I have never been good at sports, particularly team sports. I have no natural, or acquired ability to throw, catch, or hit a ball. Classically, I throw like a girl, duck instead of catching and connect a swung stick of some variety with a ball on sufficiently few occasions as to have the event be notable on the evening news. Whether this general lack of ability is genetically based, or the result of being raised by parents more interested reading and puzzles than the pursuit of balls of varying shapes, sizes and colors is open to contemplation, but in fact it matters little. What matters is that physical education, as taught in American schools through the 60’s and 70’s was hellish. Well, generally hellish, but particularly hellish if one hadn’t a clue about the great American team sport trio: baseball, basketball and football.
So, there we were one sunny California spring afternoon, Mrs. Long’s fourth grade class playing baseball for P.E. Miracle of miracles, I got a base hit ( I believe the first and only I have ever gotten) and ran to first base, where I was called safe having beaten the ball by the skin of my teeth. Somehow, I end up on second, and the next hitter hits the ball way the heck over the heads of the fielders and I run for third, and then home. Whereupon, I show up at home plate ecstatic beyond belief. I had not been completely inept at a sport for the first time in my life. I showed those kids who always picked me last. Meanwhile, Mrs. Long is yelling at me, “Tag up, tag up!” Well, what the hell does that mean? I have no idea. I say to Mrs. Long, “What do you mean?” She again responds, “Tag up, tag up.” Looking back, clearly “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I have no clue at all. So while I kind of look around in a daze, she calls me out, and I am the goat instead of the hero.
All these many years later, after the discovery of sports that I enjoyed including dance, skiing, sailing, shooting, archery, and riding, mind you all individual rather than team sports, and ones that rely on something other than the ability to throw, catch or hit, after all those years of varied successes and the assuaging of my wounded fourth grade ego, it still irked me. What had Mrs. Long meant by the mysterious invective “Tag up”?
Recently, while watching the Detroit Tigers lose their first playoff game to the New York Yankees, the tag up issue came to mind again. At long last, thanks to google and to wikipedia, I had an answer. Tag up addresses a runner to remaining on base, or retouching the base they are on until after the ball either lands in fair territory, or is touched by a fielder. If I had lead off from the base, I was required to retouch it after the ball was touched, or on the ground in fair territory before running for the next base. Mrs. Long has appropriately called me out. At last, I knew the answer.
After all this time, does that bring me some form of closure, some peace of mind. Hell no!! What kind of teacher can’t be bothered to explain the rules of the game? What kind of teacher just assumes we are all slavish devotees to the great American past time? Well, as any of my equally out of step compatriots could tell you, most American teachers of the 60’s and 70’s.
Who knows, maybe I just wasn’t listening when she explained the intricacies of the game.