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Axel Kohagen

Full Tilt Failure!: My Baseball Story.

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Whiffle ball led off my failed experiment at playing baseball. We owned two thin yellow whiffle ball bats and two big fat red bats. We hacked away with the yellow bats and eventually, after spinning around on strikeout after strikeout, someone would stomp into the garage and grab Big Red. It was the only way we could get a hit.

This was country ball. There were never many of us, so pitcher's hand rules went into effect. Bases were usually leaves, sticks, or scratched out portions of dust. Games ended when it became more fun to smack each other with the bats than wait for the pitch to sail over the plate, or when a whiffle ball got lost in itch weed and no one's parent was willing to drive into town to buy a new one with change left over from buying candy. I swung for the fences every time and, despite the law of averages, I'm pretty sure I lost every time we played.

Little League changed things, in that my failures were on display for classmates and their parents. I played right field and discovered prayer could not keep someone from hitting a ball out for me to misplay and lose in the grass.

I prayed for the batter in front of me to record the last out, hoping the team would be outscored enough I would not be asked to bat at the top of the next inning. I notched one hit when I swung so far in advance of a pitch the bat wrapped around my body and the ball accidentally ran into the meat of the bat hanging over the plate. The ball trickled fair and I somehow landed on base.

The other highlight of Little League brought short-lived joy. I cleverly worked my way out of a run-down between third and home, but the parents were laughing as I crossed home plate. Later, someone told me I'd accidentally kicked the ball out of the catcher's hand with my flailing and the run did not count, anyway.

Scared of the ball? Terrified. I saw a classmate almost castrate his cousin with a lined shot that went past left field and nearly into a basketball court across the park. Catch could bloody your nose. I saw my coach scream in pain when a baseball bounced off his skull after I threw it when he was not looking.

I kept going out, year after year, until junior high. It seemed manlier to announce that "baseball is stupid" instead of admitting I could not grasp the focus, communication, and teamwork necessary to play the game. I spent all of my energies swinging a bat spastically at my problems instead of learning and enjoying one hell of a game.

Baseball tortured me through adolescence, only to provide me with enough joy and friendship to more than even the scales in adulthood. The game did not change, but I finally relaxed enough to join the team and find the right pace and attitude.

As busy as life feels for kids today, I hope they are not hurrying so fast they miss baseball, too.

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