Tuesday, August 19, 2008

getting schooled

today was my date with the business end of a baseball. i thought it was supposed to be Easy, Happy, Fun Time with the eminent mr. sugar, but he informed me that one of the students would be teaching me how to pitch. hunh!? i didn't understand why he wouldn't take the chance himself, but since i dearly love the student who'd be teaching me, i felt ok...as in, full of anxiety and adrenaline OK. i mean, i didn't really want to face my humiliation in front of a team who practices from dawn to dark on a daily basis.

every year on my birthday, i choose a new theme for the year. this year's theme is More Risks. in other words, i need to stop imagining possible failures and just try things, follow my heart, let go of control. this was a very good exercise of that principle if nothing more. i kept reminding myself that i have zero experience in baseball; i am a baseball baby. i haven't learned to walk or talk, so i can't expect to just be good at it. i have never played more than a game or two of long-forgotten P.E. softball, and i certainly never pitched. the only thing i used to do, which motivated this great baseball education, was to throw the ball as high and straight into the air as i could and then catch it. i wasn't too bad at catching, but one missed ball nearly knocked me senseless on the front lawn. actually throwing to someone is an entirely different thing. a harder thing.

in preparation for this event, i retired to the sports park yesterday for a nerve-busting workout. i had been feeling pretty wound up for several days anyway, so some hard running in an un-airconditioned! gym was just what i needed? is airconditioning for losers?? turn it ON, people. it doesn't cost that much. this is like the hottest place in the world.
anyway, after that i sheepishly shuffled over to an empty field and tried my hand at pitching, based on some internet pointers. i was a giant bag of crap at pitching. it was less throwing the ball than disgusting the ball so much that it was desperate to fly in any direction to get away from me. about 85 percent of the balls went too far left, 5 percent went straight into the ground, and the remaining 10 percent went approximately where i wanted. i won't say i didn't improve. there were one or two pitches that may have been considered good if they hadn't been vastly accidental. that day didn't do much to alleviate my nerves for the next, but at least i managed not to hurt myself too badly. *stretch-stretch*
then it started to pour. in seconds, all the random people who had been milling around the area were under eaves, and i laughed madly from the center of the field. it felt amazing! the rain pelted down and soaked me utterly. i jumped and danced and did handstands and brushed the hair and mascara out of my eyes, and kept throwing. it lightened my heart and eased my body. it reminded me who i am. it reminded me that in a culture where i often feel confused and excluded because i look different and can't speak eloquently, i am still myself. my essence is in tact, and that more than anything gave me courage for today.

so today my name was called by mr. sugar, and we made our way to the field.
nervous? yes. ready?


he let me choose my glove and ball. i shook my head in embarassment at the five guys sitting around who would be witnessing thegirl getting schooled in baseball. the boy who was supposed to teach me was nowhere in sight. mr. sugar stepped up to the plate, har har har har har. i think he was surprised to find i had never played any sport ever, least of all baseball. i could see NOVICE register in his eyes. he thought i had more experience.

in very respectable english, he explained stance and grip. we tried a few. they were weak. my body just didn't know when to let go. it was a lot to think about, too. at least i didn't have any problems catching the return balls. he told me a few more pointers...my shoulders should rotate at the same time; my hips should follow that same movement; i should look straight at him to aim. they were a little better, but i was getting bogged down in the explanation. then we found the magic formula; he taught me the wind up, and we did it together like mr. miyagi and the karate kid. snap! the next pitches were momentously easier to throw and went farther and straighter. it was a tremendous transformation (in my humble opinion). that's what a good teacher can do. mr. sugar was gentle and patient and encouraging, which is funny since he's known as a hard-ass coach and teacher. i pitched for an hour, determined to keep trying even after i got tired and sore. he traded off with several boys on the team who seemed to enjoy playing with me. they were really sweet too, those dear baseball boys. more and more of the team arrived and greeted me in stunned english when they registered my presence.
when i looked at the time, i was shocked to find i was having so much fun that i had completely missed lunch! i hadn't noticed even once how hungry i was. mr. sugar and i sat down and rested for a bit and talked easily. he said i couldn't throw at all when i started that day (no argument there), and by the end i was a good pitcher. he said i should join their team. haha. i said i'd need to practice batting next if that was the case. it was amazing to be in that space, relaxed in the dirt with the boys all around, a place that has felt secret and closed off from me since i came here. as we walked back across the field, talking, smiling, i couldn't help but stand a little taller as i slipped even more back into the me i used to know, and it fit like a glove. ;)

oh, but getting off a sweaty shirt and sports bra with two weak, sore arms proved to be the surprise challenge of the day.

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