Kent Bernhardt: Passing time in the Great American Pastime
I’d like to tell you I was a great athlete growing up, but that would be a huge lie.
Yes, there are high school pictures of me standing around with a lot of jocks wearing my letter jacket, but if you look closely at the big “E” on the front of my jacket, you’ll see I lettered in band.
Sports was never really my thing. That domain belonged to my brother who was a fine baseball, basketball, and football player. I was a fine cornet player.
To each his own.
It’s not that I didn’t try my hand at sports. As a ten-year-old, I actually made my town’s little league baseball team. It was a small town, so they needed every kid they could get, including me.
As I remember, I was the fifth string right fielder. The team mascot saw more play time than I did. But, I had a uniform with a great big number, the whole works.
I felt a little invisible though. I remember once the coach went to put me in the game, but he couldn’t remember my name, so he put in a player whose name he could remember instead.
Right fielders are essential members of a baseball team. And there have been numerous right fielders who became famous. I was not one of them.
For example, Babe Ruth played right field when he joined the Yankees in 1920. But unlike me, he could hit so he became known as the “Sultan of Swat.”
I was known as the “Sultan of Sweat.” Whenever I faced a powerful pitcher, I would begin sweating profusely and my knees would knock. This tactic was tremendously distracting to the opposing pitcher, who would generally wind up either walking me or hitting me with a pitch just so I would finally fall over.
I often made it to first base but would seldom make it to second or third, which was a curse that would also plague me during my dating years, but that’s a column for another day.
I spent most of my baseball years on the bench yelling unintelligible phrases of support to my fellow teammates. At least I had spirit.
There were no dugouts or fences in those days, just a bench for each team. I preferred the left end of the bench nearest the batter. It saw less “missile traffic,” foul balls that would stream by our heads like rockets and send us diving for cover.
Paul Stookey sang a song about playing little league right field that described me perfectly. The lyrics talk about standing in right field “watching the dandelions grow” and “praying that the ball never comes out to me.”
That described me to a T. I dreamed of making a glorious, game ending catch that would make me the hero of the day. I imagined being carried off the field on the shoulders of my teammates to the deafening cheers of the adoring crowd.
But in reality, I fervently hoped that if the ball did indeed come to me, my throw to home plate wouldn’t wind up in the concession stand. I had what they called “a rubber arm,” good for scratching hard to reach areas of your back, but bad for firing a baseball back into the infield.
I was somewhat slow and awkward, but well-liked by my teammates — mainly because I made them look all the better.
I limped through three seasons of the great American Pastime before hanging up my barely used glove in favor of music and journalistic endeavors. I decided my brother could carry the family athletic torch.
I would only trip, drop it, and burn the house down.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.
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