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Mike McGinty writes ad copy for a living, and humorous essays for his sanity.

He began his writing career after serving on submarines for six years and earning a B.A. in Mass Communications. He's written TV, radio and print ads for all kinds of clients: UPS, the NFL, Kodak, Cartoon Network, the Georgia Lottery, IBM, FOX-TV, HP and many other companies with initials for names. His work has won numerous awards, including a Clio, Communication Arts, NY Festivals, and several London International Ad Awards. He has also taught copywriting at Atlanta's Creative Circus, and in San Francisco at both the Academy of Art and The Miami Ad School.

Mike's personal essays have been published on Gay.com, Outsports.com, and SiliconMom.com, and in The Noe Valley Voice. He has also written for print and online magazines, including San Francisco Bride, American Magazine, Betty, Whispers from Heaven, and Sensor. In addition, a stick drawing he made in the fourth grade hangs proudly on his mother's refrigerator door.

Mike was born in Boston, was raised in the South, and currently lives in San Francisco, where he's finishing his first book, a humorous chronicle of his three-week family vacation called Europe on Two Parents a Day.

Contact him at
mikemcgintysf
@comcast.net

 
Vulcan Materials

I balance my bicycle against one leg, loosen the helmet strap from around my chin and gaze through the chain link fence onto the green baseball field below. Third and fourth graders dart around the diamond like busy insects hauling crumbs. Watching them chase balls and run bases brings me back to a summer of nearly 30 years before when I had been one of those kids myself.

I was nine when I asked my mother if I could join Little League. I wanted to be like my older brother, Jimmy, who was the star of his team for years. I wanted to hit the ball and run the bases while the outfield scrambled madly for my line drives and all the mothers and fathers in the bleachers stood up, cheering. I wanted to celebrate victories with my team at the local pizza parlor. I wanted to yell "Hey batter batter batter batter batter batter SWING!" and watch him spin around, his bat whizzing through the air and failing to connect with anything more than oxygen molecules.

Mom gladly signed my Little League permission slip, encouraging me in a pursuit that had brought my brother so much joy and earned him a bedroom shelf full of trophies over the years. At the sporting goods store, she bought me my first glove, my first bat and my first pair of cleats. She wanted to buy me my first jock strap too, but I was too embarrassed to allow her.

"Fine," she had said. "You can borrow your brother's."

Me and my big mouth.

On the first day of practice, my glove oiled and my shoes clicking on the driveway asphalt, I hopped into the front seat of our station wagon. I beamed in my bright green jersey with white letters emblazoned across the chest spelling out the name of our team's sponsor, Vulcan Materials, a local construction supply company. Mom started the car and smiled at me as we headed towards the ball field.

At our first practice, we were paired up to throw the ball back and forth to hone our catching. My partner was Billy, whose thick, straight, black hair fell perfectly around his face whenever he moved his head. He could take his cap off and you'd never know he had been wearing a hat at all, which I found both amazing and annoying.

Every time Billy threw the ball to me, it tipped my glove or I'd miss it completely and I'd have to chase it across the grass or down a hill. This went on for a good fifteen minutes. All the while I thought: Poor Billy. He can't throw very well. Good thing he's paired up with me because I won't make fun of him.

Finally, after I retrieved what I considered to be another one of Billy's wild throws, he walked up to me and said with despair, "Let's just quit. You can't catch anything."

I thought we had both understood that he was the problem. Should I have taken baseball lessons before joining the team, as everyone else obviously had? Where did one sign up for pre-baseball practice baseball lessons? Who taught them? Where was the baseball school and why hadn't I ever passed it while riding in my mother's car?

As the season progressed, I realized I simply had not inherited the sports gene which guaranteed boys like my brother a secure spot on the team roster. I didn't even chew gum with my mouth open or hock loogies onto the ground and use the toe of my shoe to cover the wet spot with dirt, two art forms every other boy had already mastered.

Even the coach, Mr. Bucca, didn't think much of me. He had a huge nose that he would look down whenever he found it necessary to talk to me, which was approximately three times over the course of the entire season. I think he thought of me as a stray cat; if he didn't feed me, I'd go away. He played favorites, giving the better players on the team, like his son, Frank, the choice infield positions and sticking guys like me in the outfield. He also liked to put me at the bottom of the batting order, no doubt hoping I would fall asleep before my turn at the plate. And who could blame him? I once was so surprised to hit a pitch that I slid into first, forgetting I could tag the bag and run beyond it without being called out. When the ball beat me to the base anyway, Mr. Bucca looked at me as if I had just pirouetted down the base line.

By season's end, I didn't care that our team came in last in the league and that I was the worst player we had. I never wanted to play baseball again. I'd see the Vulcan Materials trucks around town and start to hyperventilate. "Vulcan Materials," I'd think to myself. God, I hate them. If I ever need materials, I'm not going there.

Now, studying the game through the chain link fence, I pull my cycling gloves off and peer more intently at the kids on the field, looking for the boy I used to be: the short, skinny nerd I know is there, somewhere. Naturally, my eyes go to the outfield. But the kids there are spry and attentive, hitting their fists into their gloves, shouting at the batter, staying alert. They all love it. They make plays. They are not me.

I watch the batter, thinking if he strikes out then I can see myself in him. But on the third pitch he connects. Definitely not me.

Then the teams switch. Aha, I think. Here I come. But none of the boys taking up their positions on the field remotely resembles my Little League self. Or maybe it's just that my adult eyes are unable to see it. At first I feel surprised, disappointed even, that no bumbling, fumbling, modern-day version of me is in sight. Not one player can validate my experience of three decades ago. But when I realize that no one is going to look up and meet my eyes so we can nod imperceptibly to each other in recognition and understanding, I'm not as disappointed as I am jealous. I am jealous of a bunch of 8-year-olds.

Then a scrappy kid wearing a blue helmet too big for his head rounds second and I get a full-on view of his dirt-smudged face. There is an unmistakable endorphin-induced, euphoric rush of I-can-do-it joy plastered there. It's a look I recognize from a picture of me crossing the finish line of my very first 5K a couple of years ago. Which reminds me of a five-hour hike I took in the Marin headlands last month. And the office volleyball tournament my team won thanks to my amazing serve. The countless tennis games with my brothers. My week-long cycling trip through France this summer.

It may have taken me 30 years, but I finally have my own share of athletic accomplishments. I finally have something in common with the other kids.

I don my gloves and fasten my helmet strap. And as the tight ball of resentment that has kept me from organized sports my whole life disintegrates, I climb back on my bike and pedal away, the criss-cross pattern from the fence making a checkerboard light pattern on the sidewalk under my wheels.

The crack of a bat echoes behind me and I smile into the warm breeze.

photos by Mike McGinty


  

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