As I walked back to the dugout, tears streamed down my face. Never had I been so mad: mad at myself for doing something apparently wrong, mad at the crowd for yelling at me so loudly, and mad at the umpire who threw me out of the game. When I was playing little league baseball, I only got thrown out of one game. In fact, in all of my years of playing sports, even through high school, I only got thrown out of one game, and it was all because of a 1989 Upper Deck baseball card.
My dad never played organized sports, but he always made sure that my older brother and I had ever chance to play. Whenever he came home from work, we would play catch or play basketball. Once we began to play Little League, he taught us how to switch hit. While I never took to it like my older brother, I learned to hit the ball well, nonetheless. As a result, I was one of the better players on my little league team (impressive I know).
I had one slight problem; I was “husky.” I think it’s a rule that every Little League team has a bigger kid on the team. Usually, the big kids play first base, which is where I played at the beginning of the season. Soon, however, the coach noticed that I had a decent arm and was not afraid of the ball. So he asked me to play catcher.
For the readers who were husky, big-boned, healthy, or just plain fat, bending over and squatting down with your back to the crowd may not have the same appeal it has to other kids. My being uncomfortable with the position change, then, might be understood.
On the way to the first game after the position switch, my dad noticed a nervousness in me that was new. He asked me what was wrong and after a few attempts of non-response, I finally told him about why I didn’t want to play catcher. His reply forever changed my life. He told me that one of the greatest catchers of all-time was a bigger guy who was sometimes called “Pudge.” He told me of his toughness and swagger. I was an instant fan.
Over the next few weeks, I found out as much about Pudge as I could. This was before the Internet, so the best way for kids to learn about baseball players was baseball cards. I went to the card shop and bought every card of his that I...