This story is actually true. Well, at least it’s based on true events that happened to me. I’m probably dramatizing it a bit. Maybe more than a bit.
You see, when I say I can’t play _____ (fill in the sport), I really mean it. I don’t think I’m an incredibly clumsy person, though I’m not particularly talented either.
The problem is that most people have played at least a little bit of a variety of sports. People assume that when one says one doesn’t play baseball, for example, that one is very bad at it; not that one doesn’t play at all.
For me, however, when I say I don’t play, I mean I really don’t. I dabbled in ping-pong, and played volleyball a few times. While I was in Guyana as a teenager, I did get hold of a cricket bat a couple of times. My Guyanese friends assumed I was so bad at it because I was used to baseball. But no, I hadn’t played baseball.
The reason for this state of affairs was that my parents didn’t approve of competitive sports. I grew up on the fringes of the Seventh-day Adventist church, in what were known as “self-supporting” organizations. There we had very little to do with the ordinary culture around us.
So fast forward a few years and I’m in the Air Force, taking technical training in San Angelo, Texas at Goodfellow Air Force Base. We had a half day for recreation, and what better way to occupy the afternoon than with a softball game. I even forget how we chose the teams.
The folks on my team wondered what I played.
“I don’t play softball,” I said.
“Oh, but what do you do best?”
“Nothing. I don’t play softball.”
“This is just an informal game. It doesn’t matter if you’re any good or not.”
“But I don’t play.”
They stared at me blankly.
“I don’t even know how to hold the bat.”
“Oh!” Horror and comprehension dawned at once. How could an American young man grow to his 20s and not play softball. I chose the “I grew up overseas” explanation rather than “I grew up in an environment where softball was not religiously acceptable.”
So one of the players takes me to the plate and shows me how to hold the bat, and generally explains the game. The other team just knew that I would be an easy out.
I come up to bat and the pitcher does his thing. I watched one. I missed one.
Then suddenly the ball was coming toward me and I was swinging the bat. The odds were ten thousand to one, or perhaps a hundred thousand to one, but the laws of probability were writhing in agony somewhere in the outfield. The barrel of the bat connected squarely with the ball and it disappeared over the fence, or at least past the arbitrary line we had designated as the fence.
It was a solo home run. No, really!
The other team was sure they’d been had, but then a few more innings went by and I demonstrated clearly that I truly did not know what I was doing. The laws of probability were back in force.
But at least I had one moment.