Monday, October 19, 2009

Fan Appreciation Week Story (6th Place)

The following is what I perceived to be the sixth best benchwarming story that was submitted for Fan Appreciation Week. If you don’t like it, don’t worry because there’s a better one coming tomorrow. If you do like it, be excited that there’s an even better one coming tomorrow. Either way, here’s a look into Chris Gaitten's life as a benchwarmer.


Quitters Never Prosper: But they have plenty of time for easier activities

When I was 15, I faced a major dilemma. Did I want to be a professional athlete or a rock star? I know what you’re thinking--“Why not both?” or more likely, “Good lord, you were delusional.” Yes, yes I was, but pump the brakes and let me finish explaining. You see, becoming a sport star was my first desire growing up. Specifically, I wanted to be Jim Kelly. It should have been pretty obvious that being Jim Kelly was kind of a crappy gig, especially around the end of January each year, but for whatever reason that part didn’t faze me too much.

I spent my entire childhood playing sports. I played football, basketball and soccer and ran track. I even played a season of summer league basketball to fill up the year. I would have played summer league football, but it didn’t exist, and there was no way I was playing baseball. The reason for this is simple. Imagine that the best center fielder in the game is standing in the outfield. Standing next to him is a golden retriever. The batter is one of the three guys in the league who isn’t currently cheating and therefore may not hit a homerun at every at bat. He smacks one into the gap between center and left field. Who gets the ball, the multimillionaire superstar athlete or Sunshine, who was barking at the wind before the pitch? You’re not sure are you? Summer league basketball it is.

I was always a natural athlete and was usually one of the best players on any of my teams. I was tall and fast and always had great instincts for where to be on the court / field / pitch / track. Unfortunately, I was white (still am), but I don’t recall having much say in that, and I think I made a reasonable attempt to do the best with what I was given.

The dilemma came when I started playing guitar. I picked up the instrument when I was in middle school and getting into rock music. Not crappy, overly dramatic, what-in-the-name-of-feathered-hair-were-they-thinking rock, but good rock. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Smashing Pumpkins (You’re were right Billy Corgan, the world IS a vampire). After a year I was hooked, and at the same time I began to get burnt out on sports. Cue the close-up and dramatic music: it’s decision time.

Enter: Anonymous Midwestern Catholic High School. That wasn’t actually my high school’s name. Although, if it was, what would the mascot be? The Stalkers? The Anonymous Midwestern Catholic High School Stalkers? I think that has a ring to it. Anyway, the decision was actually pretty easy. I didn’t want to play sports anymore. I was a guitar god, and I knew it. Well, I wasn’t actually all that good, but I knew someday I would be. (Fast forward: I’m not.) The problem was that I was worried that my parents would expect me to play sports and wouldn’t want me to sit around the house playing guitar all day in my Kurt Cobain t-shirt. I knew they wouldn’t get my decision. In retrospect, I doubt they cared at all. I probably could have asked, but I was morally obligated as a 15-year-old to ignore them as much as humanly possible. Oh well.

I had some decisions to make during the summer before my freshman year. What sports could I go out for to appease my parents’ alleged desire to see that I had put forth some effort but would also likely result in me getting cut from the team? Track wasn’t until spring, and they didn’t make cuts so that was out. Football was the premier sport at our school (Go Stalkers!) and I had always loved football. But they didn’t make cuts either, and two-a-days in July for a sport I didn’t really want to play didn’t sound ideal. That left soccer and basketball. I decided to tryout for both to show how gung-ho I was about high school sports.

Soccer started in the summer, first with conditioning, then a week of camp, then tryouts. The first day of soccer conditioning was humbling to say the least. Apparently there’s a lot of running in high school soccer. I was the best soccer player in my class in middle school so I thought I was talented. I also was the only long-distance runner on the track team in middle school so I thought I was in shape. Nope and nope.

After some warm-ups and jogging, we had to run two miles. One would think, given the fact that I didn't want to make the team, I would have attempted to take the two-mile run easy and just finish it. I couldn’t not try, though. It’s like when Titus is going for the trillion. He doesn’t want any stats other than the minute of playing time, but he can’t really run away from the action for 60 seconds without looking like a jerk. So I ran as hard as I could. I made it six laps. Two miles is eight laps. The only other person not to finish was another freshman who looked like he spent his summer training at Golden Corral.

As the summer went along, I eventually got into actual soccer shape and even had some moments when I was borderline enjoying myself. The final day of tryouts I went onto the field knowing I was going to get cut and, of course, played the best soccer of my life. I scored two goals on one of the varsity goalies in a scrimmage and almost immediately got called over to the circle of coaches. The assistant coach with the list in his hands had his shoes off and big wad of chewing tobacco in his lip. I’m pretty sure he wanted to be there about as much as I did. I wondered briefly if I had just played well enough to make the team. Then he asked for my name. A note to anyone trying to make a cut of any kind; if the person in charge asks for your name, there’s a better than even chance you can pack it in. You aren’t on the list.

