Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book 50: Ferdinand the Bull

I was the kind of kid who would get picked on until a fight happened. Then I would win the fight with fury unchecked. Then I would cry. So it was as if I never won the fight at all...

All I wanted to do was play sports. When I wasn't actually playing sports I was pretending to play sports in my backyard. I was the next left fielder for the Red Sox, continuing the fine tradition of Ted Williams, Yaz and Jim Ed Rice. I romped around our backyard with my glove and hat throwing the ball up as high as I could and diving to catch it at the last second before it hit the ground.

In actual sports it was even more fun. The thrill of competition is acute for me, better than any drug. My year was built around the sport of the season. Baseball in spring and summer, soccer in fall, and basketball in winter. I was always a very good soccer player, a sport where my tenacity could outweigh my average physical traits. I was an average basketball player, being left-handed made it difficult for people to guard me and I was a good shot and a tireless defender.

Baseball? The sport I longed to excel at? For the first two years of Little League I had two accidental bunt hits. I played first base and was a good defender but I couldn't seem to put the bat on the ball. This crushed me.

I had one season of Little League left to me. Somehow something clicked. In the first 8 games I seemed to get a hit every time I came to the plate. I was roping the ball all over the field. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. My stance changed from a straight posture to a deep crouch and I felt like I was launching myself up and out at each pitch, knowing where it would cross the plate and where I wanted to hit it. My batting average was over .500.

I had finally grasped the substance of my dreams.

To this day I believe that I would be playing left field for the Boston Red Sox if only I'd grown to be six foot two two hundred pounds. Alas, I stopped at five foot ten and one fifty.

All that being said, the important point I am making is that anywhere an athletic event was taking place I felt totally IN MY ELEMENT.

But the sensitive kid in me, the one who cried after beating up a bully, that kid had a target on his back IN HIS ELEMENT. People talk about how sports is a great teaching tool, that the leveler of competition shows us how to deal with irrefutable evidence, that working together as a team is a way to socialize young men. But I have come to have a bit of a darker view of the world of sports than that. If those things were true I would have found a home in sports. I did not.

I was too young to know that I was an artist as well as an athlete. I couldn't understand why my skill did not put me in the club. There was something in me that the athletes had disdain for. My skill actually angered most of the 'jocks' I knew. They didn't like that a gangly little guy without speed or power used intensity and desire to keep up with them. I naively thought they would appreciate this. For the most part they did not.

Now as most who know me can attest, my memory is like a piece of Swiss cheese. That has been eaten until nothing remains. I have to turn to my sisters for factual corroboration and my childhood is to me like a movie I saw once and never discussed. Snapshots at best. Books, however, are clear.

I must have read 'Ferdinand the Bull' a thousand times and while everyone always remember him wanting to sit under the tree, I always wanted him to win that damn bullfight. After all, there was a stadium full of fans and a competition to be had.

I didn't think of the irony that his ferocity came from sitting on a bee. I spent my whole life in sports sitting on a bee ON PURPOSE so I could take that intensity and bring it to bear on my opponent. And if my prescription goggles made him overconfident, so be it.

He'd wind up flipped over my back waving his sad red blankie in the air as I turned and snorted and aimed my horns at his heart.


Sheila O'Malley said...


I never really knew all of this. Beautifully written.

Brendan O'Malley said...

thanks sheil.