Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Little Boy's Game

I can remember the first time I was hit in the stomach with an object traveling a good 30miles per hour.
I was 8 or 9 years old, and it was a family game of baseball at my uncle Che's house.  He had a two flat on the Chicago's westside--and after a day of BBQ, running around and shit talking from the card playing toking adults, we played a game of baseball at dusk in his back yard.

My aunt Tutu was the pitcher. She looked like a giant to me as a kid. And for good reason. The women in my family actually have some height to them, unlike my hobbit ass.  I may be short, but the common thread is that for the most part, we're all athletic in my family.

"Alright Nicky Pooh! Keep your eye on the ball baby girl! Put it on the board!"

I remember Tutu lovingly offering that piece of advice and encouragement.  I loved my auntie Tutu. She was tall and beautiful--and always treated me like a princess. I was very trusting of her.  She used to take me to the diner where she served tables and often filled in as the short order cook.  I have memories of her letting me insert the freshly peeled potato into the cutter. I'd drop the potato, and pull the lever.  The potato went from whole to French fries--come to think of it...that's how I got my Nickname: French Fry. Yep, even at the age of 4, I knew the power of potatoes.

I trusted anything Tutu said.  So when she instructed me to keep my eye on the ball, during the family game, I'm not quite sure what happened.  I must have gotten really excited...distracted. Tutu hiked her leg up, and angled that ball so quickly my brain didn't register the point of the game: knock the fucking ball out of the park.

She threw that ball like she was Satchel Paige. And though I wanted to pop that ball like Josh Gibson--I took that ball in the stomach. Like Curly on the Three Stooges.

Right into the kids stomach!

Oh I cried. I howled, and cried and cried and CRIED. Now you know family gatherings!  By the end of the day, everybody's spent. After dranking, cussin, dancing and fussin the Carol Brady routine is nil.  I was so hurt--no, I was humiliated that I got hit in the gut in front of everyone.  I cried and whimpered looking for affection. Nothing. Cried some more and whined that "I wanted to go home." I guess I'd seen one too many episodes of Dynasty.  No one babied me. I remember thinking "Hey I'm a girl! Fucking give me a lolipop you drunken asshole adults before I call DCFS."

I was done. I was hurt. I was embarrassed. I was DONE.
I was in a heap on the ground.
"Come on baby, stand up. You can't back down.  That's the game. And when you see that ball comin, and you can't hit it? You got to slide to the side. Slide, real smooth like. Let that pitcher know you ain't backing down."  I remember while she was explaining this to me, she wrapped her arms around me. Finally! Sympathy. Affection. I was being treated like a little girl. I was happy that she was comforting me.

So I thought.

"Come on baby. You gots to learn this. Slide. Move out the way. Then get back on the plate."
She wasn't hugging me. She was coaching me! She wrapped her arms around mine and dragged me to the side in a single motion.  Teaching me how to get out of the way.  In that moment Tutu was my sifu--my Shaolin master teaching me how to avoid getting my body chopped.

"Slide quick. Then step back to the plate. Lift that bat. And go again..."

It's 2am and I should be asleep. Actually I should be preparing a script and about 3 other time sensitive things due in the morning.  But I can't sleep.  Not because I have insomnia...but because I'm full.

I'm full. After going through a litost period, I feel as though I am waking from a coma.  I was taking balls to the stomach constantly (wait--that doesn't sound right. Get your mind out the gutter!).  I forgot that lesson on stepping to the side quickly and then reproach.

(side bar counselor: Litost is a Czech word that doesn't really translate. But it means a state of torment upon by the realization of one's inadequacy or misery.)

I'm coming out of a dark period where I felt pretty fucking shitty every waking moment.  I wanted to take my bat and ball and go home. But now, I'm starting to see a light at the end of the rainbow. Or however the fucking saying goes. 

My brain is reformatting.  
My five senses have returned--and I suspect a sixth one is forming.

I am doing work this week at my theatre company for our annual retreat. The hours are long and the brain power exceeds my normal capacity.  Not to mention, I'm in pre-production for a play that I love desperately.  A play about baseball.

I've got my bat. But baby, those balls are hurling fast.

The stats? Okay:
The script is amazing. The cast is stellar. The design team is magnificent. The theatre goers & patrons are excited. The producing company has a fucking Tony Award. And The director is scared shit less.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm frightened.  Directing a production in the theatre isn't the easy thing to do. I know some are you are thinking "Fuck off, art doesn't save the world. 19 year kids in Iraq and Afghanistan are scared--not pretentious theatre ass hats."  Well, that's fine if you are thinking it.  But one thing I suspect I have in common with a solider is that I ain't backing down from a battle.  And despite my fears I won't surrender. And I will not retreat.

I want to spread the gospel of the great past time of baseball.  It's a game I respect, and love. Much like theatre.  Baseball is a little boy's game. But it belongs to me too. I'm so grateful to have have my aunt and mother play such a huge role in my love of the game. And my big brother of course. He took me to White Sox games growing up.  Man, it breaks my heart to think some kids grow up with out the thrill of visiting a ball park.  Nothing excited me more that getting off the train at 35th. Buying peanuts from the hustle man outside the park.  Handing over our tickets. Walking up that long ramp that led to glory.  After walking at a 10 % grade, you finally got to see the beautiful green. The players looking smart in their uniforms. Tossing around that little fucker, a baseball.

I can't sleep because I'm excited. My brain is flooded with memories and fantasies. I have no idea how this production will turn out--but I ain't running away from the plate.  And I ain't striking out.

"Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand."
Leo Durocher.

"A hot dog at the ball park is better than a steak at the Ritz."
Humphrey Bogart

"Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century."
-- Mark Twain, author

ciao for now fuckers,

Moses Fleetwood Walker. First Black man to play professional baseball. Yep, 60 years before Jackie Robinson.

A photo still from the greatest fucking movie ever Bingo Long Traveling All Stars & Motor Kings

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