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Sunday, August 9, 2009

My Taste in Sports - The Not-So-Lean Years

In addition to soccer, I took swimming lessons at Southtown every summer. When I was old enough, my parents also signed me up for tennis lessons. Margaret, my babysitter/daycare provider, drove me and other kids to and from the respective lessons and events.
I loved swimming and tennis was fun too. Every year we got a different color t-shirt, which was the "uniform" of the south side team. One year we had an almost neon yellow and another (my favorite) was gray with black print. We would travel to other areas of town to compete against their teams in the same program. I specifically remember matches at North and in the Roosevelt area.
When we finally moved to the south side (west of Fleur, near the airport), I stopped going to Margaret's house. I was just wrapping up second grade and was looking forward to getting to stay home unattended all summer. Unfortunately this also meant no more swimming or tennis lessons. I had also stopped playing soccer by that point.
Before long I started to get chubby. Then I started to get fat. Sure we played outside - running with toy guns, playing touch football or baseball (with a rag ball) across the front yards - but I was definitely not burning the calories I used to. On top of that, Margaret controlled our portion sizes; left to my own devices, I consumed however much I wanted.
Third grade saw me switch to a new school, Jefferson Elementary (which is still the best school in the Des Moines district for a multitude of reasons; it has open enrollment and a wait list). My new friends were similar to my old friends in that they played baseball rather than soccer. Since I was not playing soccer any longer, I thought for sure that now my parents would sign me up for baseball. Unfortunately I was wrong.
For the remainder of my elementary years my athletic experience was confined to playing in the neighborhood, recess, and gym class. I kept getting fatter. I only did the mandatory running events during Jefferson's track and field days; I filled the rest of my schedule with shot put and Frisbee.
Sixth grade at Brody Middle School saw me stuck with gym class tests based on the Presidential Fitness Award. I soon began to loathe push ups, pull ups, and running a mile. Surprisingly, I excelled at sit ups despite my fat gut. We also had an "obstacle course" that we had to run every year; the pommel horse was the bane of my existence.
Despite all of that, I did fairly well in many of the sports we got to play in gym class. I was one of the best every time we played soccer (which was a joke anyway). Volleyball was also one of my stronger sports; my family has a long history of competitive games on Independence Day and other warm weather gatherings. I was also shockingly decent as a receiver when playing flag football.
Brody had a wrestling unit at that time. It started with arm wrestling and finished with broken down components of Greco-Roman. My upper body has always been fairly weak so I hated the arm-wrestling portion. Since I was at the heavy end of the line and matched up with eighth graders, I was never a fan of the Greco-Roman portions either. However, leg (a/k/a Indian) wrestling was in between. This was my speciality. In sixth grade, over two days of competition I only had one loss. The loss came to an eighth grader that was nearly a foot taller than me; he used leverage rather than strength to get the win. After a long match, with the class divided between Jeff and myself, he finally figured out how to beat me. Oh well, I was proud of my accomplishments against the other eighth graders.
After begging to play baseball since at least second grade, my parents finally caved in my seventh grade year. Unfortunately I was terribly behind the rest of the players at this point. I had never been taught to properly throw a baseball, which resulted in many "rainbows" during practice. My "hitting" was abysmal at best.
Luckily another older cousin was a guru when it came to baseball. Joel spent lots of time working with me on the fundamentals of throwing, catching, and hitting. He took me to the batting cages, spent time throwing and catching with me, and helped teach me the basics. My coach noticed the changes in my ability.
Of course early games saw me where most inexperienced little leaguers end up - right field. Way out in the boonies was deemed a safe place because very few hitters every reached right field. Unfortunately when they did, my arm strength was not up to snuff to hit the cut-off man consistently. That was pretty pathetic considering I usually played less than half of a game.
Before long, something remarkable happened; I was given a shot at the infield. Despite my crummy play in the outfield, I excelled at second base and short stop. Somehow I consistently hauled my heft in front of ground balls and pop flies. I never missed the first baseman's glove on my throws. Soon I started getting more playing time and it was at shortstop, which was extra awesome to me because I wore number eight and played for the Orioles. As an avid (at that time) baseball fan, I was well aware of who Cal Ripken was and was already a fan of his (I still think he is the all-around greatest baseball player of my generation). I also started picking up time at right and center field, where I had also improved.
My hitting, however, still sucked. I would get too eager and would strike out more than anything. I did manage to snag a few singles and even got beaned a couple of times. Even though I was a fat kid, I never got out while on the base path. I even managed a steal or two.
Just as my defensive game got fairly good, the season ended. Seventh grade would prove to be my lone season playing little league baseball. Other things would soon catch my attention...

Continue to Part 4

Tribe 7