There are several defining moments in a boys life where he progresses from boyhood to manhood. I had two such defining moments when I was in my early high schooling years.
Just what were these defining moments I hear you ask?
Well, firstly there was indoor cricket...
I was 12 and it was the final game of the season. It was also a must win for our team as we needed this win to see us *just* scrape into the playoffs (even though we knew we wouldn't go far, but the very thought of at least being there seemed to excite everyone) and by winning this game it would do more than just secure a playoff berth it would make us all MEN!
Unfortunately I was a late inclusion in to the side in this my first season of indoor cricket and was treated as the "outsider" never given a chance to have first choice at anything. So, in essence, I was pretty much given the worst duties.
But I didn't mind. I was a shy kid - I was used to this kind of treatment at school and other such sporting competitions.
Anyway, having been sent into bat first we gave the opposing side a score they needed to chase. Their chase went quite well and as we neared the last set of overs their score was looking ever-so-close to beating ours.
As the last over came I began to feel knots well up inside my stomach. The tension that day was now reaching a crescendo and I had my first taste of what it felt like to be in a clinching role.
By the time this game was nearing completion we had gathered quite an audience and parents from both sides eagerly watched as the final chapter of the game came...
1 over was left and by the end of it our opposition needed 6 runs to win... a run a ball.
Things were tense.
As the first ball flew down the opposing side scored a run, obviously their tactics were to just do the run a ball thing - an easy task to do.
The second and third ball confirmed this tactic and their run chase whittled down from needing 6 runs to just 3 runs for a win. Our coach screamed on the sidelines to move in closer to the batsmen - we couldn't allow them to get their coveted run a ball, so we moved in. Unfortunately I was the kid positioned closest to the batsmen - if I wanted to I could have stretched out and touched the boy!
I had no protection: no helmet, no box, just a flimsy t-shirt and shorts. Not the best protection when you've got a madman no more than 5 feet away from you swinging a wooden object the size of your leg whilst trying to hit a ball the same size and firmness as an outdoor hockey ball!
The knots pulled tighter - I found it extremely difficult to swallow. I wanted the last three balls to go quickly and preferably without any major damage to myself.
The fourth ball flew past my ear and whizzed past the facing batsmen. I cowered as the crazy kid swung at the ball I feared that he'd either connect with the ball, or, at least connect with me, but thankfully he missed everything!
2 balls were now left, and they still needed 3 runs for a win.
The opposing side now needed more than a run a ball: the crazy batsmen knew this and would start swinging big. I clasped my hands and used them as a protective box over certain male anatomy.
The next ball again screamed past me at a rate of knots and again failed to see any connection to the opposing side's bat.
1 ball left, still 3 runs needed for a win.
For the opposing team to win now they needed a big hit. The kid facing this last ball took his time and began summoning up the adrenalin from deep below to "tonk" this last ball out of the park.
I think I tried to swallow, but it got caught half way down... now I had a tied stomach and a knotted gullet - I was a mess. My palms went all sweaty and feet began to tingle. I really didn't want to be in the spot I was in with this last ball... I was just too damn close to this crazy kid with the wooden bat.
And then something strange happened, I'll never forget it: everything went in slow motion. Time just froze and everything moved so slowly.
The last ball was sent screaming down to the batsman and as it whizzed past me the eyes of the crazy kid facing the ball widened. He drew his bat as far back as he possibly could, closed his eyes and swung at the yellow object.
And he connected!
After feeling the surprise of his bat connecting to the ball his eyes opened in surprise and he did the only thing he could've done: RUN!
Parents of the opposing side jumped up and screamed when they heard the crack of ball on bat. But as the ball connected its flight path went thunderously from his bat into my stomach. No sooner had I heard the "crack" of ball on bat did my body feel this overwhelming punch into my gut.
I fell back from the force of the hit.
Keeled over clucthing my stomach everything went silent. The crazy kid was running along with his fellow batsman trying in desperation to score the required 3 runs to win.
Now the entire crowd stood up, my fellow team mates ran towards me...
And there I was.
My gut had never felt such pain, my eyes were closed from the shock of it all, but when I opened them several of my team mates looked down, and then for some strange reason their eyes widened, followed by their mouths.
I couldn't quite make out what they were saying, everything was still in slow motion, but as I looked down to my gut a familiar object was caught amongst my arms and t-shirt...
A yellow indoor cricket ball!
By catching the ball we had secured a win and a chance of playing in the playoffs. My team mates placed me on their shoulders, everybody was cheering and clapping, my folks were proud and I left that day feeling a million dollars.
