My Problem With Balls

Baseball Glove

I have a problem with balls. I can’t catch them, I can’t hold on to them, and I certainly can’t throw them. But apparently, balls don’t have a problem with me. They seem drawn to me. I could be walking by a playing field, a tennis court, even a neighbor’s yard, and balls of all sorts would inevitably seek me out.

This unusual Law of Attraction started the summer when I was 11 years old and played right field in the Swansea Little League. (Or was it left field? I can never get it straight. You know, that spot beyond first base?) I was on the politically indecently named team known as the Indians. I never wanted to be on a baseball team. In fact, I loathed the very idea. But it was my parents’ way of trying to assimilate me with other boys and get me out of the house.

Not long before, I had walked up to my father while he was reading the newspaper on a Sunday afternoon and said, “Daddy, I think I’m a drug addict.”

He slowly lowered his paper and his La-Z-Boy. He looked over my head to my mother. Then he looked at me. “Why do you say that, son?” He was gentle, a hand on my arm.

I explained that we had been given a handout in school that listed the possible signs of preteen and teen drug addiction. One of them was spending excessive time alone, especially in a bedroom behind closed doors. Because of squalls of anxiety that were storming through my body, I had often locked myself in my room alone.

“Have you taken any drugs?”

“No, of course not,” I replied, a bit offended. What a ridiculous question.

“Son,” my mother said, “you have nothing to worry about then.”


“Banana, if you haven’t taken drugs, you can’t be a drug addict,” she said, her index fingers banging together like two Twix Bars. “It goes together.”

“But I’m worried I will become a drug addict because I spend so much time alone.” Their seeing my utter lack of comprehension about how the world worked and being starkly reminded of just how often I actually was holed up in my room is how I ended up in Little League.

Practices were miserable for me. My teammates would roll their eyes and laugh when I tossed the ball. (“You throw like a girl, Leite.”) Or when I was up at bat. (“My grandmother could swing better than that, Leite!”) And especially when I was catching and missed a pop fly. (“Hey, Magoo, you need glasses?”) Because no boy was ever turned away from Little League back then, Mr. Hibert, our coach, minimized the damage I could do by placing me behind first base, where no batter ever hit a ball.

We were in last place most of the season. To cope with the boredom I felt out there, I’d hold my glove up and chew on the leather cords that stitched it together. I’d gnaw away as I watched grounders speed toward shortstop only to be scooped up and pegged at first base. “Out!” the umpire would shout. Or while I observed pop flies arc like fireworks over center field, with the kid who played that position backing up, up, up and catching it, but not before several players made their way around the bases. Sometimes, with my glove up to my mouth, I’d even sing softly to myself—mostly Tony Orlando and Dawn or the Osmonds.

I don’t know how I got the idea of eating in the outfield, but once I did, the games practically became a spectator sport for me. There was a concession stand behind the bleachers, and before a game, I’d beg money from my parents, who went to every single game and, bless them, refrained from wincing while I played. I’d stock up on Swedish Fish, candy necklaces, red shoestring licorice, Sweet Tarts, and bubble gum. I’d unwrap everything, toss the wrappers, and stuff the candy into a small brown paper bag. I’d fit the bag into the crook of my glove, and while it appeared to everyone that I was bored and chewing my glove, I was actually enjoying a veritable panoply of childhood delights.

Toward the end of the season, I was in my usual place in the outfield, my glove overflowing with my sweet stash. I was counting down the games until this torture was over and I could toss out my glove for good. And then it happened. A crack of the bat that sent the ball arcing my way. Right field?! The batter was a right-hander. No right-hander had ever popped one into right field. I panicked.

“Catch it, Dave!” everyone was screaming. “Catch it.” My parents stood up, my mother clutching my father’s arm. I made my decision. I raised my glove high above my head and cupped the back of it with my left hand, like Mr. Hibert had taught me. The candy rained down on me, and I turned my face away and missed the ball, which landed about three feet from me. Laughter broke out everywhere.

