Copyright© 2021 by Mark Elias
With Sam’s date being on a Friday night I had two full days away from her in order to cool down. I wasn’t completely sure what had made me so mad. Yes, Jake had been one of my earliest childhood bullies, but he hadn’t tormented me like Mark had. Obviously, there were still things that I had never dealt with. Saturday morning far earlier than I would have liked to be up, I found Jason at my house in some workout clothes. He placed a bag of clean clothes down in my room before we went back outside.
Before we got started on the actual workout, he made me do some stretches and warm up exercises.
“Got to make sure you don’t get hurt. Remember, anytime you work out, start with doing some warmups. If not, you can seriously hurt yourself.”
“I’m gonna seriously hurt myself regardless.”
“Well in your case, you can hurt yourself worse.”
After about twenty minutes of light warmups he was ready to start my morning of torture.
“Okay, we’re going to run today.”
“You know I don’t run.”
“Well, you’re going to start today.”
“I can’t run very far.”
“That’s a good thing because we aren’t going to be running long distances.” He chuckled as I gave him a confused look. “When I started playing with the JV team this year, one of the things that Coach Williamson talked to us about was running. One of the biggest mistakes that people make when training for baseball is thinking that long distance running will help them. It won’t. It’s a completely different type of running. If you just practice running by going out jogging a few miles, that’ll be great for your cardio, but that won’t really help you with baseball.”
“Because in baseball we don’t run 3 or 4 miles at a time. We run 90 feet at a time. It’s 90 feet from one base to another. If you are in the outfield you aren’t one man trying to cover all three positions. You’ve got 2 other outfielders and 4 other infielders who are all there to help you cover ground. So we don’t want to focus on long runs. Why focus on running 5 miles when the most you will ever run at one time on a baseball field is 360 feet, and that’s only if you somehow manage to hit an in-the-park home run and you’re trying to make all 4 bags at full speed. We want short bursts of intense speed.”
“So we won’t be going running trails or anything like that?”
He shrugged in response, “We may at some point. I’m not saying that running for longer distances isn’t a good thing. It’s a great cardio workout and can go a long way in helping out with your endurance. I’m just saying that the running we will FOCUS on will be short distances. Short bursts of intense speed are what we want to focus on.”
“I swear, if I knew how, I’d kick your ass.”
He laughed, “You make the baseball team in March and I’ll bend over and give you a free shot.”
“So what are we going to do?”
“As I said before, I’m not a trainer. I’m literally just going through with you what my coaches at school and at camps have done. The first thing we are going to do are sprints.” He removed some bright neon orange cones from his bag, “We are going to place these about 20 yards away from each other. So the first cone is a 20 yard run, the second a 40 yard run and the last a 60 yard run.”
He looked like he was trying to do some math in his head, so it was my time to laugh a bit, “Let’s go over by the fence then.” We had a rustic wooden fence, the type that was more decoration than practical. “Each section is 4 feet, so if you want 20 yards each, put a cone at every fifteenth section.”
“I forget you’re smart and all that.” Once the cones were placed, we went back to where we started. “Remember short intervals of intense speed. Start off by running 20 yard at about three quarters of your maximum speed.”
“I run at half the speed of a snail, what’s three quarters of that?”
“Alright smartass. Once you run 20 yards then jog back here. If you have to walk, then that’s fine but try to jog. Coming back here is considered a rest. As soon as you touch the starting line you immediately start running at full speed for 40 yard and then jog back. You do the same thing again at 60 yards, then again at 40 before doing your last one at 20 yards. Got it?”
“No.” I mean I understood completely what he was saying, but I had no desire to actually start running.
“I’ll go first. Then it’s your turn. No backing out of it.”
I watched him take off at what I thought was a fast speed before reaching the 20 yard cone we had set out. Once he reached it, like he said, he started jogging back. The moment his foot touched the imaginary starting line I finally understood what he meant when he said “burst of speed” because literally it was like his body exploded with energy. He was running and top speed and I was impressed with what he was doing. He was sucking air as soon as he finished his last 20 yard sprint, and I watched him walking around in circles, making sure to keep his body moving until his breathing returned to normal.
