“I don’t know how to answer that. It’s almost like being really tired. And people seem to become more and more like animals rather than human beings.”
There are few things less important than a child’s sports game, in the grand scheme of things. Excepting the fraction of a percent of children who move up the ranks to professional teams, the outcome of the match and the individual performance of the players has absolutely no impact on the world or anyone’s future. Much has been written on how and why it is that grown adults, with stresses and considerations that far outweigh anything going on at their neighbourhood court, field, rink, ring, diamond, or sheet, nevertheless place such primary importance on the athletic performance of a bunch of confused and disoriented children. My retrospective guesses are marital trouble and latent alcoholism, but the reasons aren’t the point. The point is that children, being as they are stupendously gullible, have a remarkable tendency to internalize this thinking, and to get to a point where they too consider it of the utmost importance that they crush their opponents. My parents, thankfully, were fairly relaxed about the whole sporting situation, save for a general feeling that I should play some kind of sport, because that’s simply what normal kids do. But the atmosphere was still there. It somehow mattered that I play well.
I only remember two stories from my year of playing softball. In the first I’m guarding third base. There is little plot to this memory—I just have to pee. I hold it for what then seemed like a long time, before deciding that this inning is destined to go on forever, and therefore that I will never get a chance to use a washroom. So I decide to urinate where I’m standing, right in my pants. A runner comes to third base and mentions the large piss trail I have slowly making its way down my leg. I’m not sure how I respond. The inning ends and I head back to the dugout. The entire team is not blind, and so they notice too. So do my parents, who come and whisk me away, asking why didn’t I just ask to use a washroom.
In the second I’m at bat. I have no idea of the state of the bases or whether the outfielders moved in when I took the plate or what the pitcher looked like or if my dad managed to make it to the game. All I remember is that I swung wildly at every single pitch that came at me, and whiffed every single time. I immediately ran the count to 0-3 and was out. I started crying, and it was determined that I would be given another chance, a do-over. So I swung three more times, and again hit nothing. I was at this point at zero balls and six strikes. But my childish hysteria would not abate. And so it was decided that, since none of this mattered anyway, I would be allowed to use a tee. As in a tee-ball tee, which there was one in one of the dugouts. The tee was brought out, raised to its maximum height on account of my being too old for it, and everyone took their places. I wound up, swung, and managed to hit the tee a few inches below the ball, knocking it over, but leaving the ball more or less where it had been perched, hanging in the air for the briefest of moments before it dropped to the ground a few inches from my feet. I remember nothing after this.
Aside from their illumination of my later distaste for any and all competitive sports, these memories are essentially meaningless, offering, so far as I can tell, no insight into my current character. But imagine, for a moment, if these were your memories, and if you were socially expected to explain them to every person you met—how you felt, how you feel about it now, what you think of the social pressure to play sports given your difficult past experiences with them. Imagine if this one useless and embarrassing anecdote was the one thing every person you met was most interested in hearing about.