So What's It With Me and Baseballs?
by Rodney Pygoya Chang
February 25, 2007
It was seventeen season ago that I sat in this section of the bleachers, just above third base. It was Sunday, the start of the Chinese new year, and college baseball and its spring season was here in Hawaii. I ran seven miles earlier with my brother Clayton and felt caught up with my personal creative projects and chores around the house. I picked up the Sunday paper's sports section and read that the University of Hawaii baseball team was playing at 1 p.m. against Wichita State. I remember that when I was an avid fan with season tickets, the Rainbows were always beaten by the Shockers. But it didn't matter. I felt like reminiscing the good old days, just sitting out there in the sun, taking in the island's tradewinds. With my hectic life, I looked forward to the slow moving game of baseball in order to "smell the roses" in life.
At first I stayed in my assigned seat higher up where it was cheaper. But later, after going for snacks, I decided to plop my body into the section below that was reserved. It was pretty empty this day so I knew nobody cared. As importantly, I wouldn't have to climb the many steep stairs back to my designated seat.
There I sat like in '89 when I held my first born in my left arm. I remembered, sitting there, how a line drive foul ball by a left hand batter suddenly came zeroing in on us. Parental protective instinct took over because, instead of dodging, I instantly stood up, held Bronson away from the approaching ball in my left arm, and defiantly smacked down the sizzling ball with my free hand as it "attacked" us. I recall the loud swatting sound of impact which left a red welt in my soon to be swollen right palm. Perfect defensive play! The crowd cheered as father saves son. I felt proud, and as a nerd, even athletic. A boy brought the deflected ball to me and I placed it in my son's hands. It might have seemed symbolic to spectators as well as to myself. The toddler looked down at it and started to play with it, oblivious to our recent endangerment. At one and a half years of age the mind doesn't yet have the attention span to watch a baseball game.
Now here I sat again, feeling a bit guilty that I was sitting in a higher priced seat that I hadn't paid for. The Rainbows were down 1-4, now in the 5th inning. They had lost the previous game, 4-10. A novel on Roswell, New Mexico, "Roswell One," was in my blue jean back pocket. Once home from the ballpark I remembered how my wife had said it was that Roswell baseball cap and Roswell inscribed t-shirt that I wore that brought me bad luck two months prior. I didn't finish the Las Vegas Marathon because I ran the wrong way. I joked with friends that I was abducted (by aliens). Now I again possessed a Roswell item on me, but didn't expect anything to happen, except that yeah, the home team was going to lose again.
Suddenly it felt like déjà vu! A left-handed batter had just launched a missile straight at me! Unlike the past, this time I was frozen, almost from disbelief. No child this time in my arm, but a bag of trans fats fries in one and a cup of caffienated soda in the other. Maybe I didn't want to put anything down, or maybe now at 61, my reflexes were gone. I remember the sense of bewilderment - that of all 2,000 fans, a ball had chose me as its target- again. I also recalled thinking, Everybody's watching me to see how I react - in the next split second. I felt I was on stage with an audience on the edge of their seats. And I knew they'd see I didn't "bring my game," this time around.
With the ball closing in at about ten feet I judged it was going to get me. If it was a direct hit, I speculated it would bash me in the face. But now I was not quick enough to reflexively duck or block with a hand. Was I having a "senior moment?" The comedic scene of French fries flying all over the place and cola splashing on my face, causing people to roar with laugher - at me, flashed in my mind's eye. The projectile coming in at high velocity was about two feet from my face when I finally managed to leaned to the left. That was just enough to make it miss my face - Whew! But then -
"Whack!" My head jolted forward from the force of the ball as it ricochet off the concrete wall, only two feet behind me, and blasted me in the back of my skull. The force was probably the same as getting hit directly (but in the back instead of the front of the head), considering the loss of energy absorbed by the wall canceling out the increase due to the ball compressing and the release of that additional energy when it bounced off the wall. From the extreme velocity, the loud thud inside my head and the stadium-loud, unified "OH!!!!!!!," for an instant I too expected the worse. But for some strange reason, it wasn't. Blinking as if to clear the cobwebs, I felt lucky that I was still conscious.
A young woman came dashing across the aisle. I was ready to say "I'm okay." But instead she dived under my legs to snatch the ball, and without a word scampered back to her seat. Her friend, holding a beer, high-fived the retriever. I could hear some in the crowd jawing, "Ah, give the guy the ball!" Not that I wanted it. What would I do with it? Brag how this is the ball that smacked me silly? I later judged that woman as the type of person who would stop to render aid to someone she saw stricken in an accident on the highway.
Looking down, I was thankful that my fries and drink were still intact. A couple seconds later a stadium attendant came up to me and said "Are you okay? There's a nurse downstairs."
"I'm okay," I answered, nonchalantly taking a sip of my drink to demonstrate to the gawking crowd that I was indeed unharmed, in fact, cool, acting like nothing happened (when a better man, against the girl, would have darted and make a play for the ball). I was glad I wore my cap's visor low and had dark glasses on to conceal my embarrassment.
I remember thinking I'm lucky I didn't get a fractured skull but, from that kind of force, I can expect a big lump later. But then it dawned on me that it didn't even hurt. Nobody has that thick a skull.
I reached for the spot in the back of my head where the ball collided. My finger went straight to the back of my baseball cap where the adjustment metal buckle was situated. The ball had hit that tiny brass plate of the cap! Below it was extra padding of the extra strap length folded under it, excess for my head size. The cap was well made with a double layered fabric with thick cord-like thread that constructed the rim of the hat. The ball had hit a metal buckle with four layers of fabric below it. Talk about good fortune!
Turns out the cap was RED (good luck to Chinese), with golden lettering (good luck to Chinese) stating "USC - DAD." It was the first time for me to wear this Christmas present from my son, given to me during his first holiday break as a freshman college student at the University of Southern California.
I can't help think of the paradox of it all - I saved him from an errant speeding baseball years ago and now his gift returned the favor! I can't thank him enough (who wants to be in the hospital with a fractured skull?) and also can't help but wonder how there are phenomena in this world we aren't aware of or will ever understand. Or maybe it was merely God or my guardian angel. To all, I'm thankful.
And next time I'll sit somewhere else.
A final thought - I remember before I left the house for the game deciding whether to wear the pristine USC cap or the Roswell one that I wore in the marathon. They lay next to each other on a shelf close to the front door. What if I had selected the Roswell? It has a mere elastic band in the back.
a year later, 1990 - ready for some baseball!
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