Monday, August 11, 2008
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.
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.
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.