Monday, July 14, 2008
Got to talk this out. Sorry.
Sometimes, you’re a hero. Sometimes, you’re a bum. And sometimes, you realize you’ve come full circle and the decision you made a while back was the right one.
(Softball talk coming up. Feel free to come back in a day or two when I’ll have something else.)
Last time I wrote about softball, I was a happy guy. I contributed to a win. I got a hit and scored the winning run. Nice. For a guy who truly wasn’t expecting to ever play another softball game, it was a serious rush.
(I’ve given my softball story too many times already, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I apologize, but I’m not going to bore everybody with it again. The quick recap is in the story linked above.)
In that nice game, I wore jeans. I've done that all year. This is because last year I threw away my softball pants, gave away my glove, and seriously was not planning on playing, ever again. So, when I slid into home and ripped up my knee, it was those jeans that got ripped up.
Jack Atton, my manager, begged me to get some softball pants. Well, "begged" isn't the right word, but it's close. Anyway, having that game to put in my back pocket, I needed to get a new back pocket. Saturday, I shopped for softball pants. I figured as long as I was going to play, I may as well do it right, so I also bought a new pair of batting gloves.
Yesterday was the first time back on the field since that nice game. It felt good to be in a real, complete uniform.
The day started well, but ended with me feeling that last year's decision to retire was pretty much spot on. I’m not saying that I have nothing more to contribute to this team, but yesterday has given me a pretty good clue as to how limited my contributions may end up being.
The thing is, this team has a fair chance to win our league. It would be an upset, but it isn’t out of the question. We easily have the best pitching out of all 10 teams. Our hitting is better than most, although we still have a bit too much lack of discipline. Our fielding? Not great. It’s getting better, though, and we only need to field adequately enough to stay within reach of the other team. If we can do that, we’ll win more than we’ll lose.
I’m a catcher and a first baseman. For many years, I was basically the only catcher on the team. That’s not the case now. We have two guys better than me, both defensively and as hitters. First base? I don’t know. I might still be the best defensive first baseman we have, but that’s debatable. As a hitter, most anyone we put there will outhit me. And that’s the crux of this whole thing.
My job, as a leadoff man, is to get on base. I don’t need power, and I’m not there to drive in runs – although, if the situation calls for it, I’m supposed to. I first look for wildness on the pitcher’s part, and if I can draw a walk, my job is done. Then it’s up to the guys behind me to drive me in. If the pitcher has his control, then I have to hit, instead.
In the first game yesterday, I did my job. I played first base. I was batting leadoff. In four plate appearances, I walked three times. I flied to short center in the other at-bat. Behind some magnificent pitching by Al Martin, we won, 17 – 0.
In game two, we lost 11 – 0. I was the DH. I wasn’t batting leadoff, so my job changed slightly. I was in the 8 spot, so the situations I came up in called for me to be looking for hits more than walks. I had two times at the plate. I struck out twice - once swinging, once looking.
Striking out is bad, but not the end of the world. Everyone strikes out at some point in their career. The thing that really bothers me is HOW I struck out. I felt... I don’t know. It wasn’t overmatched, because the pitcher wasn’t that fast or crafty. I guess "inadequate" might be the word I’m looking for. I had no real confidence. Having no confidence in my abilities is strange and unsettling.
In the first game, I knew I could catch up to whatever that pitcher threw me. I could afford to wait, and that’s a good thing. I’ve been a reaction hitter my entire life. I never guess on what’s coming. I just wait for it to come and then react. It’s not as easy as it used to be. My reflexes aren't as sharp as they once were. By the time I decide to swing now, the ball is sometimes not where I expected it to be. I'm just enough off to hit lots of weak pop-ups to right. Anyway, first game, no problem. I didn’t need to swing three out of the four times I batted. I walked.
Second game, the pitcher has a bit more speed than the first guy. He also has decent control. So, he wasn't going to make it easy and I didn’t believe, in my own head, that I could do the job. I didn’t verbalize that to myself at the time, but looking back, I know it was true. I went up there HOPING to draw a walk, rather than trying to work one (or, better, ready to hack.) It's a crucial difference. I was afraid of what would happen if I was forced into swinging.
That’s not easy to admit, but it’s true. I was afraid.
I usually have no problem giving the pitcher two strikes. I’m willing to take two – usually – because I know I can do something with a third strike should it come. Yesterday, after getting one strike on me, I was looking to make contact. I was afraid to let a second strike go by.
The same situation presented itself twice. After taking one strike, I fouled the ball back for strike two, twice. Then, on the first at-bat, I took a weak swing on a high outside pitch for strike three. On the second at-bat, I watched a low inside ball go by. The umpire called it a strike. It wasn’t technically a strike, but he was calling that pitch a strike all day, so I should have been protecting the plate.
Those two at-bats were as bad a pair of at-bats as I’ve had back-to-back in the past ten years. So now, I’m all full of doubts and feeling my age and whining about it here. Sorry about that.
Fuck it. I'm not going out on this shitty performance. Next week, and for the rest of the season, I’ll kick ass and take names. If I'm going to retire, it's going to be like I planned it last year. It will be on MY terms.
Use me, Jack. I'm going to rip it up.
Soon - next Sunday, insofar as softball is concerned - with much better stuff.