The Online Journal of Writer Kate Sykes
Writing is sedentary work. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole for hours at a time and forget to move. Some people can tolerate this; I go a little bonkers.
All my life, with the exception of a few years after college, when I had to work two jobs to pay the rent, I’ve been a very physically active person.
I credit my father, who played lacrosse in college and refereed the game for many years, with getting me involved in sports at a young age. This was in the seventies, when kids were still allowed to play sports for fun, without having to perform like miniature Olympians. At that time, not only were soccer moms unheard of in the tiny Maine town where I grew up, but so was soccer. The sport had only just made its appearance in the US, and it would take many years for it to trickle out into the backwaters.
In the summers, I took swimming lessons and played baseball—suiting up alongside the boys for a local Little League farm team that my father coached. In winter, there was ice-skating to be had at the head of the lake, a week-long basketball camp offered over winter break in the gymnasium of a local prep-school, and all the fort-building and sledding a kid could dream of. I also regularly attended ballet and baton twirling lessons offered by a local dance instructor and taught out of the attic studio of her parents’ barn.
When I entered junior high school, I was devastated to learn that I wouldn’t be allowed to play baseball. Softball was the only option available to girls. I went out for the team, begrudgingly, and was disappointed when I made the cut. The ball was too big, the action too slow, and the girls were catty—some of them downright mean. It also didn’t help that the field was located next to a paper mill that belched a foul yellow steam into the sky that smelled like boiled turnips.
I was miserable.
I kept to myself and found every excuse I could to skip practice. I think the coach could tell I hated it because she seemed to take pity on me. When I made a diving game-winning catch for the team in the play-offs, she made a really big deal about it, forcing my teammates to acknowledge my contribution. Things were a little better after that, but when I got to high school, I’d had enough. I refused to try out for the team. Instead, I took the job of scorekeeper for the boys varsity baseball team, which allowed me to travel with them to games.
I also played four years of field hockey in high school and went out for basketball, too. I was a rotten basketball player, and after spending a year warming the bench on the JV team, I decided to try cross-country skiing instead. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and has enriched my life in so many ways.
At the time, the sport was transitioning from classic to skate, and I was lucky to receive instruction in both styles from two excellent coaches. Having skied alpine for years, I picked it up fast, and I still have a hard time deciding, on any given day, if I’d rather break trail to the top of the ridge and telemark down through the trees, or drive to the Nordic center and blast out a 5K skate. Both are satisfying in their own way, and usually I let the conditions decide.
To this day, however, baseball remains my all-time favorite sport. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than spending an hour at the batting cages knocking down balls. I’m no power hitter, but I know a good pitch when I see one, and I can usually get a piece of it.
I was raised a Red Sox fan. (Of course!) And, when I was just maybe two years old, barely able to talk in full sentences, my father taught me to say the names of the players in the starting line up. There were some real doozies that year, too. I think he drove my mother crazy waking me up from my naps to perform for his friends. To hear him tell it, Rico Petrocelli and Carl Yastrzemski would bring down the house.
Even though I’ve lived all over the country, in my heart I’m still a Red Sox fan. It’s hard to get it out of your blood. Whenever I hear the voice of Joe Castiglione spilling out of someone’s window on a hot summer night, filling the neighborhood with the noise of the Fenway crowd, I seriously wonder if I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Because I’m pretty sure that’s the soundtrack they play in the elevator on the way up.