“Which sports did you play in high school?”
In my junior year, I tried out for the baseball team at Windber Area High School. We were called the Ramblers. The school colors were blue and white. I played first base.
Though baseball was my favorite sport, I was initially terrible at it—well, maybe not terrible. Let’s just say that (on my best days) I was adequate, and let it go at that—though I did get better as time went on … much better my second year with the Ramblers than in my first.
Two incidents from when I played on the team are worth sharing. During the first year, I needed a new first-base glove because mine was falling apart. (It should be noted that first-base gloves are somewhat different from other gloves. Why? Because first-base gloves are designed to pick balls out of the dirt and make catching errant throws easier.)
When you play first base, you never know who’ll be throwing the ball to you—infielders, outfielders, pitchers, catchers—from which direction, and in what situation. It might be a grounder, it might be the second throw of a double-play, it might be a pitcher trying to get a guy out who’s standing too far off first base while anticipating stealing second.
One more thing: It’s probably going to be thrown hard from relatively close range — and that can be hazardous. (Trust me. I know.)
Once, while playing first, I got a blazin’ throw. The good news: caught the ball right in the pocket of my glove; the bad news: The webbing had malfunctioned prior to the game when a leather string broke. To temporarily fix it, I used a shoestring.
The string wasn’t strong enough to hold the webbing in place; it snapped, sending the ball directly at my nose, fracturing it vertically. My nose swelled so much that I could not wear my prescription eyeglasses. (When I tried to put them on, I could see under the glasses, but not through them)
For weeks afterward, my fellow teammates called me “Chief” because I looked like the guy on an Indian nickel.
The other incident (which took place in year two) was nearly as dramatic: Again, I was playing first. Again there was a throw. This time it was low. I stretched out as far as I could, scooped at the ball (downward) with my glove, and caught it—thereby getting the base-runner out. Unfortunately, as a result, my face smashed into the dirt, and a pebble went through my bottom lip, leaving behind a bloody hole.
The coach was duly impressed.
That play probably helped sew up my chances of making the team in that second year—but duty called: My Dad asked me to quit the ball team so I could help him finish building the house on Maple Drive.
Hated quitting because I’ll never know if I was good enough to play baseball in college or anywhere else. That’s always bugged. Even until this day.