Tag Archives: Johnny Bench

Behind a Smile

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters…compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I pulled out some old pictures from my childhood the other day and a flood of memories hit me with each one. One photograph jumped out at me. It was the juxtaposition of emotions that this single picture produced that made my heart skip a beat and my throat tighten. To a bystander, it was just an old, color faded 8×10 school photo. The colors look as if they have been put through one of the new digital age photo filter mechanisms – the one that gives the picture an orange tint. For me, this picture represents the light, happy innocence of childhood before the darkness of oncoming turbulent adolescence.

This photo was taken my 4th grade year in elementary school. I was 9 years old and wearing the proof of my ‘Tomboy’ moniker. I remember my mother questioning my choice of clothing for the school picture that year, but I was adamant that this was the shirt I wanted to wear. Most of the other girls were in frilly dresses or nice button down blouses. Not so for me, I was proudly sporting my Cincinnati Reds T-shirt. My hero’s name, Johnny Bench, emblazoned across my chest with a picture of him catching a baseball on the side of his name. The previous summer my step-brother, Scotty, and I had orchestrated a backyard baseball game every single day of the vacation. We lived in a rural area and rarely had enough kids to fill two full teams, so we created ‘Ghost Men’ to play. I also had a shoebox full of baseball cards, always looking to trade for more‘Reds’ players. Once school started, baseball resumed on the playground, but only boys were allowed to play. Scotty took exception to that when he told them I was going to play on his team. I immediately proved myself valuable and became the only girl player. I was never picked last when teams were chosen either, because I played better than some of the boys. Those were fun times. (Later in the year, the adults would interfere and made us include other girls and then it became boys v. girls and that is when I quit playing. Most of those girls didn’t even know the difference between a mere ‘run’ and an actual ‘home-run’ and that irritated the tar out of me.)

When I attempt to look at that 4th grade photo using a stranger’s eyes, I can see that I could easily be mistaken for a little boy. My short burnt orange hair, green eyes, light skin with a spattering of freckles across my nose and cheeks blended with my clothing choice makes me look a little androgynous. My smile, though genuine, reveals the beginnings of the crooked teeth that would sully my life and contribute to the self image problems I still battle today. My teeth were the most crooked monstrosities ever possessed by an unassuming child. Each large, adult sized front tooth, besides protruding enough to be what was labeled at that time as being ‘bucked’ went outward in opposite directions of each other, as if trying to run away because they didn’t want to touch. The teeth next to them wanted to overlap them in confusion. And for some odd reason, I had too many, so they all crowded crookedly vying for space in my extra small child sized mouth. The effect of this dental horror show combined with my untamed natural curly red hair provided fodder for many jokes and name calling by both mean kids and adults alike.

As I became aware of the grimaces I would receive when I smiled, I began to try to cover my mouth with my hand. I am probably the only child ever who was okay with the orthodontia pain I would later have because I knew that it meant my teeth were being corrected. Trips to the orthodontist involved replacing or tightening the wires on my braces and I would not be able to eat for days afterwards because of the soreness that caused, which left only the bitter iron taste of blood in my mouth. I still remember one visit to the orthodontist where he had to prop one of his legs up on a chair in order to get enough leverage. He grunted and strained so hard he began to sweat. All that, just to get the wires on my braces to tighten around my severely crooked teeth. Ouch.

While the braces were working on my teeth, I worked on my hair. Learning how to style naturally curly hair is an acquired skill, as is learning how to manage it when the weather changes. Remembering the childish, cruel taunts of “I’d rather be dead than red on the head,” as a teenager I begged my mother to allow me to get my hair colored. When she finally agreed you can imagine my exasperation when the Stylist refused to do it, saying that my natural color was too beautiful to destroy. I had to go home to do a double take in the mirror. What was that stylist talking about? I still saw that rusty haired little Tom-boy with crooked teeth when I looked into the mirror. But after blinking a few times, I began to see the teenager looking back at me, the transformation of an ugly duckling to a swan, right before my eyes. It’s amazing how orthodontia, hair and make-up can make such a huge difference on how one is perceived by others. Materialistic as it may be, people treated me differently once they began to recognize me as ‘cute’ and this is when I made a silent vow to myself that I would never judge a person by their looks. I knew from personal experience that the cover of a person is not necessarily a true representation of what lies inside. And what is in a person’s heart is what matters most.

I do admit though, I enjoyed the fact that now, when I smiled at people, they smiled back.

My 4th Grade School Photo

My 4th Grade School Photo

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The Games People Play (Part 1)

I used to LOVE Baseball.  As a child I took to the game naturally.  It just felt right.  I never once was told that I throw the ball like a girl, yet I was never specifically taught how to throw the ball.  I was never taught how to swing the bat correctly either, but I did swing and hit the ball pretty good quite often.  I can remember my older brother giving me tips on how to catch fly balls in the outfield, but that was really the only instruction I ever received.  I just absolutely loved playing the game.

I grew up in the 70’s in Southern Indiana, with the closest major league team being the Cincinnati Reds.  This was around the time of their ‘Hay Day‘ when they had (MY HERO) Johnny Bench as the catcher, Tom Seaver pitching, Pete Rose on 3rd or 1st, Joe Morgan on 2nd, and well, you get the picture.  I loved them all and collected their baseball cards.  I even had my 4th grade school picture taken wearing my Johnny Bench t-shirt.  I knew how to keep up with their stats.  I can remember one summer break from school when all the kids who lived nearby would gather in our backyard and we played baseball everyday.  (Reminiscent of that movie the Sandlot, we wanted to hit a home-run over the fence, but then again, we feared the neighbor man who lived there – but there was no big dog, lol)  Since I played with my step-brother, who was one year older than me, the most – I learned to play the game like a boy and actually played better than quite a few.

