Monday, August 11, 2008

Moving On


As I write this, it’s a bit more than 14 hours before the first game of our softball playoffs. MY WIFE is at work, or possibly (I hope) on the way home. I’ve been watching TV most of the day – The Olympics and The Little League World Series – and neither one is on now, so I’ve decided to record a few pre-game thoughts about both of those spectacles, as well as my own upcoming games.

Let’s start with The Olympics. We watched the opening ceremonies last night. Great stuff. Sure, China is one of the worst human rights violators on earth, routinely jailing and/or executing dissidents, and, among other nice things, they supply killing machines to conflicts in Sudan and around the globe. But, damn, they sure know how to put on a good show! I’d hate to be the guy from London trying to top that in 2012.

The actual athletics started in earnest today, and included volleyball, boxing, basketball, and handball. I am always surprised to find out that handball isn’t the playground sport wherein you bounce a ball off of a wall and await the return volley of your opponent, but is instead a team sport that more-or-less combines hockey and basketball, and appears to have been invented to torment the goalie.

(I played some goal in ice hockey when I was younger. I don’t know what MY save percentage was, but in general a very good goalie will stop 9 out of every 10 shots taken. In handball, the goals scored during a game run to about 30, while the saves recorded might total 10. In other words, an Olympic-level handball goalie fails in his/her job 75% of the time. And, to my untrained eye, half of the saves that ARE made come about only because the attacker threw the ball directly into the goalie’s face.)

Meanwhile, the 11, 12, and 13-year-old boys competing in The Little League World Series are going through the qualifying rounds before Williamsport, which is where the finals are held every year. The boys involved in these games always amaze me with the level of their play. Most remarkable, perhaps, is their composure – until the game is over. Then, they revert to being the young boys they are. Tears flow from the losers, while the winners have all the comportment of drunken chimpanzees. After a minute or so of that, the coaches round up their squads, and they file past each other, shaking hands. The gleeful winners, without fail, graciously offer true heartfelt comfort to the teary-eyed losers, hugging them and proffering whatever words of comfort they may have at their disposal. It is probably the nicest moment of each game, and so-called adult competitors in professional sports would do well to watch and learn.

Both of these events make for very compelling television, of course. And with my own competition coming up in the morning, I find myself thinking about the relative worth of Sunday morning softball as compared to these televised spectacles.

Am I basically insane to care so much about games that nobody (outside of the players and some immediate family members) will ever know the scores of, or really care about?

The young baseball players, as well as the Olympians, will all have their names recorded in official record books someplace, and their exploits will be talked about by thousands (or millions) the following day; perhaps for years afterward, in the case of outstanding prowess. Our games are recorded "for posterity" only by me, so far as I know. I’m probably the only guy in the league who can lay his hand on scorebooks from more than a year or two ago.

(I have them going back to 1995, and I refer to them often during the season. Having been a manager for many of those years, I actually used the books. I could go back and see what my guys [and our opposition] did against specific teams or pitchers, and use that knowledge to gain a slight edge. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of games where that knowledge came into play in my decision making, but that’s a handful of games my team won that they might have lost without my research. Therefore, I consider it a worthwhile investment of time. I’d rather explore every statistical opportunity, and then know that I made the correct move, than to lay in bed at night wondering if I made a mistake.)

And MY WIFE just arrived home, so I’ll be back.


Now it’s about 11:30pm, 9 and 1/2 hours until my games. MY WIFE has retired for the evening.

I just finished watching the best Little League game I’ve ever seen. Indiana beat Ohio, in 11 innings, 11 – 4. A regulation Little League game only goes 6 innings, so this was close to the length of two full games. The tension was near unbearable, until Indiana just broke it wide open with 7 runs in the top of the 11th.

Getting back to the question of whether or not I’m insane, I don’t think so.

(Well, of course I don’t think so. Duh.)

I play, and keep the stats, because I love the game, and not because other people will remember it years from now. I’m only doing the same as the athletes I’ve been watching all day. None of the great athletes involved in Olympic competition, or the boys in the Little League, plays the games because of the fame that might accrue to them. Sure, there’s the possibility of great fame, and some of them have certainly considered it in their off-the-field moments, but you don’t become a great athlete just because you want to become famous. You become a great athlete because you love the game you play.

(Love can be a kind of insanity, I suppose, but it’s usually a benign sort of insanity, so even if I am insane, I’m not hurting anybody.)

