I blame it all on my childhood and my first baseball experience at the tender age of six. Something catastrophic happened that spring that left an eternal scar deep within my being. Back then, we played a lot of sandlot ball at the neighborhood park and Little League had not yet discovered Tee Ball. This was back when six and seven year old kids could play more than three innings of hardball and the score would never approach the eighties.

We faced live pitching from another kid our age. And, in our league, there lived a Fire-Baller who had a rocket of an arm which enabled him to reach the plate without a bounce and with only a minimal hint of an arch on his pitches. He must have blistered the mitt at 40 mph on a consistent basis. Most of us feared this miserable wretch and unfortunately he was the only pitcher we ever saw. Well, almost. . . Let me explain.

The Forest View Little League, located on Jacksonville, Florida’s thriving northside, only had enough beginners to forge two rosters. I blame the parents in the neighborhood who were busy trying to protect their little rug rat for one more year, rather than let him skin a knee playing live baseball. As a result, the Blues (my team) played the Reds (the team with the dreaded flamethrower for a pitcher) every Tuesday afternoon and Saturday morning.

My team, the Blues, was coached by a man named Black. We had players named Brown, Golden, Green, Greene with an “E”, and Whitehead on our roster. Save your Crayola references! I’ve told this story before and all the Crayon jokes that I can stand have already been made.

As previously mentioned, we played the Reds twice weekly without fail. We gathered at the ballpark twenty-four times that spring and unpacked the gear. I was the catcher, basically because I was one of the bigger kids and I was still too dumb to be afraid of someone standing three feet away swinging a twenty-six inch wooden stick.

I’d like to think that it was because I was the only kid smart enough to do the math and realize that the bat would never hit me if I waited patiently for the ball to arrive. Revisionist History at its finest (this is MY story after all).

It doesn’t matter really. I’m not sure I ever actually caught a pitch. You see, the few that didn’t bounce three feet wide of the plate and roll to the backstop, never made it all the way to my mitt anyway. They were shot-gunned all over the park as the Reds pounded us twenty-four straight times. We even traded for Dinky Kilby – that little curmudgeon of a pitcher who scared the life out of us – for the last game.

Actually, they gave us Dinky. As I remember, they didn’t want any of our players in exchange. And, in true Blues style, we managed to lose that one too; BUT. . . I did experience what it was like to actually catch pitches and hear an umpire yell, “strike three” when I didn’t have a bat in my hands.

I don’t take credit for carrying that team to a perfect 0-24 record. In fact, I wish for all the world that some hotshot therapist could help me forget the whole miserable experience. My only recourse to deal with this lifetime of embarrassment has been to hate the Reds forever. Sorry Cincinnati. It’s not personal.

I later became a pitcher/outfielder and begged for the opportunity to pitch anytime we played a team that wore red just so I could ease some of the pain. If it actually said “Reds” on their jersey, I was willing to buy my way to the mound with leftover allowance money and usually plunked at least one batter just for therapeutic reasons. Sigh. . .

* * * * * * *

There are times when things happen that we just don’t understand. Difficulties come our way and sometimes leave lasting impressions or lingering emotional scars. As much as we’d prefer to avoid those times, they are a part of what makes life complete. They bring fullness to the realm. They bring shadows to the light and texture to the landscape.

One of my all-time favorite TV addictions, until they rushed to conclusion and spoiled what was a burgeoning epic, was a show called LOST.  The J.J. Abrams – Carlton Cuse creation held many viewers “LOST” in the ever-unraveling mystery for six years and provided some fascinating discussion among fans on a vast array of subject matter, both factual and fictional. It was meticulously written and marvelously brought to life by the cast.

A favorite scene from early in the fifth season plays out as a small band of lead characters make their way through deep jungle, while attempting to cope with confusing episodes of flashes back and forth through time.

One such time flash had taken the group back to a scene that had played out at the close of the first season. A strong beam of light, pointing steadfastly into the night sky, is recognized by John Locke, who seems to be leading the group. He pauses as recognition of the past experience sinks in and then directs the group away from the light. Moments later he is joined in the path by a character named, Sawyer, who realizes what has transpired and has a few personal questions for Locke.

Transcript from Season 5, Episode 4: “The Little Prince”

SAWYER: And how is it that you knew when we were, Johnny Boy? That light in the sky — it was from the hatch, wasn’t it?

LOCKE: The night that Boone died… I went out there and started pounding on it as hard as I could. I was confused. . . scared. . . babbling like an idiot; asking, why was all this happening to me?

SAWYER: Did you get an answer?

LOCKE: A light came on, shot up into the sky. At the time, I thought it meant something.

SAWYER: Did it?

LOCKE: No. It was just a light.

SAWYER: So why’d you turn us around then? Don’t you wanna go back there?

LOCKE: Why would I wanna do that?

SAWYER: So you could tell yourself to do things different, save yourself a world of pain.

LOCKE: No, I needed that pain — to get to where I am now.

* * * * * * *

Pain is a funny thing. It comes in many forms and can burst into the scene from almost any crevice that shapes our world. Not one of us is victimless or immune. We all deal with it differently, yet we all deal with it. And we all “need that pain” at times to prepare us for where we are to go.

Unfortunately, sometimes we have difficulty letting it go and moving on. A light pierces the night sky. Do we drop everything and rush headlong into confrontation? Or, pause to appreciate the learning experience as we stay on our path?

Yeah, I hate the Reds. But, it’s a playful hatred these days. Dare I go so far as to say that for a six year old that pain, from forty-plus springtime’s ago, was a growth experience? Maybe it was. I know it motivated me in some ways at times.

I’m quite sure that I’ve remembered the experience long after Dinky forgot; but learning to let it go, even though I can’t fully wipe it from my memory, was the greatest lesson of all.

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