SOME THINGS are hard to describe. Some things have to be experienced. Some things are the sort of things that really come down to sensations, to a sort of feeling, to a split second when you know that you have done everything just right, when the sound and the feel are just perfect and you know right then and there that this is a supreme moment. I am talking about hitting home runs.
I am not talking, though, of a home run hit in a stadium, of a ball that went flying into the stands or one that brought down the house with a lot of cheering. I know nothing of that, I am talking, instead, of a home run hit straight down the alley, of one that cleared the wash ont he line and the sidewalk and the street and that landed far away. The game was stickball. The bat was a broomstick, the ball was an old wet tennis ball. If you could hit a wet tennis ball with a broomstick you could hit anything.
I suppose I remember that moment because there were so few of them in my life. I did not hit many home runs - maybe a couple. I played a little basketball, a little football and lots of basketball, and I promised myself that the day would never come when I would stop playing these games. But I was either too short or too light or too slow and what I learned after a while was that it wasn't how you played the game that counted, it was winning. As we all know, it is the only thing.
I am writing about this now because the park near my home and the streets around it are full of runners. I am writing this now because I, too have become a runner and I have noticed something about my fellow runners. Some of them are a sight to behold - strong and quick with powerful legs that eat up the ground. But ohters are the type who never hit a home run. They are not athletes. You can tell that right off. They do not move like athletes. It is that simple. They hit home runs of a sort, anyway.
I have given this some thought. Mostly I have thought about it while running and what I have concluded is that we have forgot what sports is all about. We don't teach sports, we teach winning and the two are not always the same. Winning is taught by teachers and coaches who ridicule kids who can't play well, who teach, as the coach at my high school did, how to gang tackle-how one guy hits high and the other hits low and just maybe you take your man out of the game with a broken leg.
What you don't learn, though, is that there is something besides winning and that is pride in your own performances - that you can "win" if that's the word, without beating someone. This is not the lesson that is taught in school, not the lesson that comes across when you read about how little league ball players are given drugs so they can perform better or how some kids are sent to the plate with instructions not to swing - to stand there like a dummy and hope for a walk.
I heard a coach say that one day, and all I could do was picture some poor kid in my mind and see him out there with the bat on his shoulders, wondering why in the world he was expected to enjoy this game.
Anyway, it is not this way with running and maybe it is not this way with some other sports. For a while I did not understand that, and I watched some people take up running, become obsessed with it and puzzle over the cause. I have watched them begin for one reason or another - maybe to lose weight, maybe for another reason - and suddenly they are obsessive runners.
They're doing it every morning or every afternoon and they're doing it in weather you wouldn't believe. All of a sudden people you know as sane are talking about running the marathon and they are out in the heat running - pulling muggy air into their lungs, running past the fatigue and past the pain until their bodies are on automatic pilot and their legs are moving on their own accord. They feel like they can run forever.
Well, I am not at this point. I am a new runner and I did not take it up for the sport of it, but because I thought it would be good for me - make me fit. But a funny thing has happened. It happened one day after I had been running for awhile and working up to going half a mile without stopping. There was a marker at the half-mile point and another marker at the mile point and one day I just breezed past that first marker and kept going. I kept moving, the running going real easy and I thought I could do the mile. Maybe you saw the movie "Rocky" and remember when he finally was able to run up those steps without being totally winded and you sensed how he felt - exultant. Well, that's how I felt. I saw that mile marker coming and I kept on running and in my head the music was playing. I crossed that mile marker on the fly and I haven't felt anything like it since I hit a home run. There was no one around this time.
But I heard 'em cheering.