’d almost always walk.
Sometimes I swung anyway. I’d always strike out when I did. I have a lot of memories that end in my teammates groaning because Fat Ass Danny ruined it for them.
But for some reason, when Mike and Meryn asked me to come, instead of saying no, I said yes.
We all headed to the fun center, and I paid my two bucks for thirty pitches. There were three batting cages to choose from. Slow. Medium. Fast. “I’m definitely doing slow pitch,” I declared. My friends also went into the slow pitch cages. Mike hit every ball. That didn’t surprise me. He was on the regional all-star team when we were kids. When it was my turn to enter the cage, I forced a helmet that looked like it was made for a six-year old onto my head, picked the longest bat I could find, dropped my token into the machine, and stepped up to the plate. The orange light blared in front of me letting me know that the first pitch was coming.
Just don’t worry about swinging. My old coach’s voice hit me like a 100 lb bag of dry grass clippings. “Screw that,” I said aloud as the machine lobbed the first ball my way. I looked at the ball and swung my bat in its direction.
And… I hit it.
And I didn’t just hit it. I hit it… clean into the next county.
I smiled to myself as I pictured what the looks on everyone’s faces would have been two decades prior. And then, another pitch.
And I hit that one too.
And another, and another, and another. And I hit all of them.
With each pitch, different voices from the past began to disappear and I began… believing in myself. At the end of 30 pitches, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I’d hit 29 of them.
I left the cage feeling victorious. Immediately, Mike said, “Let’s try medium pitch.” I looked over, hesitant to give up the incredibleness that I now was. I agreed.
And I hit 28 out of 30.
All-star Mike hit 27.
With that under my belt, I was ready to cash-in my chips for the evening. “Let’s do fast pitch,” Mike said.
I looked over at the current sucker in the fast pitch cage. Balls were zipping past him, slamming with the force of thunder against the back rubber matt. He wasn’t connecting with very many of them at all. No way, was all I could think. “Okay,” I told Mike.
I went and paid two more bucks for thirty more pitches. Mike went first. He knocked 24 of them down. He stepped out afterwards and I high-fived him. “That was amazing,” I said in a tone that declared to the world that it was far more amazing than what I was about to prove myself to be.
I stepped into the cage, inserted my token and stared at the pitching machine. “Come on. Show me what you got.” A ball spun out and flew past me. I clumsily swung the bat far too late. The ball exploded with fury against the rubber mat behind me. I looked back at the pitching machine. Is that all you got? Another ball launched from its cannon.
This time, I grazed it. A small *tink* as it went past me brought a renewed smile to me. It may not have been a home run hit, but I had made contact.
On the third pitch, I caught the top of the ball and it bounced off the bat directly into my shin. Holy $&@! that hurt, I thought, but bit my lip and looked at the pitching machine. Come on, come on.
Pitch four I hit a grounder.
Pitch five, another grounder.
By the time pitch number ten came whizzing up the lane, I was hitting them Barry Bonds style, clean, solid, and out of the ballpark. Most of them anyway.
When the last ball was pitched, I made contact and watched it fly. 27 out of 30. Not bad, Pearce, I thought to myself. Not bad.
You see, I learned something that day. I learned that I’m a pretty good hitter. I learned that I’m a pretty damn good hitter.
And as we all drove home from the batting cages that night, I couldn’t help but wonder what I could have done two decades earlier if my coach had told me to swing with all my heart… What could I have been had I believed I would hit the ball instead of believing that I’d strike out if I even tried… There’s no way of knowing.
Since that first night at the batting cages, I’ve been back several times, and each time I left pleased as punch and anxious to go back for more. Anxious to once again become the team hero for the night, even if only in my daydreams. Anxious to be what I suddenly felt I always could have been.
Anxious to shut out and shut up those voices from my past.
And so, a couple weeks ago when I received a nice email from Heather over at Sports Authority asking me if I wanted to try one of their new fancy schmancy baseball bats, no strings attached, no requirement to review it or endorse it, no nothin’ but to enjoy it, I couldn’t help but giggle in anticipation. My own bat. My own nice baseball bat. It was like the universe was smiling down on me, rewarding me for my new found passion.
She sent me an email telling me why these new Easton bats are the shizniquity. Something about some new bat technology called BBCOR that everybody’s suddenly being required to use. She tried to tell me why these bats made all the difference, and why these specific bats were so incredible. She told me about how Sports Authority is the only retailer that can sell these Easton bats right now, and she… oh I don’t know. To be honest, I have no idea still what any of it means or how it will affect my victories at the batting cages or your kid in his high school games. I’ll just take her word for it. What I do know is that the bats are sexy (that’s one of them in the pic above), and that when I got my free bat in the mail it was better than Christmas morning.
And as I thought about hoarding my new bat to myself and never doing anything but enjoying it (hey, that was the invitation!) I couldn’t help but keep going back to my little league years and then to the triumph that I have been feeling of late. And so, I planned out this post and wrote Heather an email and asked her if she’d give away one of these bats to one of my readers too. She said, “of course,” cause she’s awesome like that.
So… here’s the contest. If you want this bat, and this particular bat is the Easton Power Brigade BB11S2 worth $300, then FILL OUT THIS FORM and share your story with me (it doesn’t have to be long) about sports (any sport) and voices in the past either hindering or pushing you (or someone you’re close to) to greater places. I’ll pick my favorite and on Wednesday afternoon, I’ll announce my pick and share some of my favorites with you. So, get swingin’.
You’re an all-star.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
PS. I’d love to hear your comments whether you participate in the contest or not. Do you have positive or negative memories about sports as a kid? What were some of the greatest lessons you learned about yourself and others? What voices can you still hear, even decades later?