“Throw it! Throw it!” I picked up the ball and, adrenaline pumping, lobbed it so hard and high it missed the first baseman and hit the ground near the catcher. He beaned it to second base, but it was too late. The batter had made it to third base. I was humiliated. Sitting on the bench, I ignored the taunts of the boys on the other team and the cold shoulder from my teammates.

During one of the last games that season, I was holding down the outfield and praying for rain when a lightening strike of the bat sent the ball careening right into the balls of our pitcher, Kevin Kraska. He crumpled. Everyone crowded the mound like ants feasting on picnic droppings. I was the only one who stayed in the outfield. Mr. Hibert and, I think, Mr. Kraska helped Kevin back to the bench.

Mr. Hibert motioned the first basemen over to the mound. “You pitch.”

“Who’s gonna play first base?” the kid said.

“It doesn’t make a difference now, let just mix it up,” he said, his arm twirling above his head. “Outfield in, infield out.” He pointed at me: “Leite, first base.” I stuffed the candy in my pockets and trotted over.

I have no idea how long I stood there, but I don’t remember doing anything until a pop fly came my way. Catching this might somehow erase the rancid humiliation of my previous failures. I put up my hand, all eyes on me. And then I calmly lowered my glove. It was as if time slowed to molasses. The ball plopped down next to me, and I watched as several boys dove alongside me trying to grab it. Mr. Hibert was nonplussed. The ball relayed from boy to boy to boy, but it never outran the batter as he rounded the bases and slid into home. The opposing team jumped and hugged each other.

I never played Little League again. But it was then that balls began dropping out of the heavens at my feet. In high school, I’d purposely walk, with my head down, out of my way to avoid the playing fields, yet there I would stand, staring at a baseball, football, soccer ball, or tennis ball between my feet, someone yelling at me to throw it back. And I’d have a decision to make: Do I throw it to them and risk once again the sexist chant, “You throw like a girl!” or do I simply walk on?

In my twenties, it grew easier to ignore players’ shouts, especially with the advent of the Walkman. I could claim not to hear anything but the soulful lyrics of Anita Baker or Chet Baker—and then, being so moved by the music, I would step right over the ball and pretend not to notice that it was there.

Nowadays when I tell this story, friends sometimes ask me to prove it. So I walk them to the Great Lawn in Central Park, where teams are always playing.

“Watch,” I say. We’ll start along the perimeter of the grass and, inevitably, a ball will roll right across my path. I look to my friends, who usually are shaking their heads, dumbstruck. “I told you,” I say.

“Throw it over the fence, will ya?” “Can you toss that?” “Dude, pass it over,” come the pleas. I just look over at the field, smile, and walk on.

Then I count to one, two, three and, sure enough, “Asswipe!” or some similar insult is volleyed at me. And I laugh.

David Leite's signature
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  1. Martha in KS says:

    Another hilarious DL story. The title had me giggling, as did the first sentence. I too “throw like a girl”. No biggie. We can’t all be drug addicted ball players.

  2. Beth says:

    “… like two Twix bars.”

    And this is why I love you.

  3. Stu B. says:

    I’m 74 yr. old and the humiliation still lingers. The story you wrote could be my story. I channeled my interests and abilities into studying science and ended up being a physician. But, two generations later, my 10 year old grandson throws a ball like a girl, runs like a girl, throws basketballs into the opponents basket, can’t hit a golf ball…but, can he ever play the guitar! He went to camp and would not take part in the sports, so, he chose guitar lessons instead. Three week of daily lessons and he came home playing 10 cords and 4 songs and singing along with himself. Maybe every 60 years there is this magic aura that decends upon one camper….60 years ago I was at the same camp with a fellow camper who played a mean guitar and piano all day, every day…..I wonder what ever became of that kid, Robert Zimmerman?

    • David Leite says:

      I hear you, Stu. And what’s so sad, especially nowadays, is the inherent sexism in that comment. It curdles young boys and denigrates girls. Oy! And good for your grandson. May he become a star.

      And do not tell me you went to camp with Bob Dylan?!

