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Catch is a contact sport

Hillary IberraOne spring my dad spray-painted a baseball diamond on the grass near the walnut trees in our yard. Our family played a game nearly every day. Usually Dad pitched, and we kids would see how many bases we could run before Rueben, Dad’s dog, caught the ball in his mouth and ran it back to the pitcher. (I can tell you, that Labrador was some great outfielder!)

When I came up to bat, Mom often helped me swing. Sometimes my big brother Nate pitched, and Dad helped me bat. One time, however, I begged and pleaded to stand at the plate by myself. After all, don’t we all come to the age when we just want to stand on our own two feet, staring down a pitcher and his canine outfielder?

It was a big moment for his baby girl, and Dad did his best to prepare me. “Okay, Hoo-doo,” he said. “I’m going to throw it easy, okay? Just keep your eye on the ball, sweetheart. Remember, eye on the ball.”

I nodded matter-of-factly and spit in the dirt. Then I planted my feet and waited for my moment of destiny.

It hit me — smack! — on my left cheek.

An unearthly wail arose instantaneously. It took me a moment to realize it was coming from my own lungs. By that time Dad was leaning over me with an anguished look on his face, the kind you have after you’ve maimed your youngest child.

Everyone gathered around me, and a fuss was made over me such as I had not enjoyed in a long time. Sure, I was in pain; a large bruise was blooming on my cheek just below my eye, but I was not indifferent to the prospect of all the extra attention I might be getting for the next several minutes and possibly hours. As I was carried into the house, I sniffingly asked for ice cream. A few minutes later Mom was hand-feeding it to me. I don’t know how on earth I convinced them that because my cheek was sore, my legs and hands no longer worked. That’s the kind of brazen lie parents only fall for when they’re feeling guilty about smacking you in the face with a baseball.

No one realized yet that I had a chronic baseball problem.

My eyesight was terrible, you see. There were incidents supporting this truth before I got glasses — like the fact that I kept crossing my eyes and running into walls. Mom and Dad must have thought I was doing that to be cute; I wouldn’t have put it past me.

By the time I finally got glasses, they didn’t help me much in one of my favorite games to play with Dad and Nate: catch. The first two or three times one of them threw me the ball, and it landed on my nose instead of in my mitt, they thought it was a fluke. By the fifth time it happened, they were out of patience and sympathy — even when I blamed it on my lazy right eye.

“Okay, that’s it. No more, Hillary!” said Dad, desperate to put us all out of our misery. “I forbid you to play catch!”

Nate just stared at me in disbelief. The pitiful girl holding her nose in both hands and groaning was the closest thing he had to a little brother. All his dreams of playing catch with a sibling who could actually catch the ball more than 20 percent of the time were smoke.

I wasn’t ready to throw in the glove, though. When Dad was busy or at work, I’d sneak up to Natie.

“Come on,” I’d say in a low voice. “Come on, let’s go — quick.” Then I’d show him the mitts I had behind my back.

Nate humored me, but my skills didn’t really improve. It was basically dodge ball with a smaller, much harder ball.

All these years later I have yet to meet another person whose Dad forbade them to play catch, because it was too dangerous. And Nate can probably blame me for the fact that, lacking sufficient practice, his pitching career never advanced beyond Little League. You may be thinking, My eyesight is 40-1000, and I can catch. Anyone can catch! Still, be careful the next time you’re tossing a ball around with the kids, because I’m pretty sure that’s how I got my crooked nose.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers, but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Reflections of Erma