In fifth grade, I watched as a part-man, part-beast with soulless eyes and a dirty jersey killed a kid by heinously using a radioactive collection of bones, sinew, and cartilage clinging to a military-grade rotator cuff to gun a fireball from no farther than 60 feet away.
Well, he didn’t actually murder my unlucky teammate-more or less just dinged him in the ribs a little bit with a hard leather ball-but as I watched from the on deck circle and considered my terrible hitting ability and worse dodging ability, I was certain that a sixth-grade fastball to the jaw would be my untimely doom. So, exuding a pathetic weakness similar to that of a wobbling newborn duck, I stepped into the batter’s box, stomped my spikes into the shallow clay, smacked my bat against the plate twice, and swung feebly at the first three pitches I saw before making a beeline for the safety of the tilted metal bench we called a dugout and the comfort of my half-eaten bag of BBQ sunflower seeds.
The majority of my rec baseball career was about as glorious as this scene. I spent most games neurotically spitting on my batting gloves, locking down the sixth or seventh slot in the order, desperately digging out infield singles, and doing everything in my power to avoid pitchers the size of small mountains that finished puberty at age 12 and threw wildly in the high 60s and low 70s. And yet, when I retired from baseball three years later, short-term memory of my struggles faded into the sunset along with my sub-.200 batting average: for God’s sake, I could hit anything; I played second base like a young Alfonso Soriano; I must have been chronically underrated. In reality, I was merely a sufferer of “I Could Play” syndrome.
“I Could Play” (ICP): noun 1. A plague of the brain afflicting former athletes, a loathsome state of mind and speech in which the victim declares that they could exceed the athletic abilities of the players they are watching. Synonym: Asshole.
People with ICP are ridiculous, they are everywhere, and they are idiots. (Not to be mistaken by members of the Insane Clown Posse, who are also ridiculous, everywhere, and idiotic.) Earlier this year, during Boston College men’s hockey’s 9-2 beat down, goal bonanza trouncing of Wisconsin, a friend of mine watching in Conte Forum declared: “I could play fourth line for Wisconsin.” In the moment, my friend, who played three years of high school hockey, was asserting he could log minutes for the Badgers, the D1 team that finished 24-11-2 and made the NCAA tournament.
Surely, there are worse types of spectators at all level of sports: mouth breathers, weird old guys who seem too interested in high school track, that dude who wears a Red Sox jersey when the Yankees are playing the Orioles, and the meat-head dad fully convinced his second grader has an MLB swing and needs to be leading off, for Christ’s sake! Still, there’s just something relentlessly frustrating about the person who cheapens what they’re watching by consistently insisting they could keep up, or perform better, than the athletes in front of them. And in the interest of full disclosure and the virtue of honesty, I too am a victim and can barely watch a Manchester United game, let alone a youth soccer match, without entertaining ICP thoughts.
The reason I bring this up in the first place is because I aim to help myself, all those suffering from ICP, and everyone who knows someone with ICP. I’ve found the beginnings of a cure: Humiliation Reinforcement For Rehabilitation (HRFR).
The next time someone makes a ridiculous ICP claim, force him or her to back it up. Get them on the field, court, or ice in a competitive scenario, and make them sink or swim, prove it, or shut up. For me, all it took was multiple strikeouts and a dropped fly ball in a coed softball game to realize that I am truly a blight on the beautiful game of baseball, softball, and probably cricket.
Of course, this method is far from foolproof. If the ICP sufferer succeeds, you’ve created a far stronger monster that will continue to grow and grow until his or her head explodes, or they pull some sort of Rookie scenario and become a professional athlete. And even worse, HRFR has to be done sport by sport-it’s not a one-stop fix all. And I know this for sure, because anyone who thinks that Wayne Rooney can score a free kick on me is a total, stupid moron.