When I lived in LA, I went out with a guy who played college baseball and took me to the batting cages on one of our first dates. Since I grew up playing sports, one of them being softball, I was pretty confident in my ability to hit the round thing with the stick thing, but I quickly realized I was in for more than wasting a couple quarters. First we picked up our baseball bats. Yes, baseball. Then proceeded directly to the cage that read 90mph displayed like the address of that one spooky house on halloween: Enter at own risk. He was adamant that with the right instruction (his), I could easily hop into stance beside the plate and knock ‘em out of the park. Not one to step down from a challenge, I went along with the little experiment with a combination of curiosity, excitement and a healthy dose of ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’
We started by just watching the ball. He taught me how to split my focus, watching the ball travel in three parts, slowing it with my mind like a jedi. I stood directly behind the strike zone as stalky testosterone-charged athletes swung at (and often missed) their speeding target. My boyfriend talked to me like a dad coaching his adolescent son, but it was early in the relationship, so I could still find those things endearing. Ever the eager student, I listened and focused. I watched the ball. Once I mastered following it in 3 still frames, it came down to two. Then he taught me how to swing and hold the bat and I was ready to enter the cage. Slightly trepidatious, I was also excited. I waited on deck as he went to bat first (to show me how it was done) and he did pretty well. For every one he missed, he muttered some excuse and what he needed to adjust.
So I walked in with my converse, yanked up my skinny jeans, and tapped the edge of the plate like I’d seen in the movies. He put the token in for me so I could be ready and the machine began to hum and rumble. The little light appeared and I reminded myself to breathe. The first pitch whizzed by and I barely even swung. It was low anyway, or at least that’s what he said. I practiced my swing and quickly got back into position. Lean back, elbow up, he said. I obeyed despite how awkward it felt. Another pitch came flying out and before I could even register what I was doing, I heard the crack of the bat making contact. Fuck! It felt so good! I quickly learned that if you hit it in just the right place, you don’t even have to swing too fast. I also learned that if you hit it slightly off, you can zing your hands nearly right off your wrists. The impulse to hold the bat tightly makes it even worse, so I followed his counter-intuitive advice and loosened my grip, lifted my elbow and kept my eye on the ball.
The batting cages became a regular thing for us. The people who worked there gave us knowing nods when we arrived and we bought a booklet for tokens that saved us money over time. We even kept batting gloves in the (hehe) glove compartment. I have to admit, beyond the self-satisfaction of being good at something, I sure got a kick out of waltzing in there in my jeans and sneakers, ignoring warnings from baseball burnouts and dudes with their own bats. It got to a point where I could hit every single pitch and sometimes I wouldn’t leave until I got a perfect round.
This morning I went to the local batting cages near my house. It was a beautiful day, I was on my way to the gym, but there’s just something about the energy and focus required to hit the round thing with the stick thing that is very grounding and invigorating. It’s almost like yoga in that it gets you out of your head, forces you to breathe and helps your body release pent up tension. I only did a couple rounds and I didn’t hit every ball, but I hit enough that I had a big-ass grin on my face for most of it. That sound. The perfect connection. There’s nothing quite like it. And all the the times you swing at the air, nearly spin yourself right around, or only catch a stitch of the ball, make that hit that flies past the imaginary short stop’s head that much sweeter.