Monday, June 30, 2008
Apparently, I lied last year.
And then, on Saturday afternoon, I wrote a whole bunch of crap about how I was not feeling good about life. It was really down stuff, like the following...
I wake up in the morning and, more often than not, I don’t bounce out of bed with a big smile on my face. Instead, I drag myself to the bathroom. Once there, I get pissed off while taking a piss. And having your dick in your hand should not be cause for thinking of how much you don’t want to face the day. It should make you feel rather nice, actually. I mean, if handling one of the greatest sources of pleasure in your life makes you want to just crawl back into bed, you’ve got problems.
(Ladies, you’ll have to translate that into your own equivalent terms. My apologies for making you work twice as hard for the same return as the men, but you should be used to that by now.)
I went on and on in a like manner. I fully intended to publish it today. On Sunday, because I lied last year, most of that 1,500-word pity party became a lie, too. Lucky for you! Today, I did bounce out of bed with a big smile on my face. A sunburn as well, but that’s OK.
Yesterday, I tore a big gash in my knee. That’s why I’m trashing what I wrote yesterday, and why I was a liar last year, and why I’m happy now.
None of this is making sense, is it? I’m talking in riddles, and not giving you very good clues, either. Sorry about that. Here’s the whole story.
As you know, I retired from playing fast-pitch softball last year.
Pay no attention to the previous sentence. That is now the lie I referenced in the first sentence of this piece. Making a bit more sense now? No? Let me clarify.
Following last season, I fully intended to never play a game of softball again in my life. I had every intention of retiring, completely and permanently. I had decided that this would be the best course of action because I felt that I wasn’t as good a player as I once had been. I felt that not only would I be cheating my teammates by returning, giving them a fellow player with a sub-optimal skill set, I would also have become a pain-in-the-ass to my manager; a person who showed up every week looking to play, but who presented him with the problem of just where to hide him so he did the least damage.
(I had a few of those players in my time as a manager, and I vowed a long time ago that I would never become one.)
I went out with a good year for our brand of ball. I batted .425 and used my brains enough to parlay that into a .525 on-base percentage, via the expedient of drawing a big old bunch of walks. I fielded my positions (C, 1B) decently for a creaky 50-year-old. Although neither of my teams won a championship, which is how I would really have liked to finish up, I had wonderful final games with both of them. In what I figured to be my final two games ever, I went a combined 6-for-8. You can't leave the playing field with much better personal stuff than that.
(You Brits, Australians, and other assorted foreign readers will just have to take my word on that, I guess. If I knew enough about cricket, I’d give you a translation into cricket statistics. If you’re even still with me at this point – and, if you are, I’m both amazed and gratified - suffice to say I had two good games.)
Over the winter, I geared down. I got a bit more out-of-shape than I might have in previous years. I didn’t expect to have to run around any longer, so I pounded some fat onto my body. I wasn’t downhearted, by any means. I expected to coach my former Sunday team a bit. I’d enjoy a bit of sun and camaraderie, watching younger men run around, and perhaps I’d contribute a bit of the knowledge I’d acquired during my 43 years playing the game.
The actual season rolled around and I was a bit itchy to play. It was nothing I couldn’t handle by being honest with myself. I was way out-of-shape, I was relatively old, there were more than enough younger and skilled players picked up during the off-season to fill the roster. I showed up, I coached the bases, I kept the book, I dispensed veteran player pain-in-the-ass wisdom, and I tried to make Jack Atton’s life (he’s the manager) easier. So far, so good.
I told Jack that I was available for emergency duty. If he needed me desperately – if there wasn’t another ninth body available – I’d fill in to keep the team from forfeiting. I told the same to my weekday league manager, Pete Mittell.
As it turned out, Pete was the first one to ask me to make good on that offer. He called me up at work one day and asked me to come play. I did, and full details are here. The short version: On a drizzly and cold evening, I caught two innings, drew a walk in my only time at-bat, scored a run, and that was that. Someone else showed up by the third inning and I took a seat. Perfect season.
As for Jack, he and I discussed the possibility of getting me into enough Sunday games to qualify me for the playoffs, just in case our roster became decimated. He’d get me officially into a game here and there. I’d need nine appearances on the field to satisfy league rules. So far, I had been inserted into three games in a VERY limited capacity. In those three games, I had two at-bats (a walk, a pop out) and one half-inning at first base. No sweat, literally.
