Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One More Kick At The Cat (Part One)



6:50am, Sunday – Today I’m going to play softball. I’ve played some form of ball (baseball, softball) every year since 1964. For all of those years, I looked forward to playing. This year I fear it.

2007 was supposed to be my last year. I knew I was at the end of the line. I was 50 years old, my skills were declining, and I had made a conscious decision to give it everything I had, one last time, and then go out with my head held high. And so I did. I had a pretty good year. And I fully intended that my last game that year would be my last game ever.

I told everybody that I was retiring. I wrote about it, keeping a diary of that season and publishing it here. You can find a link on the sidebar that will take you to every installment of that diary. Some of it is good writing even if you wouldn’t know a baseball bat from a shillelagh. Some of it is self-indulgent crap (much as this may be, although it's hard for me to tell from such a short distance.)

After my final game, I gave my glove to a good friend and teammate. I tossed my raggedy old uniform pants in the trash. I was done. I was OK with the decision. I knew I was doing the right thing. I mean, look at this picture of me from after that final game.


As someone, perhaps my uncle, said, "You look old enough to have invented the sport!" Someone else described me as looking as though I had been rode hard and put up wet.

So, what happened? Why am I going out this morning to play?

In 2008, I was going to be a base coach for my Sunday team. I still liked the camaraderie of being on a field and interacting with the guys who had been my friends for many years. I figured I could still keep the book, coach third base, maybe impart a bit of the wisdom I’d garnered by playing the game for close to 45 years. I told the coach of that team, as well as the coach of my weekday evening team, that I would do them a favor and play if - and only if - they were absolutely desperate and needed a ninth player to avoid forfeiting a game.

That was a serious mistake.

I knew damn well, in my heart of hearts, that a full season wouldn’t go by without there being at least one game where not enough guys would show up. I knew there’d be at least one occasion wherein I’d be asked to put on a uniform and play again. I was an ego-driven dope. I consciously put myself into the only position wherein I would feel justified in breaking my promise to not play again. I would be some sort of softball superhero, coming to the rescue at age 51.

Idiot.

So, I got a call to play from my weekday manager. He truly needed someone one night, so I played. I caught two innings for him before a replacement showed up. I had one at-bat. I drew a walk. I made no errors. Not bad. I could still hold my head high.

Then I was needed on a Sunday. It was a rainy sort of day. Lots of guys assumed that the games would be cancelled. I caught one game, played first base in the other. In the first game, I got a key hit in the final inning, and scored the winning run. It was a seriously nice feeling to have my coach and teammates crowd around me after scoring that run, offering congratulations and patting me on the back, saying things about how swell I was and how I shouldn’t have retired and this was the proof, etc.

I played most of the rest of the Sunday season following that moment of glory, but I didn't play exceedingly well. I found myself unable to field my position to any degree of satisfaction. My reflexes were slow, something I knew when I had "retired". As a hitter, I was mediocre. I was still smart enough to keep a decent on-base percentage, via walks and hitting to the weaknesses in the opposing defense, but I couldn’t run worth a shit and it would have taken some sort of minor miracle for me to get any hits other than singles.

I’m not just being hard on myself. We made the playoffs. I didn’t play a single inning in the two games we lost, the only two games we played. If I truly had anything left to offer the coach would have given me at least one chance to swing a bat. I had no complaints about not playing. How could I? I was seriously washed up.

And here I am, going out to play in a scrimmage, trying to prove, to that same coach, that I’m good enough to do some playing for him this year. I’m 52, and two seasons past when I left the game voluntarily with a good taste in my mouth.

The problem is that last year left me feeling bad. Two years ago, I left of my own accord. I had a decent year and rode off into the sunset feeling good about myself. I could have lived on that feeling, knowing that I was not only a decent ballplayer but also a smart one, having got out with a good year when I knew I was declining rapidly. Instead, I finished last year with the knowledge that I had been a self-centered dope to offer my services as a player, even if I clothed that offer in self-sacrifice.

So, now, I have to try and leave with the good taste again. I have to play in order to redeem that last year. I want to go out with self-respect. I want to hit decently, play smart ball, be a good teammate, and leave with the knowledge that I’m the one who’s doing the deciding about leaving. I don’t want to leave with the knowledge that I’m a detriment to my team. If I play like a clown in these pre-season scrimmages, I won't press the matter. I'll give it up with as much grace as possible.

The shame of it is that I know damned well I shouldn’t play. My skills are shot. I haven’t miraculously regained the great reflexes of my youth. I’m not going to hit the ball any harder. I still can’t run. The probability is that I’m going to embarrass myself in some way.

