My problem with balls – Leite’s Culinaria

I have a problem with balls. I can’t catch them, I can’t hold them, and I certainly can’t throw them. But apparently balls have no problem with me. You seem attracted to me. I could walk past a playing field, a tennis court, or even the neighbor’s yard, and balls of all kinds would inevitably seek me out.

This unusual law of attraction started in the summer when I was 11 and playing in the Swansea Little League. (Or was it left field? I never get it. You know, the spot behind first base?) I never wanted to be on a baseball team. In fact, I loathed the very idea. But it was my parents’ way of assimilating me with other boys and getting me out of the house.

Just before that, on a Sunday afternoon, while he was reading the newspaper, I approached my father and said, “Dad, I think I’m addicted to drugs.”

He slowly lowered his newspaper and La-Z-Boy. He looked over my head at my mother. Then he looked at me. “Why do you say that, son?” He was gentle, one hand on my arm.

I explained that we had been given a handout at school listing the possible signs of teenage and adolescent drug addiction. One of them spent an inordinate amount of time alone, particularly in a bedroom behind closed doors. I often locked myself in my room alone because of the gusts of fear coursing through my body.

“Did you take drugs?”

“No, of course not,” I replied, slightly offended. What a ridiculous question.

“Son,” my mother said, “then you don’t have to worry.”

“Why?”

“Banana, if you haven’t done drugs, you can’t be a drug addict,” she said, her forefingers clicking together like two Twix bars. “That fits together.”

“But I’m afraid I will become I’m addicted to drugs because I spend so much time alone.” When they saw that I had absolutely no understanding of how the world works and that they gave me a stark reminder of how many times I’d actually holed up in my room, they landed me in little league.

The exercises were miserable for me. My teammates rolled their eyes and laughed when I threw the ball. (“You throw like a girl, Leite.”) Or when I was at the bat. (“My grandmother was a better swinger, Leite!”) And especially when I caught a pop fly and missed. (“Hey, Magoo, do you need glasses?”) Since no boy was ever turned away from little league back then, Mr. Hibert, our coach, minimized the damage I could do by putting me behind first base, where never a batsman hit a ball.

We were in last place for most of the season. To deal with the boredom I was feeling out there, I held up my glove and chewed on the leather straps that sewed it together. I gnawed at it as I watched the grounders dash toward the shortstop, only to be picked up and pinned to first base. “Out of!” the referee would shout. Or watching pop-flies fly like fireworks across midfield, with the kid playing that position going backwards, up, up and catching them, but not before several players moved around the bases. Sometimes, gloved to my mouth, I’d even sing to myself – mostly Tony Orlando and Dawn or the Osmonds.

I don’t know how I came up with the idea of ​​eating outfield, but once I did, the games practically became a spectator sport for me. There was a food stand behind the stands and before a game I asked my parents for money, who attended every single game and, thank God, didn’t flinch when they played. I would stock up on Swedish fish, candy chains, red liquorice, sweet cupcakes and chewing gum. I unwrapped everything, threw away the wrapper, and stuffed the candy into a small brown paper bag. I tucked the bag into the crook of my glove, and while it might appear to everyone that I was bored and chewing on my glove, I was actually enjoying a whole host of childhood joys.

Towards the end of the season, I sat in my usual seat in the outfield, my glove overflowing with my candy stash. I counted down the games until this torture was over and I could throw my glove away for good. And then it happened. A bang from the bat, throwing the ball my way. Right field?! The batsman was a right-hander. No right-hander had ever thrown one into right field. I panicked.

“Catch it, Dave!” everyone shouted. “Catch it.” My parents stood up, my mother clutched my father’s arm. I have made my decision. I raised my glove high over my head and cupped the back of it with my left hand as Mr. Hibert had taught me. The candy rained down on me and I turned my face away and missed the ball, which landed about a meter away from me. Laughter erupted everywhere.

“Throw it! Throw it!” I grabbed the ball and threw it so hard and high with adrenaline that it missed first baseman and hit the ground near the catcher. He made it to second base, but it was too late. The hitter had made it to third base. I was humiliated. Sitting on the bench, I ignored the taunts from the other team’s guys and the cold shoulders from my teammates.

During one of the final games of the season, I was holding onto the outfield and praying for rain when a lightning strike with my racquet sent the ball straight into our pitcher Kevin Kraska’s balls. He collapsed. Everyone crowded the hill like ants feasting on picnic dung. I was the only one who stayed in the outfield. Mr. Hibert and, I believe, Mr. Kraska helped Kevin back onto the bench.

Mr. Hibert waved the first basemen to the hill. “You pitch.”

“Who’s going to play first base?” said the boy.

“It doesn’t matter now, let’s just mix it up,” he said, twisting his arm over his head. “Outfield in, infield out.” He pointed at me, “Lead, first base.” I stuffed the candy in my pockets and trotted over.

I have no idea how long I stood there, but I don’t remember doing anything until a pop fly came my way. If I get that, the rancid humiliation of my past mistakes might somehow go away. I raise my hand, all eyes are on me. And then I calmly lowered my glove. It was as if time slowed down to molasses. The ball fell next to me and I watched as several boys jumped beside me and tried to grab it. Mr. Hibert was amazed. The ball passed from boy to boy, but he never passed the batter as he rounded the bases and slid into the home. The opposing team jumped up and hugged.

I never played little league again. But then the balls started falling out of the sky at my feet. In high school I would intentionally dodge the field with my head down to avoid the fields, and yet I would stand there staring at a baseball, football, soccer ball, or tennis ball between my feet while someone yelled at me to throw it back. And I would have to make a decision: Do I throw it to them and risk the sexist line “You throw like a girl!” again, or do I just move on?

In my twenties, it became easier to ignore gamers’ shouts, especially with the advent of the Walkman. I could claim to hear nothing but the soulful lyrics of Anita Baker or Chet Baker – and then, so touched by the music, I’d step right over the ball and pretend I hadn’t noticed it was there.

When I tell this story these days, friends sometimes ask me to prove it. So I accompany them to the Great Lawn in Central Park, where teams always play.

“Watch out,” I say. We start at the edge of the lawn and inevitably a ball rolls right across my path. I look at my friends who shake their heads speechless. “I told you,” I say.

“Throw it over the fence, yeah?” “Can you throw that away?” “Dude, pass it over,” come the pleas. I just look at the field, smile and move on.

Then I count to one, two, three and indeed: “Asshole!” or a similar insult is thrown at me. And I laugh Originally published August 28, 2015.

The word "David" written in the script.

© 2023 David Leite. Photo © 2015 David Leite. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.

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