Why Baseball Is Like Air…

People ask me all the time why I am completely obsessed with baseball.  Even my own father, who has never been a sports fan, does not understand.  In fact, no one in my family liked baseball.  Ever.  So, how did I become a bouncy, crazed, possessed super-fan who consistently wakes in the middle of the night after having nightmares of wild pitches, dropped balls and strikeouts?  I guess to be totally truthful, I will have to begin and the beginning…

Born with my legs on backwards, odds of my playing any sport or even walking, for that matter, were slim.  I spent time in and out of hospitals, having leg surgeries and therapy. 

Jenn January 1975.jpg
The first photo here is of me after surgery in the Crippled Children’s Hospital in New York City in 1975 (I believe it is now called the Hospital for Special Surgery…more politically correct, I guess).  I spent months with full-leg casts on, only to have the entire process repeated over and over in an effort to straighten me out.  I was an expert crawler before I ever walked. 

Jenn 1975 ed.jpg
The next photo is proof that I have always had a huge backside :O)  Move over J-Lo…

After the surgeries, I struggled to walk without tripping on my own feet, which were still pointed severely inward, toe to toe.  So, metal Forrest Gump-like leg braces were up next to force my legs to turn outward.  I learned to walk with them, even had to sleep in them. 


Thumbnail image for Jenn 0374 ed.jpg
In school, the other girls thought I was a crippled freak and would not let me play with them.  They teased me, called me names and threw me to the ground just to watch me try to get up.  Every day at recess, I would try to sneak over to the boys’ side of the building to play with them without the school’s strict Catholic nuns catching me.  The boys felt sorry for me and never made fun; they even let me get a home run every time I was up at kick ball.  I couldn’t kick well and did not run at all, but they magically missed the ball or overthrew it as I hobbled around the bases.  For this, I am eternally grateful :O)

One day, my mom and I were driving past the local baseball field and she saw the sad, pathetic look on my face as I stared out the window at the boys running around the field.  I didn’t know a lot about baseball at 7 years old, I just knew I wanted to do things the other kids could do.  I wanted to be normal.  My mother pulled the car over and I cringed, thinking I was in trouble again for what she called “pouting.”  Instead, she sternly asked me if I wanted to play baseball.  I muttered about my leg braces; she told me to take them off and turned the car around, going back to the field where try-outs were being held.

My mom marched me out of the car, shoved me in front of the first man she recognized and told him in no uncertain terms that he would put me on his team or he’d be in big trouble with the wife later.  My mom was a large, scary Italian woman – NO ONE disputed her.  He handed me a glove and off I went.

I couldn’t have run well, even if you had put a rabid dog on my tail.  But I could hit and I had a good arm.  Playing helped me learn to walk on my own, to be more coordinated, and oddly enough, to stand up for myself.  I developed a much tougher skin.  And it was strange how naturally it all came to me.  Crowds used to gather around me at the batting cages to watch “the girl” smack the ball around.  It was unusual to see a girl knocking the crap out of a baseball back in the late 70’s.  Since that time, I have often wondered why I was born with the talent and the drive to play, but not with the body to support it. 

The next photo is me having a drink on the bench with some of the guys (1980). 

Jenn 1980 ed.jpg
(You can read more about my becoming a Phillies fan in 1980 on the About Me page.)  Anyway, I played boys little league until I was 12 years old and then was informed that I had to go play with the girls as I was “becoming a distraction.”  Ha!  So, I played softball through my sophomore year in high school when a bad knee injury, combined with my weakening joints, ended my short sports career.  I remember I cried for weeks.  I left my room only for school and food.  At 16 years old, I was convinced I would be the first girl to break into Major League Baseball (yes, I was a tad naïve too). 

Jenn 1985 ed.jpg
I even talked a guy I knew into taking me to the next Phillies try-outs with him, even if just to prove a point.  But it was just not meant to be.

The next season, I drove my youngest brother to his first little league practice.  Seeing only one coach on the field, I got out of the car and asked if he needed help.  He said his other coach had backed out at the last minute and agreed to take me on a trial basis after much convincing on my part.  After the one day, he was impressed with my skills and said I could stay, even though he was going to catch a lot of crap from all the other male coaches and his wife.  As I was the first girl to play boys baseball in my town, I then became the first female coach.  It did wonders for getting parents to show up to the games too.  The Dad’s came to check me out and the Mom’s came to keep the Dad’s away from me :O)

I coached for 2 years until I went away to college and have since volunteered on my kids’ teams as they have grown up.  Jenn 1990 ed.jpgThe next photo is me and my boyfriend with my little league team on the day of my Senior Prom:  It was the only game I was going to miss in two years of coaching so I made my boyfriend take me to the field to see the team before we left for the Prom!  Sorry about the big hair and poofy gown…it was 1990 :O)  The eighties were not yet dead…

In between, I have fed the internal baseball monster with LOTS of Phillies games, writing about and photographing the games.  Not a day goes by that I do not think about playing again, but the realities of my life and physical condition set in and I try to filter the urge into something else positive.  I have been writing a book about all this for years now and hope to someday finish it, before my hair turns grey :O)

Baseball has been the only part of my life that has ever made me feel complete.  It has taught me patience, balance and that you should never give up on yourself, even if everyone else has.  I would not be the confident, driven person I am today without it.  And I have learned to embrace my individuality.  I hope I will never be normal.  I hope that everyone reading will go home, hug their kids, and tell them to be as weird as they wanna be.  If you don’t have kids, grab a friend’s kid.  You owe it to yourself.

Peace, Love & Baseball,

Jenn

4 Comments

You have a great story, Jenn (I’ve told you that before, right?) and I’m glad you’re working on writing it, even if it does take a long time. I’m also happy to hear I’m not the only one who dreams about baseball – like on a nightly basis. My husband thinks I’m nuts.

http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

Jenn – kudos for over coming so much!

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Jenn,
This is such an incredible and inspiring story. You really showed everyone! I hope you finish your book within time– I’d love to read it whenever it comes out! It’s amazing how baseball can teach us so much about life. I don’t think anything else can.
-Elizabeth
http://redsoxgirl46.mlblogs.com

This truly is an inspiring story. If I may be honest, it brought tears to my eyes. I have always believed that sports, especially baseball, can overcome life obstacles. Your story proved that very much. I would LOVE to read your book whenever you finish it. Good luck writing it! :)

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