There was two weeks in between the time of final cuts for soccer and the start of my freshman year of high school. It was a great two weeks filled with pretty much nothing, which was a nice change from running, leg lifts, and being one of the least talented people on the field at a given activity for hours per day, multiple times per week. I know how you feel, Brady Quinn. I mean Derek Anderson. I mean Brady Quinn. I mean next year’s fourth overall draft pick.

High school started at the end of August, and I was busy wearing incredibly uncomfortable combinations of button-up shirts, ties and khakis and carrying huge piles of books around the hallways searching for theology class. Why does it take two full years for high school students to figure out how to modify the uniforms enough to be comfortable / look slutty? Or to figure out it’s just high school, and all you need is a pen and a three-ring binder no matter what class you’re attending? I had been doing the exciting high school routine (which, much to my surprise, was nothing like My So-Called Life) for all of two days when there was an announcement on the PA saying that all boys, excuse me, young men who were interested in trying out for basketball had to be in the cafeteria after class the following Monday. I was distraught because I had planned on at least another month of doing nothing other than learning how to do this before I had to start pretending to play sports again.

I don’t really remember the basketball meeting or anything that happened afterwards. I just know one minute I was enjoying my freedom, and the next minute I was back out on the track in a gray gym outfit running wind sprints. At least this time around I was already in shape. Like tOSU Buckeyes, we had to complete a mile in under a certain amount of time, except we only got one shot per week and it was on Saturday mornings. I finished mine on the first try. Sorry, Shark.

The only thing of note that happened before tryouts was during one of our open-gym sessions. Occasionally, older guys would show up to the games to really challenge the young guys like myself. On this particular night, Antonio Daniels decided to play. For those who don’t know who Antonio Daniels is, at the time he was playing for the San Antonio Spurs. The National Basketball Association’s San Antonio Spurs. There were two games going and he joined my game. For the other team. And I got to guard him. Wonderful.

For most of the game, he clearly wasn’t trying too hard. He was probably intimidated by my 5’11”, 139-pound frame. I looked a little bit like Blake Griffin and a lot like Peter Brady. I spent most of the night trying to telepathically assure him that I wasn’t super interested in making this team, or guarding people who made paychecks dishing to Tim Duncan, so he could really do whatever he wanted and I wouldn't say boo.

At some point he finally got the message, or he remembered that he had several inches, 50 pounds and every conceivable genetic advantage over me. Either way, he gave me The Look. I interpreted it as “I’m in The League. Move it, Brady boy.” I could stand in his way, make some attempt to either take a charge or blatantly foul him and most likely get posterized anyway, or I could move and watch him dunk unopposed. Right this way, Mr. Daniels. As I watched from where I had given up on the play, I immediately felt sympathy for every European player in the NBA. No wonder Sasha Vujacic gives the bullfighter ole to anyone who has ever had the pleasure of being guarded by him. I don’t know what it’s like to end up on a sports card with a face full of shorts, and I think I’d like to keep it that way.

Here’s a reenactment of his dunk as best I can recall. Oh, wait that wasn’t Antonio Daniels’ dunk over me at a high school open gym. It was Allen Iverson breaking Antonio’s ankles on national TV. Wow, that must be embarrassing to have that recorded for posterity. I’m glad that never happened to me. The off-season is for ill-advised trips to the strip club, marrying reality stars and designing shoes, not dunking on 15-year-olds. Read your contract next time, Antonio.

The rest of conditioning went by in a blur of wind sprints, dribbling drills and wind sprints for screwing up the dribbling drills. Once tryouts arrived, I realized that I had a much better shot at making this team. First of all, I was pretty sure there weren’t any more NBA players hanging around. Second, the basketball team was much slower than the soccer team. Unfortunately, basketball practice was even less fun than soccer practice. Maybe two-a-days wouldn’t have been that bad.

We started with a group of about 40 guys and cut our way down to 30 and then 20 and then 15. I was one of the 15. The final day of tryouts came and went. There were 13 of us left. They were keeping 12. I needed to suck, but I still had this pesky thing about trying very, very hard despite my desire to get cut. We went into an unplanned, extended week of tryouts, with the coaching staff repeatedly declaring that they still planned on cutting one of us. There were 10 guys who had their spots on the roster assured. The other three of us attempted to out-mediocre one another for the final two roster spots. As we hit the ninth day of tryouts, I slowly realized the coaches weren’t going to cut any of us. They were just testing us to see how bad we wanted it. I probably should have stepped up and told them how little I wanted it, barely at all really, but I didn’t. I made the team.

