Coach Leverette’s Knuckleball
We all do willfully stupid things, and most of them come during our teenage years. Mine was a doozie!
As a high school sophomore, I was the starting catcher on our baseball team. I “won” the starting job because everyone else was smart enough to stay from the area of the plate unless they were swinging a bat. One day just before practice officially began for the day, our school’s head football coach sauntered up and asked me to catch for him while he practiced his knuckleball for which he was famous (at least among ex-first time catchers). Since there was not a batter swinging a bat within inches of my head, I took off my mask and invited him to take to the pitcher’s mound when he was ready.
What makes a knuckleball so danged effective is that no one knows precisely where it is going to go once it leaves the pitcher’s hand. Not the pitcher. Not the batter. Not the catcher. Not the umpire. The knuckleball dances in the air as it approaches the plate. Left. Right. Up. Down. Every pitch is different from the one before.
After Coach Leverette had warmed up his arm with a few fastballs, he threw a couple of slow-moving knuckleballs so I could get used to them. Then he asked me if I was ready for his best knuckleball. “Let it fly,” I confidently shouted back. And he did.
That knuckleball danced around like a drop of water in a pan of hot bacon grease. It moved left, then right. I put out my catcher’s mitt where I was sure the ball was going to end up. Yeah, right. Where it ended up was right between my eyes. I didn’t see stars. You don’t see stars when you get knocked out; you don’t see anything. The stars come a little later with the pain. My nose bled like an artesian well, and my eyes (yes, both of them) began to turn black almost immediately.
Any plans I had for the prom were removed with that fateful knuckleball. What galled me the most was that I knew the legend of Coach Leverett’s knuckleball. Everyone did. But my sophomoric sense of invincibility easily defeated my intelligence that day.