Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Monday I post a new column.
It was a beautiful afternoon when I stepped up to the plate for what would be one of three strikeouts that day. The catcher crouched into position, the pitcher set himself, and my eyes focused on the mound with a deep concentration that few people could break.
“Hey, Nintendo!” shouted a boy from the dugout, mocking my hilariously narrow stance at the plate. “You forgot your balls in the dugout! You brought your pussy to the plate instead!”
I grumbled and focused again, determined to regain my composure. There was silence now, and my confidence returned. From the chain-link fence behind the plate came another voice, nearly identical to the one in the dugout. “Swing and a miss, comin’ up! Swing and a miss!”
It was the boy in the dugout’s father, and they were mocking me together. They were the Elsens, and their sole form of entertainment in life seemed to be my inability to excel at high school sports. I had become a source of father-son bonding for them. My suckiness was killing the team, but it was strengthening the Elsen family.
For nearly 20 games that season, I was mocked by them. Every at bat brought new humiliation, and the insults only got worse when I returned to the dugout. Every 30 seconds, the younger Elsen would turn to me and start up again. One moment I was a “big hairy pussy” and the next I was a “faggot who likes faggotry.” My only refuge was when he was at the plate, and therefore unable to taunt me.
Elsen was, of course, a star. He was one of the better players on the team, and popular in school. Many predicted he would someday grow up to become a successful gym teacher or a serial rapist. His father owned an auto garage, where I imagined he spent most of his days masturbating to the photos in his son’s high school yearbook.
In previous summers my teammates had been my own age, but come junior year, the best players were recruited to play on the city’s Legion team. Those who weren’t good enough either quit playing or, if they were stupid like me, played on the Babe Ruth team that was filled with players who weren’t old enough to play Legion ball.
Being delegated to a team of younger players was bad enough, but riding the bench on said team got you sentenced to a season of unending mockery. The younger Elsen would try to be creative by referencing my vaginal depth, while his father would play it old school, focusing solely on my lack of talent and marketable skills.
Sadly, the grand finale in this retarded show came at my own hand. My usual way of getting on base involved getting beaned and then picked off at first base on the next play, but this time I actually hit a double. I stood at second and beamed at the elder Elsen, as if to say, “Just try and mock me.” I would soon learn to be careful of what I wished for.
The next batter hit a single to center field, and the third base coach waved me home, somehow forgetting that I was the slowest player on our team. I was only halfway to the plate when the ball arrived, and for a reason still only known to God himself, I didn’t return to third. I kept barreling toward the plate, unsure of what exactly I was going to do when I got there. The catcher waited patiently for me to arrive.
I decided to ram the catcher, but having never done such a thing before, I wussed out at the last moment and only made a half-assed collision. The catcher fell over not from my hit, but from laughing at my attempt. The umpire called me out and ejected me from the game for not sliding. I returned to the dugout humiliated, barely even noticing the younger Elsen’s brutal sarcasm.
After the game, my father and I walked to his car. He offered consoling words, but his voice was cut off by Elsen’s father shouting at me.
“Look at that tough guy!” he yelled, cackling with glee. “Did you see how he bounced off that catcher?! You’re an animal, Paul! A real animal!”
I was carrying an aluminum bat in my hand at the time, and it was the hardest thing in the world to keep from turning his face into something that resembled a pastrami sandwich. The second hardest thing was realizing that he was right. I did suck. The Elsens were jerks, but they were right. However, that didn’t change the fact that a middle-aged man trying to pick a fight with a 17-year-old is monumentally pathetical.
I played for another month before I stopped showing up. It wasn’t worth the hassle. A shitty player who loves playing just can’t play in peace. I didn’t ask, but I’m sure the Elsens were deeply depressed. They’d have to find a new bitch.
A few years ago I noticed a friend on MySpace was friends with the younger Elsen. I checked his profile and found he was still in college, studying “health and human performance”. So basically, studying to be a gym teacher.
The Elsens may have been right, but so was I.