So, I love the games. Evidence of that exists in the fact that I don’t expect to play much tomorrow, if at all, but I still care deeply. We certainly have enough better players than this 51-year-old creaky catcher, so I expect to be on the bench most, or all, of the day. That’s OK. I’m still very excited. The Bombers team this year is one of the best we’ve ever had. I think we should win our first playoff series tomorrow, moving on to another round and then, possibly, to the finals. And the prospect of finally having played for a championship team, after 44 years in my sport, is enough. I contributed to one very big win earlier this season, so I know I’ve earned the right to celebrate, if we win it all.

It’s about midnight. That’s enough bullshit for now. I’m going to bed. On the off chance that I end up playing more than I’m expecting to, I need to make sure I’m well-rested and ready to go. See you tomorrow after the games.


6:10 am

I’m too excited to sleep more. I could have used another hour or two, but I was just laying in bed now thinking about the games and not being able to get back to sleep. So, I made some coffee and here I am.

I’m going to take a shower to get fully awake, and then take a last look at some stats. I doubt I’ll learn anything new – I’ve already looked at every stat I could possibly find meaningful or useful, at least five or six times this week – but that’s what I do. Then, I’ll put on my uniform and go down to the field. I’ll be there a good half-hour before any of my sane teammates shows up.

See you later. I’ll either be the teary-eyed kid or the one who acted like a drunken chimpanzee.


Teary-eyed kid.

In a best-of-three format, we dropped the first two games. We had the lead for one inning in the second game. Otherwise, it was a fairly shabby performance. Our defense wasn’t there, at all. The scores? 24 – 9 and 15 – 11.

I’m not pissed about losing. One team wins, one team loses, and that's the way it goes. Some guys just don’t get it, though. Out of a roster of 17 players who qualified for the playoffs, only 14 showed up. And one of those 14 left after the first game, presumably because he didn’t get to play yet.

They don't get it, and I don't get it. How can you work for a goal, like we did all year, and then not show up when your team is on the doorstep? Or leave in the middle of it, like some spoiled brat? No heart, no guts, and I take it as a personal insult. I mean, I was at the field an hour before game time, a good ten minutes in front of anyone else, and I wasn’t even expecting to play a single inning - and I didn't play at all, as it turned out. Did I pitch a hissy fit and walk away? No. I’m part of a TEAM. These other guys? I'll never understand the mindset.

Any other complaints? No. Jack managed everything as well as he could, considering the circumstances. Ariel pitched game two – which he certainly wasn’t expecting to do – and he stepped up like a MAN and played one hell of a game. I’m very proud to call him my teammate.

Everybody who showed up - and stayed through both games - has my thanks. That won't buy you anything, but all I can do is say it. All of you are in my memory banks as good guys to spend a Sunday with, even though we lost.

Now I’m going to take a shower, have something to eat, and put this season behind me. Time to move on. I can rest easy, with a clear conscience. For a year in which I wasn’t planning to play at all, I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Whatever else I may have done, I never quit on my teammates. That’s more than some guys can say.


Melinda said...

Sorry to hear about the loss - and the jerks on your team who didn't bother to stick around like real competitors would. They sure set a great example on how to be a Sore Loser.
I'm addicted to World Junior hockey for the same reasons you love the Little League. These incredibly talented kids don't just compete 110%, they also play with class and always shake hands or pat each other on the back after a game. Even at 19 years old, these boys will cry when they lose in the playoffs. But almost all of them are back next year, working even harder.
Sully, I'm proud to know you & wish that every competitor shared your true love of sport. I had my fingers crossed for your team to win and was sad when they didn't. Until I realized that it's not about winning for you - it's about the game.

Miriam said...

A little off-topic, but: I'm hoping you saw the Globe article about Dorothy. A victory! (At least for the time being.) I can't help but wonder what kind of people her fellow condo dwellers are--but I'm afraid I know the answer. Here's the article:

lime said...

love of the game and being someone your team can rely on, whether you're a teary eyed loser or a drunken chimp sounds like sportsmanship in my book. and that always counts for more than anything else.

mlh said...

