It’s perfectly OK to be afraid of a 9-year-old pitcher

Island Packet — I am trying to imagine a scenario in which, at any point in my athletic history, I would have been disqualified from participating in something because I was too good at it. I am now trying to imagine bringing up this scenario to anyone I know and not watching them explode in a fiesta of vigorous snort-giggling.

I can imagine the opposite situation happening, but that’s mostly because it wouldn’t be “imagining” so much as “recalling in horror.” There was the Unfortunate Incident of the Junior-High Gymnastics Competition That We Had For Some Reason, which culminated with my being punched out pretty effectively by a pommel horse.  There was the Freshman Year Soccer Game Of Hideous Terror, during which I had to be appointed goalie because I kept using my hands to do things, apparently a pretty make-or-break thing when it comes to soccer. And there was, of course, the Great Rec League Basketball Fiasco of 2007. “Everyone on this team has a role,” a teammate told me mid-season, “You’re not a shooter.”

(Literally, I quit high-school cross country in the first week of training, when I was startled to learn that practices involved a pretty decent amount of running. I also remain convinced that several of my Little League teams growing up would deliberately tell me the incorrect location of our upcoming games, which was especially cold, since my Dad was the coach.)

I bring this up because apparently my opposite, my reverse doppelganger, the mathematical reverse of everything I’ve ever attempted in sports exists in New Haven, Conn., and he’s 9. His name is Jericho Scott, and he’s a right-handed pitcher who can throw 40 mph heaters, which are entirely too scorching for his Youth Baseball League, which has asked him if he wouldn’t mind not showing up to play baseball anymore.

Well, that’s one side anyway. According to the New York Times, which admittedly is known for its anti-9-year-old bias, the league says it broke up Jericho’s team, his coach says the team is refusing to disband, parents and players are holding rallies and protests and the whole situation smacks foully of that thing where weird, directionless glued-in-high-school adults start interjecting themselves into kids’ sports leagues and ruining them.

For example, league attorney Peter Noble — I’m gonna do that one more time: the YOUTH BASEBALL LEAGUE ATTORNEY, who spends most of his time battling claims of players using performance-enhancing juice — says “facing that kind of speed is frightening for beginning players.”

Now this I can vouch for. In the fourth grade I was sent up to bat against a corn-fed Indiana monstrosity named Mike Bragg, a pitcher who was terrifying for three reasons:

  1. He had fire-red hair.
  2. He was in the sixth grade.
  3. It took him exactly one pitch to bean me with a screaming fastball in the left side of the helmet, which created the sort of sound effect you’d hear if you dropped a hubcap on a stack of filing cabinets. Needless to say, I spent the rest of my baseball career setting up about 10 feet outside the batter’s box, or as removed as I could be from home plate while still appearing to be sort of part of the game. But I didn’t petition the league and ask for Bragg to be banned from the league, I didn’t call the New York Times and I sure didn’t involve a lawyer. I did what anyone else would have done: I got terrified and fled the sport immediately until the next summer, when I started trying to learn about soccer.

About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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