Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Of Ballgames, Athleticism and Self-Perception

I hadn't been to a professional baseball game since about 1968, when I went with my dad, my brother and some friends to a Cardinals game in the old (then new) Busch Stadium in St. Louis. So when our friends Chris and Jason invited us to a Giants game in San Francisco on Sunday, it might as well have been my first time.

My relationship with baseball when I was growing up was only slightly warmer than was my aversion to basketball and football. I was a boy, and I was expected to be involved in at least one sport. So I tried Little League.* The picture below is the only one of me in some time of sports-related uniform. I think my parents probably sensed this unique opportunity; thus the photograph.

(* I was also on a swim team for several years in 4th-6th grade. I enjoyed that partly because it was an individual sport, and I didn't have to worry about not catching a baseball that was hurtling toward me in the outfield.)

Oh. There was one other picture that is baseball-related. When I was in second or third grade, a father-son banquet was held at our Catholic elementary school. (My dad was out of town, so somebody else took me.) Somehow, through some connection or another, our parish priest had arranged for Lou Brock, the famous Cardinals' player, to come to our banquet. Thus the picture below of me getting an autograph from him. I'm in a sports coat. I think that is my older brother Danny partially hidden behind me. Notice he was handing Brock his baseball, whereas I had a piece of paper. Somehow that seems significant to me.

But I digress. Back to Sunday afternoon. The weather was beautiful, the views were gorgeous, the company was excellent. But the Giants sucked. They lost the game 5-1, and the most exciting part of the whole game was when an Arizona Diamondback player got caught between the third baseman and the catcher. Apparently, that is called a hot box. I may have known that at one point in my life.

Mark, Chris and Jason. We attended their wedding last month.

Then there was the entertainment provided by the gravelly-voiced older gentleman a row behind us and (thankfully) a half-dozen seats down. He quite often expressed his opinion of the game through a powerful voice that had obviously had some practice at this activity. A fierce Giants fan, he was growing alarmed after the Razorbacks had scored five runs in the first three innings. At the beginning of the bottom of the fourth, he yelled, "Somebody DO something!" Later, he pinned his hopes on a Giants batter: "I may be a crotchety old fart, but I like this kid!" The player struck out.

After the game, we made our way across town to the Castro for dinner with Jason and Chris. The food was good, the wine - a Pinot Noir from the northern coast of California - was delicious and the company excellent. I suppose because all the other diners in the restaurant were gay men, we felt free to talk and laugh about subjects that we would not have felt free to do in another setting.

Monday was our last full day in San Francisco. We topped off our activities with a dinner with one of our cycling friends, Kathy, whom we had first met in Corsica in the fall of 2012. In the photo below, she is in the midst of all of us on the concluding night of that tour. (Mark is seated behind her and I am seated to her left.) We were also together last fall on our tour in France and we will meet again this September on our tour in Italy.

In Annecy last fall: Jim (tour leader), Kathy and Bob

I have thoroughly enjoyed cycling these past three years, and I have particularly enjoyed our cycling trips. Kathy recently shared with me what one of our mutual friends wrote of these tours we take: “It ends up being so much more than just biking on little roads through incredible scenery racking up the elevation and the miles. It’s the challenge of putting yourself out there day after day, physically, emotionally, and socially with almost complete strangers who end up feeling like best friends.” That's the way we feel about Kathy and others such as Tom, Michelle and Malcolm. We can't wait to see them again this fall.

I started off writing this post about how sports was not a big part of my early life. It continued not to be until relatively recently. In 1999, I started walking, then moved into running most days. I ran two marathons in 2002 (that cured me of ever attempting another one). 

But it was only after I came out that I started going to the gym and only three years ago that I started cycling. I capped that first season with our cycling trip to Corsica. When word got out in the group that it was my first season, people couldn't believe it. They thought I'd been cycling for years. 

Mark helped me to discover something in myself that I never knew I had. He actually told me - with a straight face - that I was/am a natural athlete. No one had ever told me that before (with perhaps good reason). It wasn't until I was in my 50's that I began to perceive of myself differently, that I allowed myself to belief something about myself that I had always been told - by myself and others - was not true. I'm thankful for that opportunity and for all the other opportunities I have had during these past five years to learn that I'm not what other people have told me I am and that I am what other people have long told me I'm not.

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