Plant The Back FootPosted 10 June 2011 by Pony Boy
Dad was a 3M engineer. He did a bunch of things and refused multiple promotions because he didn’t want the stress that comes from being in management. For a while, he was a teacher in their classroom facility, a building straight out of the 1960s, complete with windows that were 6-inch slats. It sat next to a Howard Johnson’s, away from the main 3M campus a half mile away in St. Paul.
For a while, he would take new engineers and train them in the 3M way. He also learned to deconstruct 3M’s most complicated machines — he once worked on its laser imaging medical equipment — and write manuals on how to fix those machines.
Mom and Dad had the best yard in the neighborhood for sports. With a third of an acre of land, there was just enough space for kids under the age of 12 to play football. The yard was and remains rectangular, with a row of evergreens in the back of the yard. We’d set home plate back by the house; the trees in left served as a Green Monster.
At the age of 3, a plastic T-ball set was purchased with a big, red plastic bat. Home plate went by the house. Then Dad set about engineering a swing.
“Put your feet side by side. No, like this,” he bent over and placed my feet next to each other. The feet would slide. I’d start pointing my toes at him instead of the plate. He wouldn’t pitch until the toes were pointed at the plate.
Like any kid, I flailed at his pitches. Moving my back leg to try to build momentum to hit the ball.
“Keep that back leg down,” he’d say. “You’ll hit it harder.”
He was right. I listened. Plant that back leg. Twist the torso.
“Let me show you how to hit the ball the opposite way,” he’d say. Then we’d spend half an hour practicing. He’d position my body so I was lined up with the shortstop. Swing a little late. Pop a liner over the third baseman. Worked like a Swiss watch.
He taught me all the tricks. I don’t know how he knew them. Dads just know things. He didn’t play organized ball, possibly ever. And he wasn’t a giant baseball fan. But he was an engineer. He watched. He learned. He knew.
As I got older, I got fatter. But I could always hit. Dad got frustrated, I’m sure. I’d see my friends, who were a foot taller and twice as strong, blasting home runs.
“Just try to hit line drives,” he’d implore me. “You don’t need to hit for power. Let other guys take care of that. Just get on base. You can add a little upper cut to your swing when you get older and stronger, if you want.”
It was good advice. I was young. He’s my Dad. I listened.
Chicken pox used to be a normal part of the growing-up process, before science decided that little itchy people have a right to a better life, or something. I caught the pox and missed the second-to-last game of fourth grade.
The last game was at Afton-Lakeland Elementary School, which had no fence for its two ballfields. If you hit the ball far enough, it would go past the tether-ball pole and onto the blacktop at Afton-Lakeland Elementary. Only a few moonshots had ever made the blacktop that I’d ever seen.
The team we were playing wasn’t very good. We had an eclectic group. Brian Helmaniak, the speedy sprite, Pat Nimitz and I set the table. Tom Gornick and Chris Bordenave had the big bats. They’d clear the bases.
By the last inning, I’d hit two singles and a double. Tom Bordenave, Chris’ dad, was pitching. The bases were loaded. Back leg down. Pivot. Pop.
The ball cleared the pitcher and the shortstop. It was a bullet. It went over the center fielder’s head and through the soft brown dirt in the deep outfield. It rolled onto the blacktop.
I ran like hell. No simple task for a 150-pound fifth-grader. I stumbled around third and crossed the plate. I hadn’t had time to see where the ball was. When I turned around, gasping for breath and throat burning, the ball was just being thrown back to the infield.
Good advice, Dad.