lents park portland oregon

"Sliding Into Home"

By Jeff Owenby

Baseball is really just a matter of physics, momentum, and a great deal of love. To endorse my theory, I offer up this little tale of determination and dedication on my mom's part like I'd never seen before. My parents were separated, and it was the first house we'd lived in without my dad. I suppose I was playing just a bit too much army, and watching a bit too many monster movies. Perhaps I was hanging out too much with the likes of Jerry the comic book king, and Marvin and Marshall, the twins from down the road.

Thinking that I needed positive male influences beyond the wisdom of Jerry, Marvin and Marshall, my mother decided to sign me up for little league. I wasn't really interested, and my time was gladly spent riding my bike or seeking adventures and misadventures with my many neighborhood cohorts. It was the beginning of summer. Trees blossomed into verdant giants, insects buzzed on screen doors, and the sun drove us to the stark shadows under whatever tree could be found. It was the season for cut-offs and T shirts and Kool-Aid. Sliding into home plate and catching fly balls were the furthest things from my mind. I had only played softball before, and never played an actual game of baseball. It was different to say the least.

First off, the ball is small and rock hard as opposed to a softball which is mushy, and larger. Second, a baseball is pitched at you-not underhand, but overhand-and at light speed. Some of those pitched balls from my coaches could've ended up in a most exemplary case of manslaughter had I not seen fit to move my head. At first it scared me; then, I learned that the faster the ball came at me (physics), the farther I could hit it (momentum). So where does love enter into it? We'll get to that.

When the actual practice time began, I felt nervous. It was all so organized, and quite unlike the neighborhood park games we played. This was a structured activity. Rules were strictly enforced. I figured that I really messed up bad when my coach made me come back from a hit, and run the bases all over again. What had I done wrong? I had to come back, then take off again while they watched, only this time using a stop watch. What I learned afterward was that they couldn't believe how fast I could run. I always enjoyed running, and I was indeed fast. I was also a tremendous power hitter, which likewise stumped the coaches. So, armed with tremendous batting power, and the speed of a gazelle outrunning a cheetah, I was finding myself in the great world of baseball.

Naturally, the coaches decided to go 3-for-3, and put me into right field. It was there that the bottom fell out of my baseball career. I couldn't even catch a cold if I wanted. No matter what happened, I never caught the ball. For the time being, let's just assume that Murphy's Law is the only law that is ever obeyed and recognized. Every single time anybody ever hit a ball, it always came to right field. I swear that if a ball was ever smacked out of Yankee stadium in New York, it flew across the continent toward my right field.

Finally the day came to play our first game. Nervously I paced; it was my turn to bat. To my surprise I actually hit the ball completely out of Lent's Park! The crowds roared, and I was a temporary star. Before that magnificent hit, my mom sat patiently listening to the other mothers bragging their kids up and down. It was time for them to listen to her for a change. The best part of this story is that I was put into left field later on and accidentally caught a fly ball. During our second game, I hit the ball out of the park again. However, as an outfielder, I returned to my prolific talents of managing to miss any ball that came my way.

Having expounded on lightning fast runs, power hits, and grandiose luck catching a fly ball, I return to the real hero of this story: my mom. She broke several bones in her hand from catching my speed balls as I tried to learn to pitch. She just kept going, even with a broken hand. We practiced consistently for the longest time, maybe even weeks, until I felt comfortable with catching. It was perhaps for her a most painful period that she went with these bones broken in her hand. Her hand swelled and turned blue. Finally, she had to see a doctor, and he was amazed that she'd continued for so long. So am I when I think back on it.

Yes, mom is the true hero of this tale. Between practices, part of our job as a team was to break into pairs and sell Van Duyn chocolate bars door-to-door. These candy bars were huge, and they were the best things ever. Still, nobody wanted to buy them. Maybe it was a part of our discipline as players to go around with a box full of delectable bricks of chocolate and almond and try to vend them for fifty cents a whack.

My hitting the ball at galactic distances was just a matter of physics. Running the bases at incredible speeds, was just momentum. Teaching me how to be better, and helping me to train so hard was pure love, and there's no greater element than that. And yes, my mom was my best and only customer. She bought two of the candy bars.