Last Sunday evening, I was invited by a good friend (I'll call him George) to hit some softballs at a local batting cage. Being that the softball season in Minnesota is approaching quickly, I jump at any and all chances I can whack a few. I want to make sure my swing is in better form than last year and maybe even hit one out of the infield during the season. I'm too old to run hard to first base anymore. That's for the young kids.
We each bought three tokens which gave us an average of twenty machine-pitched balls per token. Then we jumped into the cage. George had a great swing that day and knocked only two balls into the turf and one or two would have been pretty easy pop-ups. Other than that, he was quite impressive. Then it was my turn. I also had a great swing. My stance was balanced, I twisted with my eyes locked on the contact and my head stayed straight with the swing. I even squished the bug. I'd say about 85% of the hits were decent enough to get me to first base.
When I was done, lathered up and feeling good, I left the cage so George could use his second token. But, being the nice guy he is, he had let half a dozen people in front of him. So we had to wait. About ten minutes later, George suggested we jump into the 45 mph fast-pitch softball tunnel. I obliged, having never done that before and ready for a good challenge.
George's session was terrible. The pitched balls seemed to be either too high or too low but never just right. He swung through some, ticked a few into the cage behind him, beat a bunch into the ground, and walked away with about three or four solid hits. I watched him and decided that I would have a horrible time catching up with this new speed and angle.
To the contrary. I let one ball past to get the speed, widened my stance, and switched my brain into timing mode, rather than mechanics and sighting the balls arch. I caught up with the second ball and creamed it into the far net. I missed one or two, but for the most part, I would have been drafted into the minor leagues immediately. I was a pro. My heart was beating faster and adrenaline was coursing through my veins as I got prouder and more self-confident in my ability to compensate and be the best of the best.
It was over too quickly. But, by that time, the line at the slow-pitch tunnel had disappeared and it was open. George jumped in first and missed the first ball, then beat three or four into the turf. He looked back at me and laughed, saying that the 45 mph tunnel had ruined his swing for the entire season. But, the awesome hitter he was, he caught on to his old form and ripped the rest of the pitches into space.
It was my turn and I was ready. Still pumping with adrenaline and feeling like pretty hot stuff, I stepped up to the plate. The ball was pitched, I watched the arc, watched the point of contact, paid attention to all the mechanics....and missed. I missed!!!! I miss a softball about twice a year.
So, I shook it off and waited for the next pitch. I missed, and missed again, and again, and again. I swung through seven or so pitches before I decided I needed to bunt in order to actually feel contact again. I missed the bunt. I was yelling and laughing at the same time. I looked back and George was dying. He had a professional softball coach beside him and they were both shaking their heads, saying they had never seen anything like it.
Then the pro started yelling pointers. I did everything he said. And missed, and missed......and missed....and missed. I dialed my eyes into a better position, feeling the blood shot veins pop out, making it difficult for my lids to blink....and missed, and missed again. I bunted...and I hit one! Then I missed. I focused hard on the arc, the flight, the bat, the speed, the sounds of the place, the smells, anything and everything that might increase my senses and get me back to where I had been only fifteen minutes before.
And I missed. All twenty pitches and I had exactly one hit, and it had been a lousy bunt. I finished, hanging my head. All the girls, hundreds of them, who had sided up to the fence and had ogled at my previous success were gone. The younger players who had drooled at my form and hitting prowess, wishing they could have the slightest iota of my talents had disappeared. The professional coach was disappearing through a doorway, noticeably shaking his head. The place was empty. I felt like I was a New York Yankee who had just been traded to Kansas City and then summarily released, only to be picked up as the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
George was trying to be nice and not laugh. He suggested I buy more tokens - the funniest thing he had said all day. We built a scenario of me popping token after token into the machine missing hundreds of balls, solidifying my fate for the rest of my life. It was better to just leave, shake off the 45 mph distraction and come back to kill the ball a week later.
I just hope nobody is there when I miss the next thousand.