I would rather have sofballs whiz past my head than go down a four-story slide. This is all I can think while I prepare to step into the batting cage at Big League Dreams.
That’s the deal I made with erstwhile reporter Coleen Daniell for our Let’s Try It! series -- she goes down the pretty slide at Hawaiian Falls and I let a machine sling softballs at me.
Besides a few years as a kid, my greatest exposure to softball/baseball has been 25 years as a team wife and team mom. In that time, I have cheered, provided snacks, taught 5-year-olds how to do the wave and spit and figured out the gist of the game. In my four years of actual play, I was a catcher, being able to stop almost anything thrown, but rarely making contact with a bat.
Still, it was better than free-falling down a plastic tube.
I have learned a few things in a quarter of century of being a fan -- keep your back arm up, focus on the ball, step into the pitch and, above all, stick your butt out for balance. In this area, I am well-equipped. I also have my husband’s aluminum softball bat, so I’m well-equipped there, too.
I decide I should take on the batting cages at Big League Dreams, where eight Major League Baseball replica softball fields, a couple of restaurants and an indoor soccer field make up an official-looking compound. With Coleen looking on, I buy three tokens for a buck apiece and open the gate to the softball batting cage at Big League Dreams on a recent scorching morning. I wasn’t sure if I was sweating from the pressure or the heat. I pull my baseball cap down low, plunk my token into the slot, step into the batter’s box and wait.
As I stare at the mechanical slingshot, I decide I’m taking this robo-pitcher deep, I’m going downtown, aiming for the cheap seats, lighting this bad boy up. I really, really just want to hit the ball.
I dig in (as much as the concrete will allow) and watch as the softball slowly descends. The fat yellow ball spurts out, slings into the netting and drops onto the concrete just a few feet from the machine and dozens away from me. And so does the next, and the next and the next. Only two balls actually cross the plate and those were bouncing.
Coleen and I find a maintenance guy named John, who explains that the man who fixes the machines wasn’t there, but we could try one of the other cages. He followed us to one and started it for free. He hangs around to watch. Oh man, now I have an audience. Please, please, just let me hit the ball.
This machine has no problems, sailing softballs across the plate. I line up and whiff. And then whiff again. Errrrr.
I give the mechanical monster the evil eye and swing. I nick the ball and it flies foul, and then another. Coleen, tucked behind the netting of the next cage, politely asks if I could not nail her between the eyes Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen.
I smack the next ball and it whizzes past her head. Oops! She ducks farther behind the netting.
I’m on a roll now. I back up from the plate, line up the ball and swing. The softball soars through the air, making a resounding smack on top of the batting machine. Yea! And then I hit another, and another. Oh yeah! Sign me up!
I wind up getting a piece of two-thirds of the pitches, launching at least a dozen into what would be the infield and another half dozen into the outer reaches. John, our maintenance guy, has restarted the machine a couple of times for me. But now I’m dripping sweat and breathing hard.
OK, so maybe I’m not ready to play in a league, but at least I hit the ball, redeemed four seasons of kid softball and obliterated the notion that I couldn’t hit. Not bad for a buck and a half hour’s work.