Now we come to yesterday. It was an overcast morning. Rain was forecast in much of the New England region. As a matter of fact, it already WAS raining in some places, although not where we were playing. A few of the guys were missing – one at a wedding, one at a tournament in New Hampshire, another on a trip out-of-state – and a few others apparently came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to play because of the rain. You can see where this is headed, of course.
We had exactly nine players available at game time. I started the game. I was behind the plate, with Jack pitching.
We were playing the Reds. They were 8 – 0 thus far, undefeated and leading the league.
We trailed, 6 – 5, going into our final ups. Jack had pitched a good game, the guys had played some excellent defense behind him, and we now had a shot to take the game. Due up for us, to lead off the inning? Jack, then me.
In our previous two at-bats, neither one of us had a hit. Jack had popped out to the pitcher and drawn a walk. I had yet to reach base. In the 2nd inning, I had drilled a sharp one-hopper back at the pitcher, but he fielded it cleanly and threw me out. In the 4th, I popped out weakly to right. Honestly, though, I could feel it. I knew – I really knew – that both of us were going to get on and we were going to win the game.
Jack roped a shot to right center, a clean hit. On the bounce, it went between the center fielder and right fielder, looking like an easy triple, maybe an outside chance at a home run. However, rounding first at full speed on a wet infield, Jack went down. He recovered quickly enough to still reach second base safely. Jack was a bit roughed up, though, so we sent Ron – the only man on the team for as many years as me, fourteen - in to run for him (under our league rules, you’re allowed to replace a hurting runner with the last man to have made an out.)
With Ron standing on second, I then followed with MY FIRST HIT OF THE SEASON. It was a sharp grounder through the hole at second. Ron went to third. The tying and winning runs were on-base, in the bodies of the two oldest men on the team.
(And now, I interrupt this exciting play-by-play to tell you about a mistaken interpretation of the rules. We were under the impression that a team was allowed one [and only one] substitute runner in any given inning. As we would later find out, this wasn’t the case. We could have also substituted for me, which would have been the wise and prudent thing to do. However, not knowing that this was a possibility, I remained on first base. Now, back to the game.)
My good friend, Fast Freddy Goodman, was next up. FFG shot a single to left-center. Ron scored to tie the game. I stood on second base, no outs and no excuses. We didn’t necessarily have to get another hit now. Two productive outs would do it. If we didn’t win the game now, it would be because somebody screwed up.
And then, I screwed up.
The next batter hit a long fly to left. It looked like it might beat the fielder, allowing me to walk home from second. I played it halfway. When the ball was caught, I scooted back to second base. What I should have done (which you know, if you know the game at all) is to have been ready to tag up on this productive out. I should have now been standing on third, one out, and only needed a decent fly ball, or maybe just a nicely placed grounder, to score. Instead, I was still on second base, kicking myself in the ass for not making the correct play in that situation.
Sure enough, the next batter hit the decent fly ball on which I should have scored. Instead, I was still on second base, now with two outs. I was really pissed at myself now. If we didn’t win, going to extra innings instead, I was ready to hang myself. I spend a lot of time talking to guys, as a coach, telling them to always play smart ball, to use their heads. And here I was, still on second, and with the game still in doubt, because I had been a bonehead.
Ariel was next up and now we needed a hit. Ariel swung, and I took off from second. Wherever that ball had gone, I was NOT stopping at third base. I rounded third, huffing and puffing as befits a wickedly out-of-shape 51-year-old, and I saw the catcher setting up to take a throw. I took a path to the back half of the plate, and executed an awkward and ungainly hook slide.
Safe! We win, 7 – 6.
My Bombers teammates came running from the bench, cheering and slapping me on the back. I was pummeled with joy. Jack grabbed me around the shoulders and yelled in my ear, "Retired? Retired, my ass!"
It was possibly the nicest moment I’ve had in my entire 43 years of playing.
I wobbled back to the bench and dropped onto it hard, sucking wind. I had ripped a hole in the knee in my pants, taking the skin off of my actual knee. I was happy as a clam at high tide.
And that’s how I got rid of my blues. I lied last year. Retired? Retired, my ass!
Of course, I realize that nothing much has actually changed. I’m still 51, my reflexes still are not what they once were, and I’m still out of shape. The rest of the young guys will be back next week, so I’ll return to limited emergency duty. But now, if we somehow end up winning a championship - which, with this team, looks to be a possibility - I’ll be able to say I really was an important part of it. I can live on that for a couple of weeks, at least.
Soon, with more better stuff.