Fireworks: A short story
I loved baseball growing up. As youngsters, my brother and I would practice with tennis balls. We’d get with other kids in the neighborhood and play 2-on-2 games. One pitcher, and one outfielder. I don’t remember the rules, but it was a lot of fun.
Eventually, our pops enrolled us in Little League. I played one year and wasn’t very good, but my brother was turning into a hitting prospect. The second year, I started off hitting well, and that gradually diminished over time. I was a lousy hitter, because I was always afraid I’d get hit by the ball. I probably deserved to get hit thinking that way, and it turned me into one of the worst hitters in the league while Antonio was leading his league in hitting with some ridiculous batting average. We were total opposites.
One day, Antonio showed me how to throw a curve ball. From the books I read, you always threw a curve with two fingers while snapping your wrist at the point of release, but he showed me how to throw it with three fingers. Same throwing motion, same snap, but more dramatic curve. I felt like I just learned a magic trick.
The year went on, and I kept practicing throwing the ball, and got pretty good at it. Accuracy and speed went up, and that curve? It looked more and more like a string was attached to it, and I could yank it at the last second and fool whomever I was throwing it to.
We did “ok” as a team, always hanging around 2nd place. We played the 1st place team (the Giants), and got beat pretty handily both times. They were obviously the superior team. We won our other games, but were still 2 games back in the last half of our season.
The remaining schedule favored the Giants, so our chances to take over 1st place didn’t look good. The Giants would play the Pirates (the worst team in the league with 1 win) and then play us two more times. With one victory, the Giants would win our league and move on to the championship game. They just needed to win ONE game.
Then the unusual happened. The Pirates upset the Giants, as we won our game that day, putting us one game back with two games to go. We had a chance now. It was #1 vs. #2 — and the Giants goal was clear: just win ONE of the last two remaining games and you win the pennant.
We had one ace pitcher – Tony. He was a lefty who threw pretty hard, and had some “junk” to throw at hitters as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too many strong pitchers after him.
After practices, coaches would regularly have different players have pitching practice, to see who else had some talent throwing. I’d been practicing my “stuff” and finally got up to the mound.
I just kept throwing them. Lisa, a teammate and daughter of the manager of the team, yelled, “Look at Paul!”
Since I’d been practicing the curve with fellow teammates, Dan (the catcher on our team) told me to “throw the curve!”
I did, and the manager and other coaches took notice. I finally had some practice pitching, but not enough to say that I was ready to play in a game. It was just in passing, and I thought it was fun, but I was hardly ambitious or looking to sell myself as the next best pitcher. Still, I wanted a shot.
Next practice, Jesse (our manager) said, “You’re pitching against the Giants.” I didn’t know what to say.
Was I confident to pitch in my first game? No. Was I confident in my pitches? YES. I figured I couldn’t hit worth a lick, so at least I felt I could redeem myself in this way.
We had a couple more practices before the game, and I practiced throwing some more. This time, they put some batters up there and it immediately brought up my fear of being hit, and I found myself empathizing with the hitter. My first priority was to not hit the batter, then it was to get them out. Strange, huh? But it worked. I got them out, didn’t hit anybody, and I was pleased with my efforts.
The Big Game
Here come the Giants, and I’m as ready as I’m gonna be. And guess what? Antonio and my Dad came to watch. Dad rarely came to games, but he knew this was a big deal. It was odd seeing him there watching me play, almost surreal even, but I was elated. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to let him down.
Before the game, Jesse came up to me to tell me some of the rules as it applies to pitchers, then taught me how to throw a change-up on the fly. He told me to mix it in when I got a chance.
“I’ll do my best.”
I remember that day and how my confidence grew as I threw more and more.
I remember the snap on the curve and how batters whiffed.
I remember the one guy on their team that could hit anything I threw at him.
I remember their best hitter getting a good hit off of me, and then shutting him out the rest of the game.
I remember deliberately moving from one side of the mound to the other to throw different pitches.
I remember being so confident in the curve, that I started throwing the ball AT batters, and watch it curve back into the strike zone.
I remember throwing it at the strike zone, then watch it sail away while batters swung at it foolishly.
I remember the empathy I felt for the batters, too. It never went away.
I remember our team winning.
I remember the jubilation and the celebration afterward.
I remember receiving the game ball, my first game ball EVER.
We beat the Giants, and there was new hope that we would win the next game.
Tony pitched the next game, and we won. The excitement we felt was so awesome. To come back and overtake the best team in the league was such an incredible experience. We would be advancing to the TOC (Tournament of Champions), and they named me the starting pitcher for that game.