“Alright, it’s your turn. You got this.” He was trying to be positive about things and I had to admit that it was helping me at least a little bit. I mean, at least one person believed I could do this. “Push yourself but remember to keep things in perspective. This is your first time doing this so no one would expect you to come off looking like an Olympic runner. Just focus on putting your feet down.”
Putting my feet down? What was that supposed to mean? Like I was just going to forget how to walk or run? I got through the first leg of my sprint and was halfway through the first full speed forty yard run when I found out exactly what he meant by focusing on putting your feet down. Somehow my feet got tangled up underneath me and the next thing I knew, I was falling face first onto the ground. I managed to roll so that I wouldn’t actually land on my face.
“That’s okay! Shake it off! Get up and finish it out!” I could hear Jason behind me.
He wasn’t laughing at me. There was no condescension in his voice. He was really trying to encourage me. For the moment, it did make me want to get up and keep going, so I did. I finished the forty and even the sixty yard sprint. As I touched the line and began to make the turn to start my next sprint, once again my feet decided they didn’t want to cooperate with me, and I found myself tumbling before I even made it off of the starting line.
“Come on, Alex! Get up! Keep going!”
I huffed but pushed myself up, stumbling for about five yards before I got my balance underneath me and ran for the remaining sprints. I managed to finish the drill without falling again, that is until I crossed the imaginary starting line and suddenly found myself falling to my knees gasping for air.
“No! Get up!”
“Come on man! Give me a break! I can’t breathe!”
“I know, but if you just stop like that you can lock up your muscles. You want to keep moving. Remember how I kept moving after I finished? Do some light jogging in a circle until your breathing gets back to normal. If you need to you can hold your hands above your head while you do it. For some people that helps their breathing calm down. Do it just for a few minutes.”
As much as I hated trying to keep my legs moving, I had to admit that the cooling off aspect did seem to help. Once I was breathing and didn’t feel like I was going to pass out, Jason was nodding.
“Not bad for your first time.”
“Not bad? I almost broke my ankles!”
“Oh? Having a bad day? But did you die?” Jason was doing a bad Ken Jeong impression.
My only response was to give him a playful shove that sent him against the fence.
“Seriously though, Alex, that wasn’t bad for your first time. You just got to get used to running. It will take some time. The type of running we do here is very different from the running you do for something like track and field, or even football.”
“So are we done now?”
He laughed, “Not quite. I’ve got you until lunch, at least.”
“So what now?”
“Well I’d like to work on your throwing.” He walked over to the bag he had brought with him and took out a milk jug that was halfway filled with sand in it. “So the biggest thing about your throwing is learning to aim. Tossing around all that hay has helped, but now you need to be able to control it. So I’m going to sit this jug on the fence post. I want you to start out at around twenty feet and aim for the jug. One you’ve hit it ten times in a row, back up about twenty more feet, and do it again. Each time you hit the jug 10 times in a row I want you to back up. We’ll do this until you reach about 160 feet or you get too tired.”
The first twenty feet wasn’t that bad, I didn’t have to throw that hard. Jason stood on the other side of the fence and would throw the ball back to me. Aiming it and doing it consistently was something I would have to get used to. Eventually, I managed to knock the jug down ten times in a row and backed up another twenty feet and tried again. I was struggling a bit more at this distance just because it was harder to aim.
Eventually Jason stopped me and asked for the ball. “Okay there are several things that we will need to correct to get you throwing like you need to, but let’s just focus on one thing at a time. I don’t want to overwhelm you with all this new information. Switch places with me.” When we did, he was standing with his shoulder facing the jug, “The first thing that we will focus on is your body positioning. When you are throwing the ball, especially for long distances, you can start aiming the ball long before you throw it. You do that by ‘body positioning.’ You want to be, what we call, square. Your shoulder should be facing where you are throwing.” He took several moments to show me what he was talking about. It was easy to see where I was messing up, though getting my body into a new habit was going to take some time. We practiced throwing for another 30 minutes and I didn’t make it past the 80 feet mark before my shoulder was starting to get sore and Jason called a stop to the throwing.