    • Stu B. says:

      I sure did. He was from the Iron Range of Minnesota, Hibbing, Mn. which was in the heart of the iron ore mining country, and he went to Herzl Camp the year I did. I lived in Minneapolis, Mn. The camp was in Webster, Wisconsin. We were both into our teenage years, about age 15, and his talent was blossoming then.
      I went back years later as a camp physician, latter still, my kids attended and now my grandson has gone there for 3 summers.

      • David Leite says:

        That is awesome, Stu. You should write about it.

        • Amy says:

          Stu, my kids also go to Herzl Camp. They are very proud to go to the camp where Bob Dylan went, even though they really don’t know much of him as a singer.

          David, thanks for posting another great story of your boyhood.

  4. Carolina Gal says:

    Ha, now you’ re the king of balls….. meatballs, and damn awesome ones too, so there!

  5. Kitchenbeard says:

    My Dear Mr. Leite – You are hereby challenged to bring this phenomenon to SF. We would welcome your skills as we walk past the fields of gay softball players as means of a facilitating open communication between us…or something like that.

    Best regards,


  6. Ling Teo says:

    “Banana”? God bless Momma Leite. And Poppa Leite. David, I made the mistake of reading this while drinking coffee. I should know better by know; reading your writing. I cannot wait for your book. Big hugs.

    • David Leite says:

      Ling, yeah, that’s what she’s called me since I was a kid: “Banana” or “Banana Head.” Sometimes, “hey, you.” “Tarouco.” You get the idea.

  7. EclecticDJ says:

    David, I was terrible at Little League. I anchored Right Field. Nothing happened out there. Fortunately. But when it did and it was on the ground it was heading for my nuts or my face and not my glove. Little league fields are not nice and smooth like the big leagues so you don’t have any idea where the ball is headed. But you know it’s not going to be good or show well on the Jumbotron in your mind. My turning point was when they made me a pitcher. What were they thinking? I did my very best Sandy Koufax windup and slung it all over the place. When the local paper printed that I was the “losing pitcher” in the game I quit baseball forever. They could have said “he didn’t do as well as expected” or that “he was thrust into the position because he was the tallest kid at the time” or something except “losing.” The coaches kept calling but my Mom would take the calls and tell them that I decided baseball wasn’t for me. Baseball was fine. I just wasn’t into losing in public. And with that crappy little team and my bad pitching we were going to lose a lot.

    • David Leite says:

      EclecticDJ, well, the editors of the paper should be ashamed of themselves. And with all the ball-on-ball action in Little League, makes me wonder if they made us wear cups back then?

  8. Momma & Poppa Leite says:

    Hi, Davey. You may not have scored as a major league baseball player back then…but…you scored 110% as a great son and human being! ♥ That’s where it really count! Most things fade into the shadows of time. Character and humor never fade! Keep cranking, kiddo! We love you and may God continue to bless you, as He has. ♥ Amen! Mom & Dad ♥♥

    • David Leite says:

      Momma and Poppa Leite, thanks! And thanks for going to every single game, and every single play, and every single concert I played in (which weren’t many, as you know I took up and drop the clarinet twice in three years). To paraphrase, the banana does fall far from the tree. Love you, too.

  9. Greg Martin says:

    I love reading your stories as I whisked back to your home with Mamma and Pappa Leite, the Little League field and the concession stand.

    I am proud to say, I never played Little League.


  10. Angie says:

    Love reading about your youth. You are a great writer. Keep them coming. And I love what your mom wrote. Words only a mom can write. Funny how we moms all call our kids ‘kiddo’. I still do and he is 40!

  11. Jenijen says:

    This is an *excellent* piece of writing — I can’t wait to get my hands on your book! xo

  12. Allison Parker says:

    David, you strike again! Loved the piece. Love that you ate candy out there; that’s hilarious. When it comes to baseball, Q and you could not be more different, but I’m happy to report that he just played a team this morning with a girl in the catcher’s position on a full-sized diamond; I have never heard him (or his teammates) say “throw like a girl” (Q knows he’d be in very hot water if he did!!); and yes, there’s definitely a cup with that uniform. Thanks for writing and sharing.

    • David Leite says:

      Allison, thanks! And I’m floored, but quite happy, that those kinds of hurtful statements aren’t being thrown around–at least on Q’s team.

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