Rather than go through a blow-by-blow account of the whole season (and by my recollection it blew a lot), here are a few highlights:

We beat one team 69-13. We were winning 35-10 at the half. That’s right, they scored 3 points in the second half. They hit a three at the buzzer, and that was the only basket they scored in the entire second half. And they were excited. We beat them by 56 points in a 32-minute game, and they were excited by the three that someone tossed up at the buzzer. I was a little jealous of their attitude.

In the seventh game of the season, we played an undefeated team who was always a powerhouse in the city. We were already down three players, and one guy had quit our team so we had a total of 9 players available. A guy named Patrick decided this would be a good game to bring his home shorts and his away jersey, therefore excluding him from being able to participate in said game. Our coach went Bobby Knight on the entire team for a solid ten minutes. The tirade culminated with him screaming at Patrick, “YOU HAVE PURPLE SHORTS AND A WHITE JERSEY! WHERE THE &@!% DID YOU THINK THIS GAME WAS GOING TO BE PLAYED??!!” This is hilarious to me now, but at the time our team was too terrified to lose. Best motivational speech I’ve ever heard.

Halfway through the season, some members of the team started getting blotchy, red rashes across their chests, stomachs and backs. It didn’t take long to uncover the reason. After the games, we all went in the locker room for showers. Someone realized that the combination of water, soap and a long stretch of tile translated into one big slip and slide. It did look like a lot of fun, if you could ignore the fact that at the end you slammed into a tile wall. And apparently got a rash a week later. I didn’t have to worry about the rash because it’s not really necessary to shower after sitting on the far end of the bench wearing a practice jersey for an hour. Sure, I wasn’t dating one of the cheerleaders, or accumulating statistics, or showing off for a gym full of people, but I wasn’t getting a rash either. Point… me.

The last story in this odyssey (or maybe it’s the opposite of an odyssey) that I will share is of a time I actually had a positive effect on the outcome of an important game. We were in the playoff semifinals against our archrivals, and they had beaten us by 23 points each of the first two times we played. I had no expectations of playing in this game. But we had made a little run towards the end of our season and came together as a team as we entered the playoffs. I was feeling the full-blooded spirit of Anonymous Midwestern Catholic High School Stalker Freshman Basketball. Catch the rash!

The key to the other team’s dominance in our previous two games was its point guard, Drew. He lit us up and ran their offense flawlessly. I knew we would use our defensive stud, Aaron, to try to stop him this time so I decided to spend my week using reverse psychology to pump him up for the game. Quick tangent: Wouldn’t reverse psychology just mean doing nothing at all? Is “psychology” defined as “getting someone to do exactly what you want by asking him to do that thing?” Because that’s the only way the term “reverse psychology” makes any sense. It should just be called “idiot’s psychology,” or maybe “low-level trickery.” Ok, moving on.

I harassed Aaron anytime I saw him, whether it was in class, the lunchroom, or the gym. I would walk up to him and say things like, “Drew’s probably skipping practice this week because he’s already won,” and “Drew’s already filled out the stat sheet cuz he‘s gonna put up as many points as he wants on you,” or if I was feeling particularly witty, “Hey John Starks, you suck.”

Aaron was a madman by the time the game came around. He was walking around with a half-crazed smile on his face and a look in his eyes that seemed to say “I am going to embarrass Drew to the point that he will quit the game of basketball, grow a beard and join Ricky Williams on his journeys to find meaning in this tiny blink of time we call life, except that when he finally reaches that moment of inner peace I will be there to steal it from him because everything he owns is now mine.” Aaron had very expressive eyes.

Drew was completely shut down from the moment he stepped onto the court. There was nowhere for him to go. Our team fed off of the energy Aaron was creating, and we smothered the other team. If we had had fans, they would have been screaming “Stal-kers! Stal-kers!” (Clap-Stomp! Clap-Stomp!) at the top of their lungs. I spent the entire second half waving my towel over my head and even pulled this move once or twice. We led the entire game, won by ten, and Drew scored only two points, for which I was directly responsible. Ok, maybe Aaron played some small part.

We ended up losing the championship the next night courtesy of a buzzer beater. But the season had been a success for me. Ok, maybe success is a little strong. I played in 12 of 20 games and scored 15 points. A highlight video of my year would be shorter than Heidi Pratt’s singing career (It’s strangely appropriate that she decided to name her single after what listeners would like to do after hearing her sing). But I did post 8 trillions, and if that isn’t success then I don’t what is. Our head coach said as much when he approached me after the championship game and said, “Hey, we really wanted to get you in tonight. Sorry that didn’t work out.” I responded with a smile, “That’s ok, Coach. I didn’t want to get a rash anyway.” Two weeks later they handed out the off-season schedule, and I did what I should have done in the first place. I quit.


Your awesome YouTube was sent in to me by Scott C. There’s your shout-out, Scott. And here’s your video.

Your Friend and My Favorite,

Mark Titus

Club Trillion Founder