As a boy I was placed on a baseball team called the Gnats, and as a man I played on a softball team named Dog Spit.
Is it that I don’t like sports or that sports don’t like me?
Back in the day, when coaches could stack teams, my Gnats were aptly named.
I don’t remember much about the season, played on the Shawnee ball diamonds, except the losing. What do you expect from a team preordained by name to be on the wrong side of swatting?
Today’s “what’s in a name” police would be all over the Gnats. A team name like that can take you from low self-esteem to no self-esteem in a couple of innings against Bulldogs, Tigers, Giants, Braves or any kind of Sox. Man, when the generic locker room aroma of a name like Sox trumps your puny insect name, you’re stepping up to the plate with two strikes.
Dog Spit, on the other hand, was our own creation. I don’t remember where it fell in the succession of names that included Sleepless Knights and Montana Red Dog. It was a team of mostly co-workers, and we had fun, we were OK. Our team legend was, however, forever tarnished by losing to The Accountants, to whom we handed what I believe was their sole victory, possibly in forever.
If it drools like Dog Spit …
You never know what will drag memories from their dark resting places into the light of today. Maybe it was the recent All-Star break, which makes me ask, “Is it that time already?” Maybe it was thinking about my son, who skipped most of the youth soccer thing only to decide in high school that he wanted to play, busted his butt and made the school’s varsity squad.
He was an Eagle, not a lowly Gnat or … am I copping to this again? … Dog Spit.
I don’t hold a grudge against the forces that made me a Gnat, although it may have kept me from caring much about baseball. It was one summer, it’s now a memory that’s mostly gone.
Dog Spit played with pride. Other team names honored the sport along the lines of the James Earl Jones speech in “Field of Dreams” – “The one constant through all the years …has been baseball.” We honored the sport, too, but did it with a goofy grin. I have no idea what our record was through the seasons, but I’d play with those guys anytime. Slowly and creakily now, but it would still be fun.
(Right about here is where a column should veer into something important to make it worth the reader’s time. Something like “words and labels matter …”).
Words and labels matter, and how those labels are applied counts.
As Gnats we were little boys, wanting to have fun and trying on a game to see how it fit. We knew Gnats weren’t Tigers, but we didn’t really care. We were playing ball!
As Dog Spit, most of us (not me) deeply knew and loved the game and wanted to be part of it. I enjoyed my teammates’ company, and was pretty good at getting on base so they could hit me in. It was worth the drooly label to imagine the other team standing in a huddle, looking at their schedule and thinking … “Dog Spit??”
It didn’t matter whether we were Gnats or ’Spit, we found fun. Once we hit the diamond the label didn’t matter. We played our best. Sometimes we went down swinging, but we got a chance to swing.
That what’s important – staying in the game and swinging. Taking turns. Respecting the other team regardless of the outcome, no matter who crushed who in the game.
And that the most important label is the one you put on yourself. Even if it is Dog Spit.
Gary Presley is the pagination director for AIM Media Midwest and can be reached at [email protected] The views expressed in this column are solely his own, and do not reflect the views of this newspaper.