picture of Natrone Means in the Zen Garden by mr. ausherman - click to submit
MIDLIFE CAREER TRANSITION
BY STEPHEN AUSHERMAN

Standing out here in the field like this, people donít notice you, or if they do, they suspect somethingís not right with you. That youíre an outcast, that you put yourself far away from the others for antisocial reasons, perhaps a restraining order.

I stand out here and watch the grass give way to weeds. I watch seeds blow in and take root. Cacti have grown up around me. Cottonwoods now tower over me. They provide me with shade and something to lean on when my legs grow weary from standing so long, but Iím afraid theyíll obstruct the view when my moment comes.

Standing out here in the field, as an outfielder training for the ĎTopes, Iím afraid my moment will never come. Or if it does, Iíll be too old to react. Or I might run into a tree that wasnít there in the fourth inning. The last guy to hold this position, his bones are still out here, somewhere under the tumbleweeds and chaparral. 

Sometimes I wonder what Iím doing out here. Sometimes I donít get this game at all. Itís so horrendously slow. And yet all the great ones stood out here, in the outfield. Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb.

Outcasts, all of them. But outstanding players as well. Iíll never stand out the way they did, not out in this field. 

Iím new to this field. I changed my career late in life. I thought the transition would come natural to me, the old field being so similar, but so far no one has noticed me.

In my old field, I was a star. I started young with dreams of fame and glory, convinced that baseball, being such a horrendously slow game, had run its course as our nationís pastime. I believed the real action was on the kickball field. 

Problem is, kickball athletes tend to peak early, while a baseball player can play on forever. Satchel Paige was pushing 60 the last time he played for the big leagues. And when he was on the mound, nobody hit the ball or ran anywhere. He really knew how to slow a game down to nothing. Same as when he was at the plate. He wouldnít hit more than one ball in ten thrown his way. And still they let him play. In kickball, you canít expect to stay on the team with an average like that. Youíve got to be kicking somewhere upward of .800 or .810.

In my prime, I averaged .890, maybe better. I was, in baseball parlance, Cracker Jack. But then I fractured my first metatarsal on a power kick against an illegal bouncy. After that, my whole kicking foot went, and with it my dreams of kickball greatness.

I still dream of kickball. I can still hear the percussive punt of that crimson ball and the playground going wild as it sailed over the swingsets. I remember lying awake nights, imagining the glory of leading the first USA kickball team to Olympic victory. I envisioned a clash with the Soviets, a death match reminiscent of our bloody battle for water polo gold in 1980. 

And I still dream of kickball greatness and a day when kickball athletes enjoy the status we deserve. But I look at the kickball leagues today, and I see itís all about steroid abuse and hazing rookies. And I look at the baseball players today, and I see itís all about sucking up to the fans. And Iím still standing out here in right field, alone and poor and lost in a forest, and Iím thinking maybe Iíd be better off in a sport thatís pure and incorruptible. A sport where stardom comes not with phony showmanship, but with a genuine Zen-like mastery of the game. Iím thinking my moment will come with cockfighting, or lawn darts, or maybe Scandinavian Rules Roller Derby.

Mr. Ausherman does this.

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