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'Twas the Wednesday Before Christmas

This picture is apropos of absolutely nothing. However, I really like it. So there.
This picture is apropos of absolutely nothing. However, I really like it. So there.

This past Sunday, I met my father at Best Buy to help him do his Christmas shopping. I do this every year; it's become sort of a tradition. The only thing somewhat different this year was that my younger brother Ryan decided he would accompany us.

So we go to Best Buy, pick out a laptop for my mother, pick out a camera for Ryan's girlfriend, pick out a couple Wii games for my cousin's youngest son. A good haul, really. We stopped for breakfast, then headed into the mall for further shopping. Ryan wanted to buy his girlfriend a bracelet, so we headed for the highest concentration of jewelry stores and stores who sell jewelry in the area.

At the mall, we happened upon something really interesting. It was a virtual batting cage, with a hollow plastic bat and a big video screen where the pitcher would appear. For some odd reason, going into this batting cage suddenly seemed like the best idea in the world, so Ryan and I decided we would take a shot. At this point, we both discovered neither of us had even a single one dollar bill; I had two twenties and Ryan had a wad of tens and twenties to do his shopping with. So my father digs out his wallet and hands us both a dollar.

Ryan goes first. The virtual pitcher throws ten pitches for a dollar, and you swing the bat as the ball should be crossing the plate. Simple, right? So Ryan stands in, hits the practice pitch out to right-center, then digs in for the real stuff. Of the ten pitches, he puts four over the wall and comes up with a total distance of a little over 3000 feet for all ten.

It's my turn next, so I step in, put in the dollar I got from my dad, and sidle up to the plate from the left side. I taught myself to switch-hit at a very young age (no jokes, now), and was always a much better hitter from the left. The pitcher winds up, throws the practice pitch, and I take a cut. Nothing. Okay, I think, I was clearly a little early. I've got this.

Of the ten pitches thrown, I hit zero home runs, swung and missed four times, and amassed a total distance of just over 1200 feet. Here's the thing about this: I am, far and away, the more athletically inclined of my brother and I. I have spent the majority of my life playing baseball in at least some casual fashion, and, with no false modesty, am reasonably good at it. I've always been better on the mound than at the plate, but I'm really no slouch with the bat either.

So at this point I've turned rather red, due to the fact a large number of people have stopped on their way by to check out the video batting game which has humiliated the man standing inside. I try to leave, but my father insists we try it again. I'm resisting with all my might, but something about being beaten at my own damned game by my little brother is far too grating, and I acquiesce to another round. Dad digs out another two dollars, hands one to me and one to Ryan. Rather than leave the batting cage and risk losing the feel and the groove I was settling into, I turn right around and go again, ignoring the protests of the younger Schafer brother.

This time I decide to bat from the right side. That's probably the problem, I say to myself, I swing a golf club right-handed, and I've played golf several times since I picked up a bat. My lefty swing is just all out of whack. Armed thusly with impregnable and not at all fuzzy logic, I ready myself to demolish my 32-bit tormentor.

I miss the practice pitch, again. I miss the first pitch. I miss the second. The third I make contact with and hit a soft liner to approximately Ronnie Belliard's spot on the field. Now I'm really starting to get upset, the crowd has grown just enough to convince me I'll soon look down and realise I'm in my underwear, and, most shameful of all, I've started to do that thing where in order to fend off the sting of failure you start describing just exactly what was wrong with each failed attempt in a voice loud enough so everyone can hear that yes, you might be failing, but you totally know what the problem is and will totally get it straightened out really soon. I'm not sure why, but loudly describing why you failed functions as a remarkably good blanket against the slings and arrows of your own ego.

Fourth pitch, pop fly to left. Too early, damnit!

Fifth pitch, swing and a miss. Okay, too late on that one. Alright.

Sixth pitch, grounder up the middle. See, now the timing's better, but I'm not sure where I'm supposed to be swinging.

Seventh, another swing and a miss, and I'm verging on blaming the game now. I turn to my brother and question him, whether I was early or late or what. I mean, I just can't tell, I say, trying to draw someone into an empathic bond with my own misery.

Eight pitch, and I make good contact. The ball flies toward the center field wall, long and straight and high and true, only to fall a foot or two short of the seats. Now I've got it, I confidently say to myself, that was much better. The crowd seems less impressed than I apparently am.

Ninth pitch, a weak fly to right. I try to think of something to say, but am unable. I settle for an exasperated, exaggerated sigh, hoping someone will be impressed with my good humour in the face of such abject humiliation.

The last pitch comes, and I take a half-hearted little swing and the ball shoots into the left field stands with roughly the exit velocity of a howitzer shell. I should laugh at this, but I'm just too pissed off. The game congratulates me and gives me a bonus pitch. I suddenly get very excited, take perhaps the largest swing I've ever taken on the bonus pitch, and miss it completely. I slump out of the cage, trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone.

My brother steps back in, and as I watch him, I'm struck by how slowly he's swinging the bat. The pitch comes in, and he sort of just waves the bat gently over the plate and watches as it disappears into the distance. Of his ten pitches this time around, he puts seven in the seats, with the aid of one bonus pitch. His total distance is well over 4000 feet.

 I think I've finally figured out the way the game works; Ryan was swinging very easily and crushing the ball, while I was taking actual swings like I was playing a real game of of baseball and consistently getting nowhere fast. It must be something with the way the game senses the bat, and my full, fast swings weren't registering properly.

I turn to my father, and just as I open my mouth ask for another dollar, I'm suddenly struck by what's actually happening. Here I am, a man going on 30 years old, who has lived an often hard and occasionally ugly life, standing in a mall and asking his father for another dollar to try and finally beat his brother at a video game. I have a mortgage and two cats and life insurance, and yet I've turned back into the same kid I was at thirteen, begging my mother for more quarters at Xhilirama because one of the older kids kept kicking my ass on Killer Instinct.

Was this sudden onset of youth a Christmas miracle? No. No it was not. But it was kind of fun, pumping money into a baseball video game in the middle of a sea of humanity. There may or may not be a meaning to be found here; make of it whatever you like.

We ended up stopping at two games, the dinger count 11-1 in favour of my brother. My dad was out of ones, and when he offered to go and get change for a five, I decided I had had enough of being a tweener for one day. We finished up our shopping and each went our separate ways, Ryan mercilessly jabbing me with reminders of his victory as we went.

I had another story I was going to tell this morning, something a bit more like me (you know, Bummerman), but I believe I'll put that one up at my other gig on Thursday. Try to give the Rundown a proper sendoff, if I can. (As of the first of the year, the Rundown will be no more. I've been asked to stay on and write just as part of the Daily RFT, focusing on sports, and so I'm trying to keep an optimistic mindset. I won't lie to you, though; my failure to build a better following is weighing rather heavily  on me at the moment.) So I decided to do something a bit lighter here this morning.

That being said, I have a bit of free time today, so let's do a holiday chat. Festivus if you like, Christmas or Hannukah if you prefer. We can talk about whatever you like, be it baseball or booze or Bonanza. Actually, scratch that. I hate Bonanza. Pretty much anything else is fair game, though.