How to Be a Loser – Part II
For Context, Read
How to Be a Loser – Part I
I hadn’t been in front of a net in several years, and I had always hated playing goal, but I was angry enough about baseball that I wasn’t about to argue my way off Varsity. There were only a couple other sophomores on Varsity at that point, and it was a matter of pride. I was scared of the ball, and when Will, our goalie turned middie, saw me blinking as the ball whizzed in with every shot, he and some of other seniors decided it was time I learned not to fear the ball. They stood me, back turned, in front of the net, no padding on my back, neck, legs or arms, and proceeded to fling balls off the back of my helmet until I was so angry that I took a swing at one of them. They then tackled me and pinned me to ground.
“Imagine the ball is us. I want you to hate it as much as you just did us right then,” Will said, punching my helmet with his glove as they released me. I ground my cleats into the mud around the net in what I hoped was a menacing fashion. “No blinking now,” he yelled before balls started flying. My hands weren’t nearly fast enough then. I spent days walking gingerly, wearing high socks and long sleeves to hide the dozens of yellow and purple bruises painted all over my body. But I didn’t blink. “You’re a goalie now,” Will told me. “And it’s about fucking time someone other than me was a goalie on this team.”
We were terrible. We only won two games, both against Waltham. By the midway point of the season, I found I was playing more than half most games. Jake, a senior who hadn’t played goal before, spent more and more time on attack. We celebrated the season, our victory in the Battle for the Basement, and our departing seniors with a barbecue. “We lost a lot this year,” Coach Batty told us, “but you need to learn how to lose if you want to know how to win.”
I spent the summer at Lehigh at a lacrosse camp trying to learn what I couldn’t from our still fledgling program. My improvement was marked. I came in second for most-improved at the camp.
My junior year, another junior goalie made the leap from JV to Varsity. Motenko and I split time evenly. I felt I often outperformed him, but he got better and better as the season went on. By the end, I could tell he has surpassed me and I vowed to catch up with camp.
One of the coaches at camp told me I should apply to the Division III college where he coached. He said I’d be backing up wherever I went, but he might be able to wrangle me a scholarship and told me I could likely start by my junior year of college if I kept improving. It felt so far away I just nodded and laughed. The staff awarded me most-improved. I got a long-sleeve T-shirt and a pair of shorts as my prize. The head coach at Lehigh said he hoped I’d apply there, but that Ivys don’t offer athletic scholarships.
Midway through my senior year, I had the game of my life. I jammed my finger, I gave up eight goals in the first half, and we were losing by six. My coach chewed out the team, but pointed out that I seemed to be the only one doing my job. For the first time in my high school career, I was angry when Motenko stepped in and played the second half. I hated that there was nothing I could do to help the team from the bench. No matter how loud I yelled, no matter how supportive I was, all it seemed to do was annoy my teammates. In the fourth quarter, I was told to leave the bench, that I was being too disruptive, my energy spilling out of me so loudly I was hoarse for three days after. We were positively shellacked that game.
The following week, I pulled my coach aside after practice.
“I’m not helping the team enough,” I said through restrained tears. “I think I may be more of a distraction.”
“You’re not an essential part of the team,” he replied, my jaw dropping. “We’ll keep playing with or without you. You and Motenko are both solid goalies, but there’s a reason you’re splitting time evenly.”
“Then I think I’m done playing,” I said, finally voicing the words I had come to say.
“I think you should reconsider.”
“Games aren’t where we’re going to miss having you. We’re going to miss your humor on the bus. We’re going to miss your often annoying screaming from the bench. We’re going to miss the way you and Motenko push each other to be better in practice, and the way you run all out, despite being one of the slowest, on every sprint.” I started to smile through the tears, though I tried to hide it. I didn’t want to let him shake my resolve. “Most of all, we’re going to miss your effort. No matter how bad we’re losing, you’re always giving 100 percent.”
“My mind is made up,” I said, as much to make me believe the words were true than for him.
“If that’s what you need to do,” he shrugged, “do it, but I hope you reconsider. There’s a place on the team for you if you change your mind.”
I left the locker room and walked the long walk home, carefully enumerating the other reasons for leaving the team: the poor grades in some of my classes, the need to focus on the three bands I was playing in, the confirmation class I was trying to finish, the numerous college rejections I had received that were slowly killing my confidence. No matter how many reasons I had, none of them seemed truly good enough.
I sat out a week before crawling back to the team, embarrassed and determined.
To be Concluded in
How to Be a Loser – Part III