It isn’t from a lack of desire; I simply never had the opportunity to play since falling in love with the sport about five years ago. And now that I have found people who play, I feel like I am too old and decrepit! I am, after all, nearly 48!
I have to admit that I was never anyone’s idea of a sporting hero. In junior high and high school I tried out for the baseball team over and over. I was a triple threat: Couldn’t catch, could bat and couldn’t run. I could pitch-nobody ever got a hit off of me in tryouts, but at that level what matters is hitting and defense. Later, in college, I got into shape. I went through Basic and Advanced Infantry Training (this is before I was a Quaker, mind you). I took up running (I could do five miles in about 30-35 minutes). I could jump high enough to nearly slam dunk a basketball, despite my measly 5’7” frame. For a while I did some decent duty as a catcher in slow-pitch softball (mainly because I could run out every ball to back up first base). But I was still uncoordinated at best at any type of athletic endeavor. When you add the fact that I describe myself, as did the immortal Norman Clegg of Last of the Summer Wine fame, as “one of nature’s non-competitors,” you begin to see the picture of an aging office dweller with more interest in reading than sports.
But when I fell in love with cricket (see my first post on how that happened), I really did want to try and find a way to participate. Last year, I finally had a chance—of sorts. I pitched (or, should I say bowled?)and was assigned a story on the local cricket club for a regional magazine.
So I showed up at the appropriate building on the Ball State University campus in Muncie, Indiana, to interview Vimal Bava, at that time a Ball State student and the captain of both the Ball State and Muncie Cricket Clubs, and to watch the team practice for an upcoming tournament. Despite being inside, on artificial turf, and being assigned a photographer who clearly saw this job as being just below clipping her toenails and just above snoring, the atmosphere was, for me, electric. I could hardly contain my boyish excitement as the players took turns bowling at their captain. The experience had it all for me: enthusiastic participants, decent hitting, some nicely spun balls and even the obligatory injury when an older member of the team had to limp off to the showers. After I got contact information, and had some questions answered, I turned to follow the rapidly retreating photographer. As I was going, I couldn’t help regret not taking a shot or two while that close to bowlers. So I asked Vimal if I could pop into the crease and face a couple of balls.
He waved me in and handed me his bat.
“Just a couple of slow ones,” I begged, taking guard with a stance that I imagine looked an awful lot like Barney Fife of Mayberry fame trying to hide behind a yardstick.
So, a couple of slow deliveries were sent my way. I don’t remember the first, even though it did hit my bat and skidded away for a possible single for a fast runner. I do remember the second—an inelegant, ham-fisted, ostrich-footed swipe that sent what would have been an easy chance to short mid-off that rocked my tennis elbow-ridden right arm like a lightning bolt.
I thanked them politely for taking it easy on a man more than twice their individual ages and headed for my car. Forty minutes later I walked into my house, still smiling like I was Bobby Thompson and I’d just hit the “shot heard ‘round the world” off of Ralph Branca in 1951, and began to regale my wife with the thrilling details.
“I don’t suppose you had the camera?” she asked, in that way wives do when they want to be supportive and loving but can’t help thinking what an idiot they’ve been lumbered with.
I could taste the bitter disappointment welling up in my mouth, but then the memory of my painful elbow forced it back down my throat.
“No, but I’ve got it all up here,” I said, pointing at my head and winking at her like Ian Botham off for a century celebration.
I can only imagine it was her great love for me that kept her from replying along the lines of “Well, something ought to be up there.”
I slumped back to my mental pavilion to seek succor among my Wisdens. Nought for one.