“Okay, one more running drill and then we are done. This is less of a drill and more of a test. LSU has one of the best baseball programs in the NCAA. I’m not a Tigers fan myself, but they’ve got six NCAA Tournament Championships, so it’s hard to argue with that. One of the tests that they give all their baseball recruits is the 300 yard shuttle drill. What they have to do is similar to what we did with sprints, except they don’t jog back to the starting line. So you start and run full speed for sixty yards. You touch the line and immediately change course and run back to touch the starting line. You do this five times in a row for a total of 300 yards. Their outfielders and infielders have to complete it in less than fifty seconds to pass the test.”
“Hey, relax! I can’t even do fifty seconds right now. I’m getting close, but not quite there yet. This is what we are going to use as our benchmark. This will show us, mostly you, how much you’re improving. So get on the line and let’s see where you are at to start with.”
I walked over to our imaginary line and got ready. When Jason hollered for me to go, I took off as fast as I could. Once my foot touched the sixty yard mark, I shifted all my weight and started back towards the line. When I touched the line and shifted again, I could hear Jason calling out where my time was. Twenty seven seconds and I still had to do it four more times. This was going to suck as a first time run, but it was just that after all, a first time. My foot touched the sixty yard mark and again I shifted all my weight to change momentum. That’s when something happened.
I don’t know what went wrong, but I started stumbling and when I brought my other foot down, I could feel it rolling underneath me. I fell to the ground hard. I tried to get up as I heard Jason calling out encouragement to me from sixty yard away, but when I stood up my ankle gave way and I fell back down to the ground. I yelled out in pain and soon enough Jason was kneeling on the ground beside me.
“I rolled my ankle.” I squinted my eyes in pain and then slammed my first into the ground, not necessarily the smartest thing to do since that just hurt my hand.
“Alright, let’s get you up and inside. Your mom probably has an ice pack or something.”
Jason put my arm around his shoulder, and I used my other ankle to push myself up. My mom took one look at Jason helping me in the house and immediately went to the freezer. She came back with a dish towel wrapped around a large pack of frozen peas. “Here put this on it and prop it up with some pillows.”
I winced as she pressed the cold frozen pack of peas onto my ankle, “What happened?”
Jason was quick to take the blame, “It was my fault. I was just trying to help him get into shape. We were doing some running. I was doing some exercises that we do at practice. He fell and rolled his ankle.”
“It’s no big deal, Jason, these things happen.” She reassured him. “But I don’t think you’re going to get anymore practice today.”
I spent most of the day Sunday moping around rather confused as to why I couldn’t even run right. It was my dad who helped me understand some things. He explained that I wasn’t running as I normally would. I was doing drills and things that athletes do. I wasn’t used to doing them. I was using my body in new ways, so it made sense that I would have some sort of accident.
Then he started pointing out that my body was changing. I started to get embarrassed thinking that we were going to have the birds and the bees talk or something, but instead he asked me something I wasn’t quite prepared for.
“Son, how tall do you think you are?”
“I don’t know. I’m average I guess.”
He laughed a bit. “First of all, you’ve never been average in terms of height. I mean you aren’t some gargantuan, but you’ve always been a bit taller than the other boys your age, but over the last 6 months or so you’ve really started growing. Most boys your age are on average, about 5’6” or so. You are already 5’9”. We know because we had to have you checked at your last doctors visit. So not only are you using your body in ways that you aren’t quite used to, you also have more body that you’ve been used to carrying. So yeah, you’re a bit clumsy. It’s part of being a teenager. Welcome to puberty, Alex.”
