It’s almost time for the Colorado Rockies to break our hearts again.
We all know what I’m talking about. This is the team that routinely leads the league in home runs, batting average, and shattered expectations from about mid-April onward. Possessors of the loveliest field in baseball and the lowliest pitching staff. Blessed with forbearingly loyal fans and cursed with a mascot that’s … well … Dinger.
This is no Curse of the Bambino, where the Red Sox were doomed for decades to be almost the best, almost good enough. This is having to play the game for the love of the game, because even the playoffs are a quixotic dream, never mind the World Series. (Save for one strange, wonderful, painful year, of course.)
Yes, even the worst big leaguer has tools beyond what most people could dream of. Even so, I think a number of us Rockies fans can empathize. We know what it’s like to have the dream but not the reach, especially on a field of grass and dirt.
After all, an awful lot of us played right field.
“Playing right field, it’s easy, you know,
You can be awkward and you can be slow …”
— Willy Welch
I came by my love of baseball early. By the time I was in sixth grade, I could quote all the classic World Series moments and tell you who was up or down in the National League. I had my bat and glove, a batter’s tee, even a “pitchback” – netting stretched tightly to return a thrown ball – to practice my brilliant mound moves.
The one thing I didn’t have was any hint of talent whatsoever.
OK, I could move around a little on the bases. That helped on the rare occasions I drew a walk or (once) got hit by a pitch. But otherwise, my one actual summer on a team wasn’t marred by anything as crass as achievement. My bat lived in a different universe from the ball that was being pitched, my cannon arm was more of a leaky water pistol, and my attempts to catch (dodge? Not be crushed by?) a fly ball probably belonged in a Chevy Chase movie.
Naturally, I wound up in right field. Not the right field of Hank Aaron and Carlos Gonzales. This was the grade school Siberia, where fly balls and grounders rarely intruded upon the peace of one’s meditation.
The funny thing was, I didn’t really mind. (In a way, I may have even guessed what was coming, since I deliberately chose No. 13 for a uniform.) Every game, I was out there, keeping up enough “chatter” for three other players combined, letting my enthusiasm make up for the lack of a stat sheet.
Sure, my glory moment consisted of tapping one bunt that dropped right in front of the plate for the Easiest Out In The Known Universe. But who cared? I was on the team, playing baseball! Sort of!
I didn’t come back for a second season. But I never regretted playing the first one. I still don’t.
After all, it’s important to do things you’re not good at, too.
Sounds un-American, I know. We’re about looking for ways to excel – even if we sometimes put it a little more nicely, like “discovering your gifts and how you can make your own contribution.” But it can be an interesting thing to step away from your talents and struggle.
You break new ground, adding experiences and insights you might not have had. You learn humility and empathy, and how to appreciate the gifts of others. Maybe you even walk away with a little more skill than you had before – my own struggles with math in school, for example, made me an invaluable tutor to my little sister because it hadn’t come naturally to me and I could explain it in a way that made sense.
All in all, a lot of neat things can come at you from right field.
And if an unlikely championship ever does come to our Rocks, we’ll be screaming the loudest of all.