Humid air marked a typical day at camp, but today was different. As a 10 year-old with no experience in any organized sport, baseball was the last activity I wanted to participate in. There were so many different tools and rules:
“How do you put on a glove? What’s a ball? Thank god I know what a strike is.”
I had so many questions – all of which, if verbalized, would bring about a chorus of scoffs from my bunkmates. Making a fool of myself was the last thing I wanted to do.
The first thing I learned about baseball was that standing directly on home plate was the wrong thing to do. ‘Over here, Jake’ called the baseball coach. He pointed out a white box drawn under my feet which marked where the batter should stand as to not be hit by the pitch. With a smile I sheepishly replied, “Thanks!’
Soft dirt now rested beneath my feet and the smell of sweet grass filled the air. Beautiful blue skies peaked through the outfield trees, along with a few puffy clouds. The crooked infield gave the baseball diamond an especially unique character. I decided that whether I was successful at baseball or not, at least the scenery was phenomenal. After a childhood full of Pokemon and Yugioh, being athletic was new to me. Now was the time to figure it out.
A silver bat bobbed up and down over my shoulders and my knuckles turned white. I was getting ready for the first pitch. No turning back. Pitch number one was called a ball:
‘What’s a ball?’
I noticed that the umpire previously called said “ball” when my friend Ethan jumped out and back into the batter’s box. With little knowledge, I perceived his technique as a request for a better pitch. Next pitch I decided to mimic Ethan:
Lesson number 2: baseball makes no sense. Unfortunately, I certainly knew that three strikes meant a one way ticket to the bleachers. This was somewhere that I did not want to be. My only option was to swing at the next pitch and hope for the best. Eyes peeled, I watched a white blur approach me with haste:
‘Swing… stay focused.’My heart was pounding, the ball now moving in slow motion as the bat left my shoulders… CRACK!
I hit the ball so hard that the third baseman had to jump out of the way to avoid getting hurt. The satisfying feeling of the wind hitting my face while rounding the bases became my addiction. From that moment, baseball was life.
For 11 years, playing and coaching baseball were key to the person I was. The sport taught me how to be a part of a team, what it’s like to be a leader, and the devotion needed for raw hard work. It also taught me that I was actually pretty athletic. 6 am practices became routine and supplemented full games scheduled later in the day. Countless hours of batting practice, fielding ground balls and pop-ups, and even hitting acorns in my backyard (when no one else was available) consumed my spare time. I was obsessed with all aspects of the game including but not limited to learning major league history and collecting Hall of Fame memorabilia. Of course, school, eating, sleeping, and other commitments were necessary too, however playing ball was all I needed to survive.
My first at bat at Crane Lake Camp inspired a life path that, at the time, was unimaginable for myself. I literally couldn’t catch a ball before camp and probably would rather have moved to Antarctica before committing to playing a sport. Yet when life throws you a curve-ball, you have to move with it. Thankfully I did.
By Jake Rudolph