LIST Birmingham - May 2020

MAY 2020




To my knowledge, I was the worst Little League player in history.

in the store. However, Schneider’s always had the best Little League uniforms: button-up shirts with pinstripes like the Yankees, with a long-sleeved gray T-shirt with blue sleeves underneath (we were fancy). Once you were placed on a team, you stayed on that team the whole time you were in Little League. Like most of the 10-years-olds competing with older children, I was terrible. I always played in the last inning just in time to be the last out — always a strikeout. But as bad as I was at batting, I was far worse as a fielder. I could not catch a pop-up and the only place they would ever play me was right field. As an 11-year-old, I was bigger and a little better, but still, it was the same story: a solid year of sitting on the bench, playing the last inning usually as the last batter, and always striking out. Don’t get me wrong, I was actually a decent athlete. In neighborhood pickup games, I was a good hitter and caught anything thrown near me, but in an “official” game, I had extreme performance anxiety. I froze. My last year, when I was 12, I was determined to be better. I had a late birthday, which meant I was one of the oldest kids in the league. Things started well. In practice, I hit a ball that hit the top of the fence. In a league where there are only 3–4 homers in a year, this was an impressive feat. I also got to play second base, and I was pretty good. When our first game of the season rolled around, I couldn’t wait to redeem myself. In that first game, I was batting third in the lineup and starting at second base. It was like I was living a dream. Everything went well until I stepped up to

the plate. I completely froze. You guessed it — three pitches, three strikes. I struck out not once, not twice, but three times in that game. It was back to the bench for me and on to another year of misery. I never even got a foul ball that season. For three years of my life, I was an absolute failure in baseball. As painful as that experience was, ultimately, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I remember being the last out at the end of the season. As I slowly walked back to the dugout with my head hung low, I was relieved, thinking, “This nightmare is finally over.”Then, from somewhere deep inside of me, there was a small voice that said, “Yeah, but I didn’t quit.” I don’t know why I had such overwhelming performance anxiety, but I left my last season of Little League determined to beat it. By my senior year of high school, I played the lead role in all our school plays. I won my high school drama award and was rated one of the top actors in state competitions. Speech was my favorite subject, and I was never afraid to speak in public. Can you imagine the sad little 12-year-old boy who struck out every time now performing in a play in front of the whole school or speaking to an audience? Ironically, that little boy is precisely what I pictured every time I was on stage.

I am fromWinona, a sleepy little town in north Mississippi with about 5,000 people. When I grew up, Little League was for 10–12-year-olds. I started playing as a 10-year-old. There were four teams in Winona: Piggly Wiggly, Olson’s, Pepsi, and Schneider’s. I was on Schneider’s, sponsored by Schneider’s Department Store, the most expensive store in town —my family could not afford anything

Finally, I had my redemption.

‘Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.’ –Babe Ruth

-Melvin Upchurch


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