Then there was high school baseball at 13...
I had never played baseball before, my Phys Ed teacher thought that because of my short career in indoor cricket I would have a faster understanding of how to play baseball... and he was right - it wasn't *that* different.
But this competition was a little different than the other one. There was no premiership to attain, no playoff berth waiting, it was purely to show off to the chics in our class.
Yes, that's right folks, the girls had the privilege of watching our game. And us boys had the privilege of showing them just how good we were. In fact most of the boys started by denuding themselves: taking off their t-shirts.
I didn't. I had nothing to show anyway!
The game started harmlessly, but as we progressed through the innings it oddly became more and more intense, and this no thanks to the fact that the chics in our class began cheering and becoming more involved than we were!
Eventually name calling on the field started, followed by a little push and shove. It seemed as though everyone was trying to be the Alpha male... and there can only ever be ONE Alpha male, right boys?
Things hit boiling point near the end of the game when our pitcher threw a ball that nearly connected with the head of the opposing side's batter - a popular boy in our class who thought that he was automatically donned the Alpha male of our year (he had humbly given that award to himself!).
And as he picked himself up off the floor he looked at the chics on the sidelines who were giggling at his slip and then he pointed to the pitcher and did a cut throat motion over his neck. The pitcher didn't care. Heck, out of all the boys in our class he was the only one who could've stood up to him, so he wasn't unfazed by the threat.
But it rattled this self-appointed Alpha male and he was looking for revenge.
In the last innings we were the last side to bat. As I sat there looking over at the chics I caught a glimpse of the hot red-head in our year that I had developed a crush on. She saw me, smiled, turned back to the game and brushed a part of her lovely red hair over her ear.
I think I was drooling, but whatever it was it was cut short by a triumphant yell from the opposing side's pitcher who was taking great glory from striking out our team mates - this pitcher was the alpha male that was floored previously.
"Ok, next?" announced the Phys Ed teacher.
He looked over his shoulder and saw me.
"Ryan!" he yelled, "your up! You've got the bases loaded and you've got two outs."
I had a rough idea of what the jargon meant, and as I stepped up a team mate stepped up and tried to take the bat away from me.
"Let me go up," Ross said looking me in the eyes, "we'll lose if you get out."
To be honest I really didn't care. I had waaay too much fun standing out in the sun staring at the red-head all day that whether we won or lost I had MY fun.
"No," I said pushing him aside, "I'll be fine."
And then for some odd reason my palms began going all sweaty. The pitcher smirked knowing all too well that I hadn't had a hit all day and that I'd never proven myself with a bat before.
As he threw the ball towards in his first pitch at me I tried connecting the smaller bat with the smaller ball and failed. The automatic swing sent the Phys Ed teacher screaming: "STRIKE ONE!"
(I knew that on the third strike I'd be out - while I'd never played the game I observed what was going on throughout the game and picked this up quickly.)
As I steadied myself for the second pitch I tilted back and tried to let it fly, but again I failed to connect.
The pitcher began laughing... mockingly.
I saw the sneering laugh and there was nothing more I wanted to do than to shove the bat I was holding so far up his... BUT, I concentrated back on the game. I had taken a mental note that with each pitch he threw they were too close to my body, if I took a stand back maybe I'd connect better with it.
Then, just as with indoor cricket, everything slowed...
As the pitcher sent down what was going to be, to him, the winning pitch I stepped back and swung yet again at the tiny ball. I closed me eyes as the ball neared, and as it did I felt this funny sensation: a sensation that felt as though I'd hit something!? I quickly opened my eyes to see what was going on and as I did I saw a look of shock horror on the face of the self-appointed Alpha male as he saw the ball pass over his head, over the fielders, outside the grounds of the oval and into the car park!
I couldn't believe it!
No sooner had I steadied myself from the huge swing the team mate on third base came running over and jumped on me. Followed quickly by the team mate who was on second, and further still the team mate on first! Eventually the entire side went on top!
But not after I quickly stole a glance at the only person I cared about: the red-head who was jumping up and down clapping and wooing on our win from the sidelines.
Was she clapping for me? I thought. I didn't know for sure, but I made out as though she did.
I felt on top of the world.
A minute later the excitement was hightened when the opposing side brought news about how my hit had placed a large dent onto the bonnet of the principals car!
The Phys Ed teacher looked at me and exclaimed: "I hope you didn't aim at that car on purpose, Ryan!"
Well it was his own stupid fault: he parked too close to the oval!
5 hours ago