Chicken Legs and Softball Games

Chicken LegsWe called him “Chicken Legs.”

He bobbed about with the cadence of a chicken’s walk, with tall, bony legs and turned-out feet that mimicked fowl. From the waist up, however, he favored Eddy Munster with dark black hair and bushy black eyebrows.

Chicken Legs was the bane of my existence during my middle school years. He was a maniacal, yet mostly benevolent, girls’ P.E. coach. He was intent on making us girls well-rounded students of physical education.

He and I could not have had more opposite goals for my education.

Every fall and every spring, Chicken Legs made us play whiffle ball, a “lighter” version of softball/baseball. I was horrible at this game. The sad part was — every time I thought I was doing well, Chicken Legs would come over to me and fix my stance or say “choke up on the bat!”

I had that bat so choked that I was almost swinging it like a golf club.

So, this P.E. “season” would last months. We’d wade through tall weeds to the baseball diamond behind the school to “play” a game.

Ever the problem-solver, I quickly developed two strategies to achieve my priorities for physical education time: socializing and minimizing my embarrassment at having to try to actually play this game.

For offense, I always stood at the end of the batting line-up, hoping that we’d have enough strikes and class would be over before I actually had to bat. If someone wanted to take an extra turn at bat because bases were loaded, they knew I didn’t have a snowball’s chance of actually getting a hit, and Chicken Legs wasn’t paying attention, I was more than happy to pass on my turn.

If I did manage to get up to bat, I quickly learned that it was best if I just stood there and not even swing. Swinging almost always guaranteed embarrassment. Not swinging was a safer bet.  More than likely, the pitch could be called a “ball.” Three balls would get me on base.

For outfield, my girlfriends and I would choose to stand in the outermost corners of the field. For all I know, we probably actually wandered beyond the school’s property line. Most of the time, we’d be so far from the action that no one noticed as we continued to converse while trying to look interested.

But if we happened to be far enough infield that a ball came our way, we soon adopted the art of feigned concern that we needed to move quickly to get the runners out. By the time we could offer a grimace and a quick scootch in the direction of the ball, some Athlete or Go-Getter would mow us down to get the ball anyway.

I hated playing this game.

Of course, I wasn’t any good at it and didn’t care one hoot which team won or lost. But moreover, I hated being on display: being scrutinized and evaluated, and then criticized for something I knew I couldn’t do well and didn’t have any interest in trying to do better.

And that should have been OK. I was good at a lot of things. But those were the things I chose to do and chose to practice because I loved them.

Had Chicken Legs allowed me to dance on pointe in that outfield, he would’ve seen a fairly serious and accomplished ballerina.

I guess I just resented the fact that I was forced to do something that I couldn’t do well and did not enjoy.

Fast forward 30 years. My 10-year-old daughter has decided she wants to play softball. Rest assured I haven’t encouraged this strange form of torture. She wants to play because her friends play.

And so, I dropped her at the first practice and was surprised at the reaction I had. It was as if I was staring at Chicken Legs again and my turn to bat was inevitable. My heart raced, my stomach flip-flopped, and my palms began to sweat. I really couldn’t get away fast enough.

She’s had a quite a learning curve coming into the game when most of her teammates have playing since preschool. And that is so hard. For me, though—not for her.

I have watched this child dance in recitals, sing solos in church, and cheer at ball games. None of those can compare with the rush of feelings I get when she steps up to bat.

Anxiety. Fear. The heebie-jeebies.

There I am she is. Everybody’s watching. She’s all alone. All eyes on her. Everybody forming their own opinion.

I’m terrified that she’ll be subjected to the same nerve-wracking inner turmoil at being judged at doing something she can’t do well and doesn’t like.

But you know what? I don’t think that’s going to be the case. She loves playing and is doing pretty well for her first time. She’s encouraged by her team mates, and most importantly, is having fun.

As her first season winds down, I’m breathing a sigh of relief because I think she’ll be just fine and not have any of her mother’s “issues”—so long as a chicken-legged softball coach doesn’t start barking at her to “choke up on the bat!”

(chicken) Photo Credit: CarbonNYC via Compfight cc

(softball) Photo Credit: Anne Ruthmann via Compfight cc