As a kid shooting baskets by myself, I would often imagine Larry Bird stopping by to play a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Then, as adults, we would co-GM the Indiana Pacers into ruin and not trade All-Star forward Paul George when he had maximum value and retire to Florida together complete with matching bad backs.
That fantasy, tragically, was never realized; the closest was playing in a pickup game in a random Phoenix-area apartment complex in 2002 when it dawned on me that my teammate who was dominating all of us white stiffs whenever he wanted was was former Chicago Cubs closer Lee Smith (every time he jumped, he screamed at himself, “Get up, Smitty!”).
Sports journalism is stuffed with dorks and geeks — people who love sports but simply were not good enough to play in the big games past, say, the sixth grade. Not that that date means anything to the loser coach who cut me from the baseball team.
On Tuesday night, this dork with the great hair was granted a bucket-list chance to play an athletic event with big leaguers. Thanks to the Frisco Rough Riders, I played in the Texas League Celebrity All-Star softball game. Please insert “celebrity” joke, and then fist-bump your mom.
It wass all great fun, with the exception of learning what it is like to be Sam Dyson. It didn’t matter what I threw, everybody and his dog hit the d--- ball out of the d--- ballpark.
The “best team” consisted of myself, former Texas Rangers’ David Murphy, Jose Guzman, Steve Kent, Ryan Drese and Mark Brandenburg, among others; we were locked in a death match against former Rangers All-Star Michael Young, Kevin Mench, Mike Adams, Darren Oliver, Tim Crabtree and former Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco, among others.
We had former MLB pitcher Jose Guzman yet, because God needed to laugh, I found myself on the mound. The six-inning game featured one rule: One swing per batter. How hard could this be?
After striking out the first batter, I had found my groove and shifted into cruise control. My arm felt good, my breaking stuff was working, the jar of Vaseline was full, and I was right in the middle of my steroid cycle, too. Plus, I always look good in my Oakley blades.
It was only a matter of time before Kate Upton left Justin Verlander would come to me; she has a thing for overpowering right handers. Or Kate wouldn’t and Charlotte McKinney would. OK ... Kathy Griffin.
It was all there, and then it all came apart. The second batter, Michael Young, hit a home run. It was the first time he had played softball. Then Kevin Mench came up and advised me to move to the left a little so, “I don’t kill you,” he said.
He hit a home run. So, too did Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket radio host Dan McDowell.
Before long, they were all hitting home runs to the point the calculator stopped working. This is what it’s like to be Sam Dyson: Convinced you are going to get the next guy out only to see that guy hit the ball 500 feet.
Team Murphy lost 10-2. I think I gave up 8 home runs, including one where I witnessed the difference between a weekend fun bum and what makes a pro jock elite in a way mortals cannot even aspire.
I was facing former Texas Ranger Darren Oliver, who played 20 seasons in the bigs. As a pitcher. He had 217 career MLB at bats, and hit .221 with a home run. Today, DO is 46, in good shape and could easily pass for 36.
I was laboring, the Vaseline was gone, and my confidence was shaken, stirred and shot to hell. Skipper David Murphy showed faith in me despite the fact I was King Gopher Ball. Facing Oliver a second time, I figured I would loft it above his eyes, inside, hoping he would chase it.
The full-proof strategy worked against Young, who popped out like a loser in his second at bat against me.
But Oliver turned his hands through and over in a way I had not seen, and nailed my floating Picasso well over the 900-foot wall in right center. That’s the difference between a weekend jock and a pro: The pro can turn that garbage into a hard hit.
As discouraged as I was, it did not compare to the next moment when I caught my face on the Jumbotron in center field. Why does no one tell me my nose is this big? It’s God’s way to offset my other chiseled, masculine features.
At the plate, I finished 0-for-2 with a hard-hit grounder to third (honestly), and a line drive that was caught by my nemesis, Dan McDowell.
On the mound, I pitched six innings with a 15.00 ERA; good enough that I should be in the Rangers’ bullpen by Friday. I also had one breathtaking catch, and three strikeouts ... including one of Marty Turco, but there is no need to mention that. Again and again and again. He’s a former NHL All-Star goalie who played for Team Canada, and he does need to be reminded he whiffed against the guy who covered him as a beat writer. That’s simply embarrassing, so we aren’t going to talk about that. The man has pride, and he has kids.
And we are not going to mention that Michael Young popped out against me, either. No need.
After the game, the event organizers asked that I sign my game-worn hat and No. 14 jersey (picked for my favorite ball player as a kid, that scum known as Pete Rose); they were to be re-sold with the proceeds going to charity. I am only too sure my signature devalued my jersey by 70 percent. The hat was up 70 percent because it housed my award-winning coif.
And then a kid asked for my autograph on ball, despite my protesting that he really didn’t want it; he wanted every player from the game to sign his ball. I complied, although I think this experience was more for me than him.
A softball game with a bunch of former big leaguers in a Double A park featuring fans who were kind enough to boo me is closer to The Show than I ever expected to land.
Thank you Frisco Rough Riders, team PR director Art Garcia, team owner Chuck Greenberg, and everyone else for making this sports’ dork’s dream come true. This was better than H-O-R-S-E with Larry Bird.
And we simply are not going to mention I struckout Marty Turco, or induced All-Star game MVP Michael Young to pop up.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof