What I Talk About When I Talk About Hitting

Let’s go hit.

Everything we need is in the trunk.

We’ve got a bucket of balls. A bright orange Home Depot bucket filled with  two dozen balls. Balls layered like the earth; a red rubber inner core, a cork outer core, miles of twine wound tight, and two white leather continents bound with one hundred eight red stitches. Well, that leather used to be white; it’s now greenish brown.

None of that synthetic leather. Those balls are cold, slippery, and malleable. They end as oblong spheroids, not balls. Real leather is always warm and only slick when they’ve been polished by years of play. Real leather goes further, though that has more to do with what is inside. Those cores. The synthetics just have a single rubber cork composite.

We’ve got two bats, a maple and a metal. We’ll start with the maple. It sounds so sweet. It’s an instrument of destruction and a musical instrument. Those are holy, acoustic tones when you connect at the sweet spot. You know when you hit it right. The handle is taped; a homemade job. Our sweat and dirt and skin are massaged into that tape. It’s dirty just like the balls, just with less grass stains. It grips our hands, tearing at the skin as it twists in the swing. Those blisters will turn to callouses soon.

When we want to be strong we put down the maple and pick up the metal. If wood is Rite I, aluminum is Rite II. The sweet spot still sings, but now it’s contemporary, not resonant holiness. But we are okay with this; every connection with that sweet spot yields sweeter results. The language of power is brought down to our level.

The sweet spot is real.

Assemble the inventory at the car. Cleats in hand, socks in pocket, backwards cap on the head covered by the five fingered yarmulke. In the other pocket are sunflower seeds –no chewing tobacco here. Bats and balls. We walk towards the fence with the post noon sun drawing our sweat already. Sometimes we remember water.

Set the bucket on the mound and turn to the dugout; we would take care not to smudge the crisp foul line if there was one. Lose the peripherals not left in the car; the keys, the phones, the wallets. Pull on those socks and lace up the cleats. Take off the cap only long enough to remove the shirt. Pour that first cheekful of seeds and step back on to the field.

That cap. It isn’t a current logo, but it’s not old enough to be retro. You don’t wear it anywhere else. The dark blue crown is marred by the white salt stains. The interior band was white once; it’s now a very sickly yellow. The only thing out here that smells worse is the inside of your glove – pungent sweaty leather. But you’re not out here to smell sexxy.

Everyone ready? Start throwing. Start close and back it up; get those arms lose. The sparse conversation is peppered with purple language and my bads at errant throws. Shoulders loose? Okay, let’s do this.

But first, refill the cheek. How do you chew seeds? Some people just chew and swallow them up, shell and all; some people chew them up, suck out the salt and flavoring, and spit out residual paste. The practiced keep a handful lodged in one cheek; with their tongue pull out one seed at a time, crack the shell, eat the seed, and spit the cartridge. Chewing, spitting, standing in the field gauging the vectors of each pitch and swing.

Righty batter – Centerfielder, Leftfielder, Shortstop. Pitcher climbs to the rubber. Pitcher is a stretch, but he’s the most accurate of the least injured. He pulls one ball from the bucket and begins to whip it into that glove; the batter uses gloves and preens before stepping into the box. Picher is a column, facing Third. Then he turns his head and spreads. Like a net, a spider, a web.

No, he is trebuchet.

The first one bounces. He is still gauging the distance. More right leg; power comes from the legs. Next is just outside, but at the knees. Batter pokes it over the imaginary second baseman’s head. Where we have no fielders. Exercise for Center. Barehand scoop and a lob to the back of the mound.

Again from the stretch and the batter is brushed back. Range found, for now. Ten decent pitches; two grounders to Short, two flies that Center runs in to snag, three bloops in the gaps, two flies to Left, one line over his head. That line was the Sweet Spot. More than that, the Sweetest Spot.

Another errant pitch followed by another good one; we’re not real pitchers. We finish the bucket and collect the stray balls. Most have congregated near the mound after Outfield – Short relays, but there are strays. Pop fouls behind the backstop, whiffs and wild pitches, line drive fouls outside the fence. But no long balls this time.

Next batter. Next batter, next pitcher. This batter is lefty – well, a switch hitter with a better eye from left but more power from right – so we rearrange. Center, Right, Second. Next batter. Everyone has hit once so refill the cheek. And we rotate and rotate until we’ve all hit twice. And again, there were no homers.

We gather the balls one last time. The sun visibly caressed the skin on some of our backs; some have shirts that never come off. We drop onto the bench and remove our cleats and socks, slipping our sore, blistered feet into flip flops.

Everything is sore. Baseball is a series of explosions and sprints – instant acceleration. First step is everything in the field and our legs hurt. Sore hips from opening on every throw or swing; whole torsos hurt from twisting in those same motions. Shoulders ache from throw after throw after throw; fingers, from strangling the bat. And then there are the scrapes and bruises from diving for that fly ball or grounder up the middle, as well as the unintended bean balls. Everything will still be sore tomorrow, but it’s a good sore.

Baseballs

***

This is the second post in a series leading up to MLB’s Opening Day. See the first post here. See my compatriot’s post here.

 

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