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In a (Fantasy) League of His Own

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.

About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences.

38 responses »

  1. Maybe that’s his regular routine and people just got used to it. Very funny post!

  2. Funny post especially when you wondered if it was rude to barge through his pitchers mound and plate! It is kind of nice to see people just out there, doing there own thing, not at all bothered by what the rest of the world thinks!

    • I suppose there is something freeing about doing whatever you want and not worrying about what other people think. I applaud him for that. I just wish he’d been doing it without obstructing the only way to the gym floor. 🙂

  3. Well told story, and I love the last line. Don’t you hate when you are looking for someone to make eye contact with to confirm how weird a situation is but there is nobody to be found! It sounds like people there were used to it, or like you said at the end, he didn’t exist at all. Like at the end of a movie where you find out someone was a ghost- they replay critical scenes and show that the character never actually touched anything or opened a door and was never acknowledged by any other characters….. maybe you are living out some Sixth Sense/Field of Dreams combined scenario!

    • It really did bother me that I was unable to make eye contact with anyone. At a bare minimum, it would have been comforting to me to know I wasn’t the only one who thought this was bizarre. I like your idea that it might have been a Sixth Sense/Field of Dreams hybrid daydream.

      Thanks for reading, subscribing and taking the time to comment 🙂

  4. I just hope he didn’t squirt any tobacco juice your way . . . 🙂

  5. I’m just impressed that you go to the gym!

    Love, Paula

    On Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 5:35 PM, Good Humored

  6. You should have gone up to him, taken the ball, told him you were bringing in a reliever, patted him on the butt, and sent him to the showers.

  7. Picturing you walking on the treadmill, with your head turned to the side, trying not to laugh, made me laugh outloud!!! What a nutcase…Oh, I would have definitely been staring!! Funny blog!! xoxo

  8. I really enjoyed your post. Great visuals you created in my head, Paprika.

    Did you perhaps also see Jimmy Stewart and his imaginary friend, Harvey, there? Harvey is a pooka. Stewart (as Elwood P. Dowd) says: “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, and I’m happy doctor. I finally won out over it.”

    Sounds like your gymrat has found a bit of happiness, too.

    • Thanks, Judy. I’m glad I was able to find the write words to describe the scene so that you could imagine it.

      Harvey was not there, but I did keep looking around for Big Bird’s friend Snuffleupagus.

      Maybe he has found happiness. More power to him. He was making himself happy and entertaining me, so it can’t be all that bad to take part ways with reality.

  9. Uncle Sea Salt

    That was one of the funniest posts yet. However, I would look into the karma surrounding the entire gym.I find it strange that other gym members didn’t seem to notice his antics. Could it be that your gym-mates, are actually his make-believe friends? And oh, give me the name of your gym so I don’t join it by mistake.

    • So glad you enjoyed the post. I thought it was bizarre that no one acknowledged his presence, but then one of my friends pointed out that most people don’t make eye contact with a crazy person. I don’t think you need to worry about running into this guy since my gym is in NJ and you live in AZ.

  10. Sounds like a make believe sports WASnik .Would he have been practicing in an obscure place in the Gym, he would be one of many. You would have never paid attention to his odd behavior. We the readers would be the losers, not having had a good laugh at the WASnik’s expense.

    • Trust me. His behavior and movements were so over the top, it would have caught my eye no matter where he was on the workout floor. The fact that he was front and center just made the who situataion irresistible to ignore. After I saw him that second time, I figured it was the universe’s way of providing me with material for the blog.

  11. Thoroughly enjoyable for this reader but one wonders if this person also uses different “scripts” and seriously requires counseling.

  12. Well, Paprika, soon you and Oregano will be walking around with a yellow piece of cardboard with a cheerfully smiling face on it, making-believe (though don’t tell her that, she’ll be mortally wounded) that Flat Kathy is indeed quite real. So your experience at the gym might have been good practice. 🙂

    • I hadn’t thought of it that way, Reggie. Who knows? After traveling with Flat Kathy, someone may be writing a blog post about how crazy I am 🙂

      • Indeed they might!

        During our birthday lunch/bon voyage to Flat Kathy lunch today, I noticed that our table got some decidedly odd looks when we were taking photographs of each other with FK.

        Luckily, she does give off this radiantly cheerful aura of playful innocence, so they soon realised that we were most likely harmless. … unlike your gym-buddy – it’s a miracle he didn’t whack anyone with a ball or a bat (who knows if they really were imaginary, or just existing in another dimension not perceived by our normal 5 senses!).

      • Flat Kathy does have a way of putting people at ease with her cheerful smile and appearance. I’m sure she’ll be a conversation starter.

        As for my gym buddy… he seemed harmless. One would hope that imaginary sports equipment only causes imaginary injuries.

  13. Oh, you saw him too? I thought I was the only one! Hahaha!

  14. You could try going up to him and saying, (for baseball): “George, it doesn’t look like you have your best stuff today, I’m taking you out.” Of course, that would spoil your show.

    I’ve used visualization processes before (quite helpful), but it sounds like he’s taken it to another (3-D) level. Good for him (and you)! How old is he?

    • I spent 30 minutes on the treadmill trying to come up with a rational reason for what he was doing. The location he chose to practice his sports was also an odd choice. There were plenty of other places in the gym that would have kept him from being front and center.

      To answer your question… the man was too old to be playing make believe and too young to explain his antics as the quirky behavior of an elderly person. He looked like he was in his late 50s.

      • You could try “air-typing” a blog next time you go there – just to see what happens!

      • I never thought to do that. I’ll have to take it into consideration. Given my lack of coordination, I don’t think I’d be able to “air-type” and walk at the same time. 🙂

  15. They don’t wear white lab coats in your gym do they??? lol

  16. A really really interesting post, thanks for sharing!


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