This is the third excerpt of my book “Shattered Image” It is a book about childhood bullying and the effects it has on unhealthy self image and the choices we make to deal with it. For me those choices were eating disorders, alcoholism, drug addiction and a suicide attempt. Release date is tentative for the first quarter of 2013.
Summer 1969. I loved baseball when I was growing up. As many kids, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. My hero was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ great and Hall of Famer, Roberto Clemente. My father took me to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the “Miracle New York Mets” at Forbes Field, the first baseball game I have memories of attending. As I grew, I would attend Pittsburgh Pirates’ games with my brothers, the only people around whom I felt I could be myself without being judged for my imperfections. I’m not sure we were all that close socially, but we enjoyed our family sports events together. We were stair-stepped in age, meaning we each had different social circles. My brothers definitely had larger groups of friends than I had because I was too self-conscious of my many flaws to allow others to get close enough to judge me.
On the days my brothers and I went to baseball games, we took the bus to town and walked across the Allegheny River to Three Rivers Stadium. Once in a while, we would even bribe a stadium guard with a corned beef sandwich to let us sit in better seats. Sometimes we were able to stay for the second game of a doubleheader by finding good ticket stubs from fans unable to stay for the second game. On these baseball outings, the sunny afternoon air smelled of popcorn and hot dogs, the smells, I imagine, of a child in heaven.
I was a huge baseball card collector. My brothers and I made weekly trips to Gracie’s, the local corner mom and pop store, to make our ritual baseball card purchases, hoping to land a Willie Stargell or a Roberto Clemente card. Although I was overweight, I was a decent baseball player at twelve years of age. I was slow, but my 240-pound body wielded a powerful blow to the baseball thrown my way. My peers recognized my ability to help the team; therefore, I was not judged as harshly based on my body size on the baseball field as I was in other circles. In baseball, my weight was an asset rather than a defect. I turned the tables and became the bully with my powerful swing because, for the first time it seemed, my peers feared the power I was able to exert. I hit a grand slam in my very first Little League game. The performance made me feel as though I were on top of the world as my teammates mobbed me as I crossed home plate. Unfortunately, that feeling of exhilaration had a short lifespan because I was not a good fielder. We lost that game due to my error at second base and the wild pitch I tried to throw home which allowed the runner to score the game-winning run. I earned a place on the Little League All-Star team and an All-Star medal that year.
My baseball “career,” however, ended the next season. The coach of our team, one of my father’s friends, proclaimed in front of the entire team that I would run faster if I pretended I was chasing a refrigerator to first base. This remark won the sarcastic coach a good laugh from my teammates that seemed to make him proud of his attempt at humor at my expense. Suddenly, with one irreverent remark, I had gone from a respected power-hitter in the eyes of my peers to the butt of the coach’s joke. Once again the fat kid. The child who had once had his pants torn off and thrown into the street by bullies. Made to walk a mile home in his underwear. The illusion I had of being a successful baseball player died that day. Instead of waiting for my teammates to follow the coach’s example and begin bullying me as well, I quit the team. Quitting became a coping mechanism I used often because it was the least painful way I knew to protect myself as I grew older and faced similar circumstances. Sadly, I never played Little League baseball again.