“Look at me, I can be centerfield.”
The beginning of spring always brings the words of John Fogerty’s great song about baseball to my mind — that, and the fact my favorite oldies station has it back in rotation about once every three hours.
To me it speaks not of the great centerfielders like Willie Mays and Joe Dimaggio, but of people like me, who, lured by the warming sun and budding grass, would grab a glove and head for the old ball yard.
Each year, the beginning of a new season would have me dreaming of making the big catch, driving in the crucial run and saying to myself, “This year I’m not going to make a fool of myself.” Occasionally I would snag a sinking liner, or rip a pitch into the alley, but for some reason I most remember the times I popped up with the bases loaded.
I believe in this world, some people are born champions. They have the talent, the work ethic and the determination that keeps them coming out on top. I remember a guy like that in our neighborhood. Tom wasn’t the most talented athlete, but I noticed his teams always seemed to find a way to win. It’s almost like Tom would rise to a new level when the game was on the line.
I, on the other hand, would start to get tense and short of breath. I would swing at pitches above my head or in the dirt. If the pitch happened to be over the plate, I might get a hit.
Once on base, I had a new set of problems. I was extremely slow even when I was young and slimmer. I once got thrown out at third because I was afraid the batter hitting behind me was going to pass me somewhere on the way. I didn’t even slow down at second though the coach was yelling for me to stop.
How slow was I? Well, I could actually cost us a run by getting a base hit. It actually happened. The man hitting behind me, Wayne Bland was so fast he was constantly having to slow down to let me get to the next base. Once he would have had an inside the park home run, but had to stop at second because the coach held me at third. If I’d been fast enough we would have had two runs. Even if I’d struck out, we would have had one.
Yet, there was a time I got to play centerfield, a position usually patrolled by someone with outstanding speed and an instinct for following the flight of the ball. It wasn’t in high school or even little league baseball team. My stint in center was in Seymour, Texas, on a slow pitch softball team. I was working there at my first radio job when some of my friends asked me if I’d be interested in joining the team.
Seymour wasn’t brimming with summer activities so I accepted the challenge. I didn’t really care if I got to play, I just thought taking a few swings in practice and running down a fly or two might be an interesting diversion. As it turned out at the first practice I ended up in the outfield between two pretty good players in right and left field.
That day I snared a couple of hot liners and didn’t drop anything, so the next thing I knew I was the centerfielder. It seems the other outfielders had played those positions since their days with the Seymour Panthers, so neither wanted to change.
Thanks in part to a strong west Texas wind that blew in from the outfield and kept most fly balls in front of me, it was a few weeks before people started to ask the coach what in the world he was thinking. Fortunately, I got another radio job and left town before I made a complete fool of myself.
Rich Flowers still tracks down flies ... with a fly-swatter in the newsroom. He can be reached at email@example.com.
“Look at me, I can be centerfield.”