Baseball regular season kicks off in 8 days.
The only constant love in my life, to which I am not related to by blood, is baseball.
I played for several years growing up. Pretty much anyone who has played organized sports fancies they were “pretty good” in their youth. I’d probably say the same. Not “If I hadn’t gotten injured, I would have been in the pros” good, but for my age, and limited physical attributes, I was pretty good.
I’m a lefty.
In most other sports, it’s just a quirk. In baseball, in can be a blessing, but also a curse. You’re relegated to three basic positions: first-base, outfield, and pitcher. I played all three extensively growing up. First-base has a built in advantage for lefties. The position on the diamond, along with the way it’s played, lends better to southpaws. As far as pitching goes, batters who hit left-handed, tend to be power hitters. A lefty throwing pitcher is awkward to face. The angle and trajectory the ball takes to the plate, is a lot harder to track for them. Therefore, it’s always valuable to stock a couple of lefty pitchers. As for the outfield, there’s no real advantage to a lefty. A lot of us get stuck out there though, because the other positions are extremely difficult/not practical to play.
If you’re not familiar with America’s Game, most positions have gloves that are unique. Catchers have extra padding to cushion blazing fastballs. First-Basemen have one shaped like a scoop, to dig out errant throws better. Shortstops and second-basemen usually use smaller glove, with tighter webbing. This allows for quick mitt-to-hand transfers, as they tend to make a lot of acrobatic plays, and for turning double-plays. Outfielders will have larger gloves, with wider webbing that they can use to track balls, while using the glove as a shield from the sun. I’ve had all kinds of gloves growing up. I had one absolute favourite…
My Dennis Eckersley glove.
It was a Rawlings glove: golden brown, had a index-finger hole, and was small. It was built exactly like a good Shortstop’s mitt. This was a bit bizarre because Eckersley, was one of the most dominant relief pitchers of his time. I loved that glove. I oiled it nice and good until it was perfectly supple, just like butter. It was one of my most treasured possessions; the glove I used the most when I played. My coaches hated it.
As it was more well suited for a Shortstop, they begged me to get rid of it. They were worried I wouldn’t play very well at first, especially at a young age when errant throws are expected, more than they are feared. As an outfielder, it wasn’t the most practical for shagging flies. I wasn’t going to give up on it though. After all, this was the first nice glove my dad ever bought me. It soon turned into a great asset.
I became extremely adept at picking balls out of the dirt. The smaller glove made it more difficult at first, but it didn’t take long before I was even able to snag the rare one barehanded. In the outfield, due to the size, I was able to transfer the ball to my throwing hand more quickly. Being a pitcher, I had a very strong arm. Combined with the speedy transferring, I could double-up runners, or throw them out trying to advance. With pitching, since it had the tight basket-weave webbing, I was able to conceal my pitches more easily. It’s safe to say that my defensive prowess was my best asset. I was quick, but not much of a power hitter. I hit a lot at the top and bottom of the lineup, my job being to get on base.
Eventually my excellent defence paid off. I got called up several times to play with the age-groups ahead of me. Of course, at that point, players are more entrenched in their positions. When you start off in Little League, you get shifted around a lot. “Fair chances for everyone”. Once you get older, you gravitate to your stronger position, and primarily play there. Since I was the new kid on the block, I got relegated to a utility-man role. Essentially, I had to play wherever they had a need.
This ended up being far more often, at third-base. Third is extremely difficult to play left-handed. It doesn’t allow for a natural throwing motion to the other bases. You essentially end up throwing more with your arm, than with your whole body. This causes weak throws, and a lot of strain on the arm. Teams immediately tried to take advantage. They would bunt to my side frequently. As I said though, years of pitching had built a strong arm. The strategy didn’t work well, and didn’t last long.
I have so many memories of being on the diamond. Most of them start with that glove.
Fresh cut grass, crushed brick, and white chalk, things were simpler…
All you were worried about was smashing a little white ball, or zinging it passed a batter.