MY FIRST HOME RUN

MY FIRST HOME RUN

From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

My First Home Run

All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street, folks will say, “There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.”

Ted Williams, as a young player

Summoning a long-ago memory is perhaps the only exercise more imperfect than the attempt to squarely hit a round ball with a round bat. Both can be akin to flying to the moon and back in a 1976 Gremlin on a half tank of gas. Yet when memory and keen batsmanship collide, imperfection yields to nostalgia. Maybe that’s why I can summon the memory of my first home run as clearly as my mother’s face.

Saturday, June 9, 1979. Runners at first and second, no one out.

My Bankers Trust team trailing Gordon Gallup Realty by two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.

I stand in against league ace Brian Lawler. At age nine, he was a year younger than me but a good head taller, and slinging a fastball that bruised many a catcher’s palm. In fact, two years later, eleven-year-old Brian would break a batter’s ribs with a pitch, sending him to the ground in a plume of dust to cough up half a bloody lung.

Yeah, Brian was big and bad—and in every way my athletic superior. Except on this day.

Brian’s first two pitches were in the dirt. His next two were in the catcher’s mitt before I could contemplate a swing. But on the fifth pitch, I unleashed a mighty cut that brought Ruth, Gehrig and Foxx from their heavenly seats in applause. And as is inevitable when blazing fastball meets the irresistible force of my bat, the ball . . . well, the ball just kind of dribbled up through the middle, through Brian’s legs. Fortunately, the guys on base ahead of me had the good sense to run. For as anyone who has ever played traffic cop at a Little League game can attest, it’s a coin toss as to whether base-runners are paying more attention to the action on the field or the stray dog rummaging through the trash barrel at the park’s entrance.

So the base-runners ran.

And so did the shortstop and the second baseman— right into each other.

The ball bounded over the heap of mangled flesh that used to be middle infielders and rolled into the outfield, where the center fielder was as much enthralled by the aforementioned dog as the ball I sent crawling his way.

So the base-runners ran, the infielders moaned and the center fielder just stood there. Meanwhile, I traversed a mud puddle created by a leaky sprinkler head and arrived at first base, where a coach instructed me to go to second. I rounded the base and lit out for the next bag. I would have made it there on my feet, too, were it not for the second baseman’s 245-pound mother, who had run out on the field to check on her son, pulling a hospital gurney and smelling salts from her purse as she went. By the time I arrived on the scene, the second baseman had regained consciousness, although he was still not sure what day it was, whose team was leading or why a 245-pound woman cradled him in the dreaded maternal headlock.

With so much girth between me and second base, I had no choice but to carom off the butt end of the 245-pound woman. Turned out okay, though, because I fell right on top of second base, and the impact of smacking her fleshy tooshie sent me tumbling toward third.

Once the rolling ceased, I stood on wobbly legs and considered running back to first until, remembering my training, I looked toward my father in the third-base coach’s box for further instruction. Ahh, your dad. Gotta love a man who’s a boundless reservoir of encouragement and guidance.

“Get your butt to third or you’re grounded,” my father wailed.

So I went to third, the second baseman whiffed smelling salts and the dog decided to check out a trash can on the other side of the complex.

The center fielder, still entranced by the mongrel, decided to follow. As he turned to give chase, the ball rolled under his foot and shot back toward the second baseman’s mother, who dropped the smelling salts while her son whirled and threw plateward in a motion so fluid it would make Roberto Alomar blush. Pretty as it was, the throw still came in high, and the catcher made a valiant but vain leap before the orb struck the backstop some twenty feet behind the dish.

So the catcher ran for the ball, I ran for the plate and the fans crept to the edge of their seats.

Arms pumping, head down, calculating my climbing slugging percentage as I went, I was quite disheartened when I finally thought to look up—seems my mercurial sprint plateward would not be enough to win the foot race with the catcher. I was going to be tagged out.

So the home fans groaned, my dad closed his eyes and I recalculated my slugging percentage.

With no option but to take defeat like a man, I summoned my last bit of strength and belly-flopped headfirst toward home, churning red clay and lime in my wake. Then fate intervened—the catcher tripped over the umpire, who had turned his back to the play to check out my teammate’s hot teenage sister.

The dusty cloud I threw above me snapped the ump from his lust-induced trance, and he turned toward home plate just in time to see me slide under the mitt.

“SAAAAAFE!” he shouted, bringing a mob of jubilant teammates from our dugout.

We went on to win, and with a little help from the official scorekeeper (who just happened to be my mother), I had my first home run. At least, that’s the way I remember it.

Jeff Kidd

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