You are a true sportsman, Suldog. Not many others could claim the same. You had a great game in my book.

ciara said...

i actually love watching the little league world series. some of those kids are truly amazing w their abilities. blah! i just seen nv(lived in vegas a long time...though this is a henderson team, close enough LOL) lost by the one run...tis o.k., i think the hawaiian team looked like a bunch of laid back kids and i like that. they played well, too.

anyways, i love the attitude you have when playing sports. yeah, you lost, but a winner to me is someone who is a team player and does his best: i think you got that down! :)

Suldog said...

Miriam - Thank you very much for the link. I had not seen that.

Janet said...

I don't get the mindset of those who think individually and not as part of a team. You should hold coaching clinics and educate the players on the ethics of sportsmanship.

Sandra Ree said...

I think it all comes down to having "heart", some people just don't have it. Sportsmanship and having heart goes hand in hand. Methinks Sul has heart.

And speaking of the Little League World Series, do you know who won it last year? We did, the boys from the town I live in won it! My daughter goes to school with some of the players and I worked with the mom of one of the players. We were so proud of them and especially the very last game that won it all, instead of whooping and hollering in celebration they immediately went up to the other boys on the other team and hugged them and at the same time looking them straight in the eye, congratulating them on their playing. The other team took it pretty hard and because of the country they came from was not allowed to show emotion, well, many of them broke down and cried anyway and that’s when the boys from our team took action. Never seen anything like that before in this age group. Uh huh, we were very proud. They were very close to winning this year again.

Buck said...

Sorry about your team's loss Sunday, Jim. But I'm grateful for your post today... excellent comments on sports and sportsmanship.

Stu said...

Ok, so pretend I'm in the bleachers:

"Whooooo! Sullllllyyyyy!!!! Whooooooooooo!!!"

CrazyCath said...

And I'm glad you didn't use your usual sign-off because there is no better stuff than this.
I can understand your disappointment at those guys who never turned up or just left. What sort of teamwork is that?
I am proud to know you through blogging. You have brilliant principles (and tell lousy jokes :])
I love ya loads. Better luck next season.

And the Olympics? Great opening ceremonies. How can we top it? We can't even get a stadium built! :0/
We got a couple o' golds though... ;0)

Tim King said...

"Am I basically insane?" Yeah, maybe, but no more than the rest of us.


Shammickite said...

I can't understand not showing up for the game... or going home halfway through... on a special playoff day. I know these sports leagues are basically fun leagues, and the whole point is to have a some fun, be a little bit competitive and to have a good time and TO BE PART OF A TEAM!!!
You should be really upset with those losers.
A team in my son's basball league suffered the same kind of thing last year. A guy said he couldn't afford to play so the guys clubbed together to pay his dues then he hardly showed up at any games and didn't tell anyone he wasn't coming.
Makes ya mad huh?

Chuck said...

So, are you going to be back next season? If not, you might consider managing...they can use your statistical expertise.

Charlie White said...

It really sucks that you guys lost!! I was hoping to check this and see pictures of the team in handcuffsa after a drunken day of celebrating!!! No one should ever quit!

Charlie White said...

It really sucks that you guys lost!! I was hoping to check this and see pictures of the team in handcuffsa after a drunken day of celebrating!!! No one should ever quit!

Chris Stone said...

aw. sorry you lost! and also sorry we didn't get to see suldog as a drunken chimpanzee!

Jeni said...

I'll be honest with you here Sully, when you do a sports related post, particularly about basketball, I generally just barely skim through those, but that's mainly because I don't like basketball and that's because I don't understand it. (I know,what's not to understand, but I don't.) But since I DO understand baseball, also really like it too, I read this post with great amazement at the actions of your teammates! I can't believe someone would do a stunt like that -so childish, immature and plain rude too!
Pick better teammates next year Buddy and make 'em sign a contract to be there AS A TEAM should be!

Chucka Stone Designs said...

You become a great athlete because you love the game you play

I think this sentiment describes almost everything in life no matter if it is a career, marriage or sport you play as an occasional weekend thing. Your stats don't have to be the best and you don't even have to win a single "game" because in the end if you are happy doing it then you will always win.

Sorry to hear about the team losses but I am really happy to hear about your personal achievement of doing the best you could right up to the last moment of play. There are clearly not many like you out there Jim & I applaud your committment to the team.

womaninawindow said...

I feel you in the middle of this really rich novel - some zen of baseball novel. You live a metaphor, you know. Ah, of course you knew that.

Anonymous said...

The Bombers are always winners in my mind because of guys like you!