By Louis A. Zona
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The other evening I watched a television show consisting of nothing but bloopers from classic TV programs, from “Seinfeld” to “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
I swear that the on-air mistakes are even funnier than the actual program.
Sometimes I believe that much of my life has consisted of a whole bunch of bloopers, each funnier than the last.
One of the most painful bloopers occurred when I attended a Pittsburgh Pirates fantasy camp. The Butler trustees were nice enough to celebrate a special birthday of mine by sending me to Bradenton, Fla., the spring training home of the Pirates.
There, for a whole week, I became a professional ballplayer (well, not exactly).
Imagine 75 wannabe ballplayers getting to play alongside retired Major League stars. When the famous second baseman Bill Mazeroski, now in the Hall of Fame, called over to me and asked me to field ground balls that he would hit to me, had I died? Did my plane go down? Was I in heaven?
Since I didn’t see any harpists floating on clouds, I doubted that my location was celestial. Just seeing my name on the back of a Major League uniform was heaven for me.
Here’s the blooper part of my one-week baseball career.
On the second day of camp, I was at bat. A dentist from Atlanta was pitching and seemingly throwing 100 mph. In any case, he threw an inside pitch to me I was, unable to dodge. It hit me squarely on my left hand.
I didn’t need the team trainer to tell me my hand was broken. Hurt? Boy did it hurt!
After one at bat, my baseball career had ended in the office of the team’s orthopedic doctor.
For the rest of the week, I kept my bandaged left hand hidden from the team photographer. For the rest of the week, I was the permanent first-base coach dodging line drives hit my way.
So to this day, I can at least say that I wore a Major League uniform, which of course never got dirty.
And in my imagination, I just know that I could have homered off of the Atlanta dentist had I not been medically indisposed.
Another embarrassing blooper occurred during my years playing baseball (well, more bench sitting than playing). I was playing shortstop against a team of very talented and well trained players from Shenango Township, south of New Castle, Pa.
A big strong batter fouled off a pitch that went so high that I thought that the ball could bring rain. Unfortunately, it was hit right above me and climbing higher and higher.
I knew that it eventually would come down, which it did. Behind me. As the ball climbed and then fell behind my position at shortstop, I backed up, then backed up some more.
As the ball dropped I thought to myself, God, please don’t let me look foolish trying to catch this pop up. The Good Lord did not hear my plea. And now I know what they say about God having a sense of humor.
As I backed up with my eyes fixed on that ball, I began to fall back. Back, back, back.
The next thing I knew I was stretched out on the field between short and third base to the roar of laughter from those Shenango hooligans.
I loved fishing but was never that good at it. My casting was OK but not great. My dad and his buddy decided to take my friend Bobby and me fishing when we were both teenagers.
Bobby was a far better fisherman than I. When I tried to impress all of them with my ability to cast, it became clear that I would not hook a trout that particular morning – but I did hook Bobby’s sweater, hook, line and sinker.
There it was floating down the Allegheny River as I tried to reel it in. Thank goodness that my line didn’t break and Bobby’s sweater was still in one piece. I could hear a fisherman across the river shout, “Nice catch!” Funny man.
I am incredibly glad that my next tale happened in my backyard and not a city street.
If you know me, you know that I do not like change. I do not like change as an adult and did not like any sort of change as a kid.
Well, here goes. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old and minding my own business walking in my back yard. My Uncle Jimmy, who was a big guy and war hero, saw that I was holding a baby bottle.
“What’s that you’re holding? Is that a bottle?” Uncle Jimmy asked. “You’re too old to be drinking from a bottle! Give me that bottle!“
At that, Uncle Jimmy grabbed the bottle from my hands and broke it inside of a metal garbage can. I was in shock at what had just happened and ran into my house. There I was calmed by my mother who had a word to say to Uncle Jimmy.
That was a traumatic experience that stayed with me. That bottle, broken in a garbage can, was a metaphor for my blooper-filled life.
Ironically, my uncle Jimmy became one of my favorite relatives. He didn’t remember the bottle incident but did remember me as a youngster who was allergic to change of any kind.
I will tell you the story of being embarrassed in front of 25 nuns and not knowing how to redeem myself. I actually curtsied in front of those sisters. Let me say that one more time. I curtsied.
And if I ever write a memoir I think I’ll call it “And Then I Curtsied!“
That was the blooper of all bloopers. Did I mention that I curtsied? I’m sure that those nuns laughed their habits off over the scared little boy who curtsied.