Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Holy Homeruns, Batman, The Bat Cage!

Odd Encounter of the Week: The Bat Cage

I played little league baseball in the years of my uber-youth. For most of those years, I stunk. You cannot say this to an elementary school kid, so the fact remained lost on me for many years. In hindsight though, I played outfield and batted lower than 9th in the order, which means, in real baseball, I would not have batted at all. Barry Bonds never batted in the 11 hole in little league. I even doubt that any of you, dear readers, ever batted lower than 9th.

I remember one specific at-bat where I struck out on three pitches yet strode proudly back to the dug-out, head held high. Why? you might ask. Because I had foul-tipped the second strike. Darn it, I had made contact!

I stunk like a sweaty middle-schooler who has yet to discover the utility of deodorant. The year I stopped playing provided a great release for me, and I have kept the times I have swung a non-wiffle-ball bat to a minimum ever since. This history makes what happened Sunday quite odd indeed.

The Sunday weather sparkled here in Charlotte, and Jeff wanted to go do something outside. He mentioned tennis. He mentioned basketball. He mentioned the batting cages. A little fatigued by the former two options, I assented to go to the cage and take some pitches. Jeff plays for his company softball team, the Blue Tigers, where he has earned the nickname The Truth. The Truth wanted to practice. I just wanted to hit stuff. Or at least foul-tip it.

So we headed off to Celebration Station to take some batting practice. If one wants to take BP in Charlotte, one has two options: Grand Slam USA or Celebration Station. Grand Slam is for serious swingers. They put the speed of the pitches on the outside of each cage so that a player can practice on an appropriate level. Celebration Station exists for ringers like me. Oh, and for little kids of course. But only the ones who play right field and bat 12th. Like Grand Slam, C Station provides different levels at which to practice but uses the less scientific labels "Medium Baseball Pitch," "Fast Baseball Pitch," and the vaunted "Superfast Baseball Pitch." I began at medium.

Sunday afternoon was a lot of fun. For whatever reason, I just really like to hit stuff. I remember a conversation two years ago in Mississippi while doing Katrina relief work:

Foreman: We need to destroy this house, so that it can be rebuilt. Tear it to pieces. Sledgehammers and crowbars are over there. (points to the far wall)

Me: So wait, you want us to tear this stuff up?

Foreman: Yep.

Me: And we don't have to clean it up and we won't get in trouble?

Foreman: Right.

Me: Sweet.

Taking batting practice was kind of like this, beating the heck out of the ball and not having to go pick it up.

Jeff and I enjoyed ourselves, hitting pitches from a machine that looked like the bad, uh, guy in Will Smith's classic flop "Wild Wild West." I hit the ball better than I remembered. Apparently, like good wine, I too get better with age.

One of the great things about BP, or any recreational sport for that matter, is that it provides you the opportunity to dream. And so I did. Slugging the "Medium Baseball Pitch" made me feel like, well, a slugger. For a moment, I caught myself thinking that if UNC had had me in the lineup last June, IF ONLY they would've had me, I would've gotten that runner in from second base and we would've won the National Championship.

A violent swing and a miss at the Medium Stinky Cheese quickly dashed these thoughts.

The Bat Cage at C Stations stands unique in that it comes complete with its very own superhero. For our purposes here we will refer to him as Batman. This guy basically fixed any problem that came up. He remained quite busy given the pitching machine looked like it might, in fact, actually be a remnant of the Wild West era.

The guy was amazing though. When he needed to address a problem with the machine, he simply walked out to it. This may seem like a small feat of feet but, mind you, he strode to the centered machine while other batters continued to hit. Bullets, er, baseballs flew all around him and yet he calmly and cooly went about his job, unscathed and unscared. It was like watching the bad guys consistently shooting the two-inch wide guardrail which provided the only protection for a running James Bond. Or the bad guys in "Tombstone" firing at an oncoming, unprotected, river-imersed Kurt Russell but somehow missing every time. Only superheros have this kind of karma. Batman had it.

After a couple rounds on "Slow Softball" (how can one go to the batting cage and not tee off on at least one set of "Slow Softball" pitches?) followed by a couple swings at "Superfast Baseball Pitch" to reestablish masculinity, we took off for home. On the way back, Jeff said we need to come up with an event where people can just beat the heck out of something because it really is so much fun. We'd make millions, he said. Maybe trillions. I agreed and told him I'd get the phone number to the patent office for when we came up with our ingenius idea.

After some intense thought however, I have realized this dream will never clear the fences because our idea already exists. It's called the Bat Cage.


Anonymous said...

I batted ninth.

KaTiE said...

The way I see it, 12th batter is really the third clean-up batter on the team...his/her job is to bring in batters (runners) 9, 10, and 11. So you see, you were right up there with batters 4 and 8! A very important job! Take it from batter number 4, the team's always jealous of the clean-up batters. =0b