Wednesday, April 2, 2008

There's No Crying In Baseball

I was never a big fan of the Cleveland Indians - maybe I should have been.

Working in the media, partly in sports, sometimes there are benefits that make you happy with the career path you've chosen. Interviewing for a news/sports radio reporter position in Canton, Ohio I could not have been more excited. Not only did it include reporting on some the best high school football and basketball around it consisted of covering the Pro Football Hall Of Fame induction ceremony.

Thinking I had won a small victory by getting the job I couldn't wait to see what was in store. Though I grew up, and continue to be, a Cincinnati Reds fan this station was a Cleveland Indians affiliate. I had always kept track of the the Tribe, but when it came down to it I was a Reds fan.

A couple of months after being hired the Indians' front office held affiliate day at Jacob's Field (It will never be Progressive Field in my heart). This meant various media outlets would send a handful of employees to spend the day as a member of the Tribe. This included on field practice, batting, getting your own locker - basically - like you were a Cleveland Indian.

The Jake:

Chosen by my boss to take part, I did all I could to gloat to all my diehard Tribe fan friends. I'm a huge baseball fan so I would have been excited no matter what team it was, but being an Ohio team made it that much better.

I was joined by two others I worked with on this Summer 2004 weekday afternoon. Not only did I get to play baseball, but I was getting a day off from work to do it. Bright and sunny, it was perfect baseball weather.

Once we arrived at Jacob's Field we pull up to what would be the players parking lot complete with a guard shack and security officers. It was very cool to have them ask who we were and find our names on their list of VIPs. We were allowed to park and enter "The Jake" through the players entrance and on into the players locker room.

There each of us had a locker, with our name on it, complete with a uniform, snacks and various items every player must have - wrist bands, shades and that gunk they put under their eyes to keep the sun from blinding them on the field. This was like those fantasy camps you read about, but this was free of charge and on company time!

Getting dressed into my Tribe practice gear I notice my baseball pants have a broken zipper. No biggie - there's several more in the corner of the room. As one of our "coaches" and I rifle through them it turns out there aren't any more in my size. Now I'm a tall, skinny guy which means anything the slightest off from my usual size and I'm going to look ridiculous. A size larger: I might as well be wearing a bed spread. A size smaller: I will be peeling the pants off of me like a banana.

With no other choice I had to go with the latter and with everyone else ready to roll - I was wasting their valuable time. Sliding those pants on made me sick to my stomach. My amateur baseball colleagues snickered and pretended not to notice. As we jog to the playing field I could actually hear my pants screaming for mercy as they are stretched beyond belief.

It helped to know only those guys I came with that way I would be the butt of jokes at work and not at radio stations from across the state.

Attempting to focus I emersed myself into the fact that I'm playing baseball on Jacob's Field - how cool is that! I warm up by playing catch with my co-worker Brady. We were to follow Tribe practice rules which included having to tuck our shirts in. WONDERFUL! Not only do I feel ridiculous and uncomfortable - I'm dressed as if I should be at the nearest street corner asking passersby if they are looking for a "good time".

Those guys who were snickering before are even embarrassed - no one looks in my direction or would even make eye contact. Brady has sunglasses on - I think this was his way to pretend he wasn't looking directly at me. His shades served a duel purpose: protection from the sun and a way to avoid being noticed starring in horror at my so-called uniform.

My other co-worker, Shawn, had pants that were as form fitting as mine but with one exception. Shawn played defensive line for the University of Michigan football program. He could fill them out because he had those things I didn't: you know...muscle tone and athleticism. Not only did he look like he could play baseball, he had the right to wear those pants and be complimented for it.

For me - it was just obscene.

Fly ball practice should have been called "watch peter pan chase tinker bell". Wanting to concentrate on where I was and what I was doing - I went all out. Our coaches hit it short...I caught it, they hit it long...I caught it. To have fun with me, they hit it really short and once I caught up to it they immediately hit it really long. Those bastards just wanted to see me run like hell. I think they had a bet on whether the stitching in my pants would hold up.

I missed it, barely. Another foot and I would have been there. Damn, I so wanted to put them in their place. My turn was over and jogging back to our group - I'm still being ignored. Though many of them had the look as if they were sick to their stomach from watching me run around. Next was bullpen practice, which wasn't too bad. No one standing behind you and you didn't have to move much. That was good...because I couldn't. This girdle wrapped around my legs had cut off all circulation. From this point the afternoon was all about will power.

During batting practice all was fine. Those not batting picked a spot in the field to shag flies and grounders off the bats of whomever among us was at the plate. Again, this was good because I didn't have to move much, especially at my station in deep left field. Most of us were righties and couldn't get the bat around fast enough to knock the ball in my direction.

Then my name was called to come in and bat. I sauntered toward home plate trying to tell myself to have fun and not worry about the fact you might as well be naked from the waist down.

The Indians took my humiliation a bit further. To give everyone that "ballpark experience" as you stepped into the batters box they flashed your picture on the big screen and the stadium announcer bellowed out your name & affiliate station to the imaginary crowd. When I stepped in I could swear I heard, "Look at pansy boy in his pretty clam diggers! Hey, is that a birthmark?"

My baseball dream was a complete disaster. I could barely move or even get into a batter's crouch for fear my pants splitting as I'm standing at home plate in Jacob's field; and its all being broadcast on the stadium jumbotron .

I'm not the world's greatest hitter, but I thought I would at least be able to make contact a few times. But being a little more than preoccupied I couldn't enjoy the moment. I was even given a few extra "sympathy" pitches, but to no avail. Out of the 30 or so throws I think I fouled off, maybe, seven or eight. The rest of the time I gingerly swung as best I could with my feet basically set in cement.

My moment in the limelight turned out to be baseball's sick joke on me.

Back in the clubhouse the coaches discussed the afternoon as everyone excitedly talked about their time as members of the Cleveland Indians. For me, all I could think about is what kind of utensil will I need to get these pants off and how long will it take.

Once the coaches gave their final word I finally get to take the pants off. You can vaguely hear what resembles the tearing of velcro, almost suction-like, as they come down. The pores on my legs open wide in an effort to finally get some oxygen. I toss the virtual straight jacket in the pile of dirty uniforms and laugh as I imagine the poor schmuck who would have to wear them next. But out of the corner of my eye I notice one of the managers casually kick them toward the trash can. He knew what they were and where they had been, they screamed contamination. (Although, if I would have had my way, I would've set fire to them)

We're reminded that, available for purchase, are pictures of you batting with your face on the stadium big screen in the background. Needless to say I declined. The last thing I wanted was documentation of my baseball experience wearing what could be mistaken for Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman suit in the Batman movies.

I'm still as big a baseball fan as ever, although I give the Tribe a little more credit than I used too. That only makes sense now that they have fared much better than my Reds over the last few years.

To this day I gloat to my Tribe fan friends about what I had the opportunity to do, I just don't give them the whole story and maybe embellish my experience a bit. Who wouldn't?

Though now with each baseball season I keep a pair of flames burning. One for my Cincinnati Reds & one as a reminder that everyone gets what they deserve.

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