Many children have an imaginary friend when they are young. Together they have tea parties, sleep overs, share secrets and just enjoy each other’s company. However, there comes a time in most young children’s lives when they outgrow this relationship. But what happens when a person’s fictitious childhood friend grows into a lifelong bosom buddy? And, what happens when that person doesn’t have just one imaginary friend, but enough to field a baseball team? Apparently, that person joins my gym.
When I arrived at the gym, I headed towards the treadmill, but my path was blocked by a gentleman. I thought he had just chosen an inconvenient place to stretch, but after a few seconds, it became obvious to me that he wasn’t stretching; he was pretending to pitch a baseball into the men’s locker room. I’m not talking about a half-hearted pitch that he was lobbing over the plate. This man was shaking off signs from an invisible catcher then pretending to throw a ball just like a real pitcher would with the full wind-up, throw and follow-through. What was even more astounding was that he waited for the catcher to throw the ball back to him, made a show of catching it then checked the bases before he threw the next pitch.
I wasn’t sure of the etiquette required in this situation. Would it be rude to just barge right between the fake pitcher’s mound and the plate? Should I try to squeeze behind the pitcher and hope I don’t get whacked in the face during his wind up? Or, is the polite thing to do wait until the inning is over then walk past when the other imaginary team takes the field? I waited while he threw two more pitches then realized he was oblivious to me standing there and to the notion that he was blocking the way to the workout floor. While he was checking the bases for runners, I snuck behind him to get to the treadmill.
Normally I find baseball to be a torturously boring sport to watch. You would think that the boredom of an actual baseball game pales in comparison to the boredom of watching one when there isn’t even a ball, yet somehow, I found it riveting. He pitched what seemed like an entire inning then stopped and went to lift some weights. I guess he had retired the side and was using the rest of the gym as his bullpen. Needless to say, I was intrigued by his unusual public behavior. There weren’t many people in the gym that afternoon, but as I walked on the treadmill, I looked around to see if anyone else noticed this odd scene. If they did, they weren’t obvious about it. No one made eye contact with me with a “Can you believe this guy?” look in their eyes.
I had a conundrum on my hands. I was so fascinated by what this man was doing that I wanted to watch to see what he would do next, but I didn’t want to seem rude by staring at him. I was struggling between being a mature adult and giggling out loud. The only way to prevent myself from giggling was to avoid watching him. This meant that I had to walk with my head turned sideways which, given my clumsiness, is risky business. You would think concentrating on not falling would have been enough to distract me from thinking about this man and his antics, but it was not.
In an effort to stem the wave of giggles building in my chest, I tried to rationalize this man’s behavior; perhaps he is a baseball coach and is working on his form to improve muscle memory. That was my theory until I glanced in his direction and saw him crouched down, hands poised under the buttocks of an invisible center, waiting to receive the snap of a football. He trotted backwards cocking his arm, checked downfield then threw the pass while dodging an oncoming, yet unseen, tackle. That was it! I was hooked and could not look away. Giggles be damned! This was the most entertainment I had during a workout since I realized I could download audio books to my i-pod.
After I averted my eyes long enough to get my giggling under control, I looked back again. Now, this all-star athlete was shooting free throws at a non-existent basketball hoop. I suppose one of the other invisible players had fouled him, but couldn’t figure out how a referee might have seen the foul go down. His free throws involved an elaborate ritual where he bounced the pretend ball several times then took the shot, retrieved the ball and took another shot.
What luck I had to witness such a varied display of athletic prowess. I watched him with anticipation trying to guess which sport he might mimic next: tennis, golf, Frisbee. Alas, he must have only earned his varsity letters in those three sports. The next day, he was back again, but this time he had a prop. The bats, balls and players might have been imaginary, but the baseball glove on his hand was not. He continued pitching and I looked around for the reactions of the other people in the gym. Not one other person seemed fazed by his unusual behavior. They didn’t even seem irritated that he was blocking their way to and from the locker rooms. People ignored him and walked around him like he wasn’t even there. That’s when I began to wonder if he was a figment of my imagination.