When he left the room I stood, as best as I could, and looked at myself in the mirror I had hanging over the closet door. It was the first time I had taken a good long look at myself in several years. With my shirt off I could just barely see the beginnings of muscle tone, something that had been happening since I started working for Mr. Moon. I was indeed taller than I realized. My black hair was full of thick curls and looked messy. I never really cared for what my hair looked like, but now I couldn’t help but wonder if I didn’t need to get it cut. Did it look okay? Maybe I should ask Allison what she thought of my hair. The last time I really looked in the mirror I was just this lanky little kid. Now my face had filled out and my light blue eyes were in stark contrast to the farmers tan that I had. My tan was only enough to give me a little bit of color and keep me from being considered pale, but it did give me color.
I thought of Samantha for a moment as I looked into the mirror. I thought of her riding her horse around the pen. As I thought of Sam, forgetting for a brief moment that she was dating another one of my past bullies, I started to think about asking her out. I wasn’t old enough to “date” per say, but I was old enough to have a girlfriend. Allison started having a boyfriend in sixth grade, even if it were just to protect me.
“Hey, Sam,” I began, looking into the mirror as though I were talking to my co-worker like she was right in front of me. “You’ve got a beautiful ... horse?” My voice croaked like a bullfrog on a rainy southern night.
Oh god I sucked at this! At this rate I would never get a girlfriend. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to new people, much less someone I had a crush on. I guess I just admitted to myself I had a crush on Sam. A lot of good that would do me, she was dating a dumbass bully. She didn’t want to have anything to do with me except to have me groom her horse. Perhaps I should just resign myself to my fate and accept the future for what it was going to be.
Monday morning I was feeling better but still walking gingerly on my hurt ankle. I would still favor it for another few days at least. Jason wouldn’t get together to train with me until Saturday. With my work schedule, even if it was unofficial, I didn’t have much time to do what he wanted. I didn’t usually get finished at the ranch until after 5:00 and by that time it was really too hot to do anything we needed to do. Neither one of us drove so we couldn’t go to a gym and workout whenever we wanted to, so we had relegated Saturday mornings as our designated “Abuse Alex As Much As Possible” day.
I spent most of my day walking the fences in one of the far fields closest to my house. I saw Sam try to come over and speak with me, but before she could get close to me, I was in the Polaris and heading away from her. Thankfully, it was my left ankle that I had hurt so I didn’t need it for the Polaris. I knew there was an area of this particular fence that needed to be replaced. It was a perimeter fence and had rotted over the last year. I’d had my eye on it for a few weeks now and just hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. Martin, the lead handyman, was in town getting building permits for a new barn Mr. Moon wanted built. That left just me to make sure everything was okay, and since I didn’t feel like dealing with Sam, replacing this section of fence had suddenly become a life or death priority.
I had the back of the Polaris loaded down with six inch wide planks, a bucket of galvanized nails, some basic tools, and the mahogany stain Mr. Moon liked for the wooden fence. This particular section of fence had been neglected for a bit since it was on the far end of the property. We didn’t send too many animals out here, but I knew that Mr. Moon was going to be using this field soon so it would need to be fixed. It was just about lunch time when I heard the distinct sound of horse hooves galloping up from behind me. I was almost too scared to turn around but did anyway. It wasn’t a surprise to me to find Sam riding up on Applejack.
“I don’t have time right now, Samantha.”
“I asked you to call me Sam.”
“I brought you some lunch. I wasn’t sure if you were coming back or not.”
“I’ve got my lunch in the cooler in the Polaris. I knew I wasn’t going to be back by lunch.”
“Oh.” She sounded a bit disappointed when I told her that.
I was wearing a set of leather gloves as I used a paintbrush to put the finishing touches on the last board for this particular section. I still had another two hours of work to do.
“What about it?”
It came out harsher than I was meaning it too. In spite of the fact that I had a crush on her, she had really disappointed me in her choice of boyfriends.
“Applejacks feet look okay now?” I asked.
I had a feeling she wanted to talk about Jake, but I was going to try and avoid the topic at all costs.
She nodded, “Yeah, they do. Thank you for that. You didn’t have to do that for me. I appreciate it.” She was acting weird, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to figure it out. I could barely understand myself, much less other people.
“If he needs it again, I can do it before I leave.”
“No, it’s not that.” She sighed, “Listen about Jake. I didn’t know...”