Team sports didn’t start at birth back in those days, so we didn’t get the opportunity to play on actual teams until about 4th grade I think.  When the time came, I wanted to play Little League Baseball.  But they didn’t allow girls to play.  I was livid.  My argument was simple,

“I play better than at least half the boys, why can’t I play with them?!”

The powers that be said I could play Softball with the girls.  For those who don’t realize this – there is a huge difference between the two games.  The biggest difference is the feeling of satisfaction.  When you hit a softball with bat, it just goes ‘thunk.’  There is no good, true sweet spot.  But now, Baseball, when you hit that sweet spot just right, there is a delicious, satisfactory ‘Crack!’ and you can feel the power you just transferred into the ball.  Sure, baseballs are harder, move faster and can be dangerous.  But when you are in grade school that kind of power is not an imminent threat.  I was totally miffed that I had to play softball instead, but I did it since it was as close as I could get to the game I lived for.

Which leads to my 2nd complaint – all the boys Little League teams were given actual uniforms mimicking the professional teams.  Us softball girls – our teams were colors.  We were issued only a cap & a t-shirt, the color of the name of our team.  Red, Green, Yellow and Blue.   They were plain, no designs, logos, or even numbers!!!!  We had to provide our own shorts.  I was placed on the Blue team.  I quickly realized there were going to be problems as it seemed there were only a handful or less of girls who actually knew how to play.  Since I had been throwing overhand my entire life, the under-handed pitching in softball eluded my skills.  I couldn’t pitch under-handed to save my life.  The coach’s daughter (thankfully) could pitch that way and became our pitcher.  I was the only other one on the team that could be counted on to catch the balls thrown to me on a regular basis, so I became the 1st baseman  (even though I was short.)  Every so often one of the other girls would whine about it enough that the coach would let them try 1st and move me to 3rd, short-stop or 2nd.  I liked playing those positions too, so I didn’t mind.  But after too many ball drops causing the score to get out of hand, the Coach would always move me back to 1st.  It became apparent that the Blue team was also the losing team.  I hated losing.

I tried again the next year and was once again placed on the Blue team.  This time with a different Coach and a new set of girls – most of which actually threw the ball like girls.  I was the only one who could throw the ball from the outfield and get it into the infield.  This year I was placed in the outfield.  After wasting me away in the Right field and our team making pitiful sad losses, the coach did move me – back to 1st base.  It was another sad losing season.   I still looked forward to the baseball games I would play at home or at school recesses.  (When the boys starting playing baseball during school recess I was the only girl they would allow to play with them.  This was thanks to my stepbrother who not so politely informed them that I could play just as good or better than them.  At 1st when they picked teams, I would always be one of the last ones picked.  But after a few games, that changed and I was quickly moved up on the list of desirable players.  More on recess baseball later.)

After noticing that the other colored softball teams always kept the same players and the Red team always had the best players, I told my Mom when we signed up for the softball the next year that I wanted to be on the Red team.  The powers that be refused, and totally LIED saying “We don’t let the kids choose their teams, they are picked on a random basis.”  I was only in 5th or 6th grade at the time but I was smart enough to see this for the BULLSHIT it was.  You can’t say that the exact same kids wind up on the exact same team 3 years in row ‘RANDOMLY‘.  Yeah, right.  And it just so happened that all those kids also lived in the same ‘special‘ neighborhood.  What ‘the powers that be‘ were actually saying was “You’re just a poor country girl nobody, some silly hillbilly hick, just be thankful we let you play at all.”  I heard them loud and clear.

This would be my last year playing because I was angry to be once again placed on the Blue (AKA:  Losers) Team with a bunch of whiny, bratty girls who didn’t even know what a stinkin’ actual ‘HOME-RUN’ was – they were so ignorant to the rules that they called all runs ‘home-runs’.  If you know the game at all, you know there is a difference between a ‘Run’ and a ‘Home-run’.  I even tried to educate them, by screaming at them,

It’s only called a ‘home-run’ if you hit the ball from the batter’s box and run around all three bases and make it to the home-plate scoring!  Any other time you cross the plate IT’S JUST A ‘RUN’!”

Not all the girls were bad, some were sweet & had good intentions, but you know how memories are –  some things stand out and sometimes it’s the worst of things that reverberate loud in the mind.  After that Hellish season, I told my Mom I didn’t want to play anymore.  The Powers that Be had totally ruined it for me.  If I couldn’t play the sport I loved or even be on a decent team in the 2nd rate sport, well, then enough was enough.  I lost my desire even for baseball because of the unfairness of the situation.  Grown-ups had turned something that was once a fun, magical, wonderful game into something more akin to a popularity contest – a political, power-tripping, who’s who.

This was my 1st lesson in the Games that People Play.  There are different kinds of games in life.  There are games that are played for fun.  Then there are the games that devious people play with other’s lives.

You get your first whiff of this stuff in Elementary school and Junior High.  By High-school you begin to hope like Hell that once you graduate and get out in the real world with other adults that the absurdity will stop.  But then Reality smacks you in the face – most people never grow up or out of this.  They continue to play (mind) games into the workplace and beyond.  It never ceases.

(I’m going somewhere with this, stay tuned for the next post.)

P.S. I kept a special place in my heart for the game of baseball even though I had given up playing and I still enjoyed watching it on TV on occasion.  Right up until 1993 – the year of the Strike – that’s when I realized Professional Baseball had become just a mockery of the game – it was just another business full of greedy people wanting more. I haven’t felt the love towards baseball since then.

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Filed under Kids, Psychological rabble dabble, Random Thoughts, Sports