Los Angeles Times
Play it safe and stay in the shades
I took a baseball to the brain the other day. Early indications are that the hardball survived the collision — only slightly less rounded — and my brain as well, though as one colleague put it, “What exactly is the baseline for mental acuity on your part?”
Indeed, how you assess head trauma in a middle-aged male is the sort of issue Shakespeare made a career of. I see no reason to get all defensive, other than to note there is no creature as self lessly devoted — yet mercurial and confounding — as a middle-aged man.
“Boooooink!” went the line drive when it hit me upside the head, near the temple, which can mean lights out if it catches you right. Ironic, right? What kills us isn’t the stuff we fear or dread. It’s the stuff we love the most. And the sum total of our life regrets.
Oh, what a way to go that would’ve been. I can just imagine my closest friends grumbling about having to put on suits in the middle of the summer, then standing around a hot church and whispering: “The idiot actually threw a strike? That’s a first.”
So booooink went the baseball. I’d been pitching batting practice to our first baseman, a strapping lad in man-muscles who laces line drives like Mike Trout on meth. Usually they wind up swaddled in the protective net between us. Not this time. This one clipped me clean.
On impact, my sunglasses skittered across the batting cage f loor. I dropped to a knee, as if praying. Ugga-looga, help me God. ...
“You OK, Coach?” asked the kid who hit the line drive. “I think your glasses broke.”
The glasses were a set of Oakleys made of the plastic they used to make hair barrettes of in the ’60s. They took the brunt of the impact and likely saved my life, yet a week later I still couldn’t open my jaw all the way to eat cheeseburgers and corn on the cob, which off the grill is sort of a churchy experience for me.
“You’d better make an appointment,” said my doctor when I told him later that I couldn’t fully open my mouth to overeat or holler at my kids. I’d assured him that I still seemed fixated on football and Scarlett Johansson’s lips, so the baseball hadn’t seemed to do much to either hurt or improve me. “That’s too bad,” the doctor said. After all, sometimes major head trauma happens, and you’re suddenly f luent in Japanese or good with numbers. None of that happened. I was still the same guy who struggled with subjunctive verbs and how to figure out slugging percentages.
And, as if knowing death was almost at hand, I’d been giving away a few things recently. I’d sent off an anniversary watch to an old professor and gifted a Green Bay Packers tie clasp to a cheesehead buddy. I mean, besides cheeseheads, who wears tie clasps anymore? So I thought it would mean something to him and that he might later invite me to his house for kabobs.
I suppose I sensed that youth baseball was indeed about to kill me. It is the longest grind, especially here in the West, where it is played so relentlessly that it is almost abusive.
You build a boy one pitch at a time, one looping pop f ly, then wind up wondering if you’d both be better off having learned the guitar. I think sometimes that the only certain payoff is the car ride home after a good game. Those are the sweetest postgames, where you discuss the game and assure them of how well they did. A parent’s payoff for so many things, those car rides get to the very essence of what being a mom or dad is all about.
As a footnote, a few days after the sunglasses saved my mangy little life, I lost them while diving for a tackle along the surf line at the beach. It was a splashy attempt to regain my youth in a football game that was totally meaningless.
Yet middle-aged men rarely seem to play that way. No man thinks sports are meaningless. We think it’s a tape measure of our manhood, an open public display of our Y chromosome.
Stupid, right? Sports are beyond stupid, as revealing of our character weaknesses as our physical strength. In the end, they may do more harm than good. That said, just try to stop us.
Meanwhile, somewhere on the f loor of the Pacific rest the sunglasses that saved my life, a proper burial at sea.
Probably a good thing, so they don’t always remind me of the vagaries of a father’s life — and the fine line between baseball and death.
RIP, brave Oakleys.