AWKWARD NEW YORK is a weekly column about the uncomfortable experiences of Chris Vespoli in and around NYC. Every Tuesday is another cringe-worthy account, from being fat shamed by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee to crashing Fashion Week.
I love sports — watching sports, that is. I’d say my favorite is football, followed very closely by baseball. I like the quick pace of basketball and the brutality of hockey, but I don’t root as passionately for the New York Knicks and Rangers (my teams in those respective sports) as I do for, say, the New York Giants and Yankees, of which I am a ride-or-die fan. I don’t really like golf, tennis, or soccer (sorry, I meant futbol), because I’m of the opinion that sports should be exciting to watch. And if you tell me that going to baseball games isn’t exciting, then you clearly haven’t tried descending the sharp decline of a set of ballpark stairs when you’re drunk off your dick. Trust me, that shit is heart-pounding.
Playing sports? Well, that’s a different story. I like the general idea of playing sports: you’re outside, you’re with a fun group of people, and you’re getting in some minimal exercise that will hopefully stave off that impending heart attack — brought on by a shitty diet, the suffocating stress of the City, or both — for another few months. But the harsh reality is that I’m terrible at all forms of team sports and games of skill. I am eternally the last picked, and forever the first one to strike out (or air ball, or miss the goal entirely, or trip over my own ice skates….depending on the sport at which I’m currently failing.)
As proof, here’s a brief snapshot of my limited experiences with team sports:
Little League Baseball
Drunk on Don Mattingly’s larger-than-life image (and mustache), I got it in my head as a young boy in the early ’90s that I wanted to play baseball. Despite knowing full well that their short, stocky, and already neurotic 8-year-old wouldn’t stand a chance in an athletically competitive environment, my parents registered me in the Police Athletic League on Long Island. During my one-season stint with the Blue Jays, I registered a batting average of .000 but led the team in walks, with 13. My coach would always encourage me with a “good eye!” which is the nicest thing you can say to a kid who’s too nervous to ever swing his bat. I also led the team in getting hit by pitches. I’m sure Long Island little leaguers spin yarns still to this day about the legendary “Take Your Base Vespoli” of the Blue Jays’ historic 1992 season.
Pee Wee Football
Around my 10th birthday, my interest in sports shifted to football. Phil Simms made me want to be a quarterback, but my chunky physique and low center of gravity made my coaches assign me to the offensive line, which is where, I learned, all of the kids who couldn’t run, jump, throw, catch, or tackle ended up. To my credit, I wasn’t bad. I was a child of divorce and had low self-esteem, so I had plenty of preadolescent rage to unleash on the assistant coaches whose jobs it were to hold the tackling bags. But after a few weeks of practicing in the hot summer sun, I decided that it was too much work and told my mom, like a little bitch, that I wanted to quit before I even played my first game. The turning point for me was a speech our coach delivered to the team designed to weed out the kids whose hearts weren’t in it. He said, “Not everyone can be players. There always needs to be people in the stands to sell the popcorn.” I loved popcorn, and still do, because it’s fucking delicious. I never looked back.
It would be almost 15 years before I would attempt to play a team sport again. I got talked into joining a social sports dodgeball league with a large group of friends and coworkers during my days working at NBC. It sounded great at first. Dodgeball was one of the few parts about gym class I actually liked, because once you got hit you could just stand around in the back of the room and do nothing. Also, there was a free shirt involved and a sponsored happy hour at a bar after each game (if you’re trying to get me to do something, ply me with alcohol and the promise of free swag). Upon showing up to our first game, it was immediately clear that this was no social sports league. Teams arrived wearing elbow and knee pads and war paint, and were stocked with ringers who ruthlessly aimed for people’s heads. I don’t think we won a single game, but I got to keep the free shirt, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss.
Thank you for reading…though I’m not sure why you did.
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