I later learned that I was selected to the All-Star team based on that one pitching performance. I was out of my mind.
We lost the championship game. My performance was terrible. I didn’t know any of those players, so I was even more afraid to hit them. You’d think I’d have more empathy for the teams I was used to playing, and not for a team I never faced.
I didn’t want to hit any batters. Looking back, I realize that my skill wasn’t in pitching, it was empathy. Of course I was upset with the loss, but silently I felt I did no harm in losing. Since then I’ve learned when to be competitive and when to shut it off, but even in victory, empathy is always present.
I loved fireworks. I used to buy them and light them all the time, even out of season. I suppose I had a fascination with fire, the raw elemental uncontainable aspect of it. I was known for having a variety of fireworks, and I even sold some to other kids.
During practice for the All-Star game, I sold a fellow teammate some fireworks called “jumping-jacks”. He lit them up, and they went everywhere. Unfortunately, they caught on to a big haystack, and it went up in a blaze. We all ran away as fast as we could. I remember hearing the sirens off in the distance, and I knew it was bad. I hoped that no more damage was done, but I couldn’t be sure.
At the next practice, coaches approached me and asked me what happened. I told them that I sold him the fireworks, and that he lit them. They asked me where he got the matches from, and I said he had his own, which wasn’t true.
For whatever reason, they thought that me supplying the matches was a big deal, but a bigger deal was the fact that I lied about it. Back then, I thought it didn’t matter – he lit them and was irresponsible when and where he used them.
It didn’t take long, but I was told by a coach that I was kicked off the team. I was devastated. I sat in the dugout, tears falling, but I remained quiet. Another player was there, he pat me on the back and said, “You’ll be back next year.”
There wouldn’t be a next year. I never played baseball again.
Despite having a talent for pitching baseballs, it was short lived. Who knows why? Maybe it’s because I linked the pain I felt that day to baseball. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have enough support from friends and family? Maybe it’s because there was a deeper lesson for me? The rejection, the guilt, and the anger I experienced afterward stuck with me for some time, even if I didn’t show it.
What would’ve happened if I stuck with baseball? Where would I be right now? Would I be in the big leagues, or just another scrub on the bench? Maybe somewhere in between, maybe not, but one thing’s for sure, my life wouldn’t be what it is NOW.
The relationships I formed wouldn’t be, the work I’ve done could be totally different, and the trajectory of my life would be headed in another direction. For good or bad, I am where I am, and each moment along the journey contains something valuable for me to either take away or leave for another time.
And empathy? I developed that skill to higher degree. I used it in counseling, relationships, business situations, and in my writing. Sometimes having this “power” feels like cheating, and gives me deep insight into the lives of others which in turn, gives me an advantage when it comes to dealing with others.
At the time, getting kicked off the team was the worst thing for me, and I couldn’t fathom anything more hurtful. It took 20 years to see how those ‘negative’ moments shaped me and how they were critical to my growth. This perspective bled into other areas of my life and turned almost every “bad” event back into something “good”.
What ‘terrible’ event happened in YOUR life?
How long will it take your negative to become a positive?
What lessons will be revealed to you over time?
Could that thing you regret today hold something valuable for you tomorrow?
Every negative becomes a positive, and every positive becomes a negative. We’re trained to see a ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ to a situation, but fail to grasp the WHOLE coin. Instead of regret, try perspective, and look at the whole coin. It may take you 20 years to finally see it, but it’ll change everything when you do.
As for fireworks? I won’t touch them to this day, but I enjoy watching them like anyone else. Maybe I’ll catch some tonight.
I’m playing in a softball game with youth and service providers. It’s the annual Drug Court softball game.
I’m playing centerfield. There’s a runner on 2nd base. The batter hits the ball to me, and I run up and scoop it off the ground. The runner on 2nd is thinking about rounding 3rd and heading home.
I throw the ball to home plate. The ball sails through the air on a rope, and lands right in the catcher’s mitt with a loud thud – she didn’t have to move one inch to catch it. The runner stays on third, and people look back at me, somewhat amazed.
“Still got it”, I think to myself, smiling.
Things change, right? So do book titles, characters, and the book’s delivery method. I’ve decided to “blog” the book. Details coming soon, but it won’t be on Wake Up Smiling. I will reveal the URL of the book in the next blog post, but it’s up now, a blank canvas waiting to be written on.
Recently, I found a way to delete my book files, and a lot of other stuff on my hard drive. Call it the Mercury Retro snafu, but whatever you choose to call it, my files are gone. Now it’s time to re-focus and get results.
Life is good. More to come.
Paul “Watch out for his curve!” Campillo