But I have to do this. My Sunday team is scrimmaging against my former weekday team, both teams getting tuned up for the season starting in two weeks. I’ve dropped 10 pounds, I’ve got new glasses, I’ll go put on a uniform now, drive to the field, have a good time seeing the guys again, and then hope that God grants me a one-season reprieve from aging and a bit of luck.

For certain, I’m not a pro, but I have the same obsession. I have to try. I couldn’t live with myself, if I didn’t, even more than if I stink up the field completely.

7:30am – And here I go...


25 comments:

Pat - Arkansas said...

Ah, dear Suldog! Your heart is as strong as a young tiger's. Take care of your middle-aged body, though.:)

Sniffles and Smiles said...

You are seriously addicted... LOL. Understandably so...Love this post as I can SOOO relate!!! I love the way your mind works!!! Thanks for sharing it with us!!! ~Janine

CPaq17 said...

Atta boy Sully!...play til you can't play anymore!...there's still gas left in the tank for sure!...see you on the field...

Conrad

lime said...

you know, i can appreciate your feelings on the matter. have you considered coaching little league? really. you'd be such an asset.

Expat From Hell said...

Careful what you ask for! I played 3rd base for one season too many - made three errors in one inning - the line drives just blew right by me. I knew then it was time to hang it up. So did the whole damned town...

Suldog said...

Conrad!

Best of luck to you this year, my friend. You were my teammate for only two seasons, but you're one of the best and nicest I ever had. I mean that, sincerely. Wish you were still here.

Suldog said...

Pat - Oh, I'll be OK. I know my limitations, all too well :-)

Sniffles - Thanks! Glad you liked it. I'll give the conclusion tomorrow.

Lime - I might do something like that some day. I don't know. It could be fun. Do you think I could do it without corrupting the kids too much, though?

Expat - Yeah, that's the thing I'm fearful about. I expect I'll be mostly a DH, though, if anything.

Ananda girl said...

Ah... a man in love! I hope you have a good season and luck smiles on you. I'll be rooting for you from my end, though I'd much rather be able to watch, and hope to hear all about it. Most of all Suldog, have fun.

Ruth and Glen said...

Well Suldog, I have to say at 56, I, as a former ball player, can truly relate and empathize. However, you are way too hard on yourself and seem to be a bit too focused on the negative aspects of your abilities.

You are now an experienced Jedi Knight. Seasoned and knowledgeable in and of many things including this wonderful game that you and I would love to be able to play forever. Unfortunately, like many things we must someday stand down and open a position for the younger players.

Before I begin to ramble I would just like to remind you of something that I'm sure you already know but instead have allowed your reservations to push to the side. You even said it in your Blog. "Play smarter ball!" You know exactly what I’m talkin’ about. Focus, concentration, educated anticipation, and use those years of wisdom to help your team mates and to keep your game as sharp as it can be.

Oh yeah, Jim, there’s absolutely no shame in singles. I was never a power hitter but I was an excellent placement hitter. My batting average was always one of, if not the highest, on the team and no one ever razzed me for being a consistent base runner, even if I wasn’t the fastest. Don‘t forget my middle aged friend, “it’s not the hand you’re dealt that’s important, it’s how you play the hand that makes all the difference.”

Glen

Jenn said...

Just give it your best shot and I'm sure, if nothing else, you will have a great time out there. At least I hope so. Also hope you guys got to play before it started downpouring today!

Ragtop Day said...

I don't know the competitiveness of your league or your teammates, but who cares? You're playing because you love to play. There is no reason to stop playing unless it stops being fun for you. Sure, it's more fun to play well and win, but playing a great game with great people is fun too, no matter the outcome.

To you I say, Play Ball!

Karen said...

Men and their balls. You know... baseballs. LOL Have fun!

Buck said...

OK... I read this and the first thing that came to my mind was... Claude Lemieux. Everyone, and I DO mean everyone, laughed at the thought of him coming back, yet here he is... in the playoffs and doing a rather respectable job of it, too.

Follow your heart, Jim. It's the ONLY way to happiness. And good luck doing it, too. I wish you a successful season.

Hilary said...

I'm with Lime. Which is not to say I don't think you're doing the right thing this year. You need to do what you believe is best. Just look out for yourself, and think about how much you can offer to the kidlets. I think you'd be a natural. THEN, you can write that book. ;)

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Ah you heard the calling Suldog...the bat is mightier than the sword. Listen to the wise ones and take care.

Adamity_Bomb_Bomb said...

Some thoughts: I say play. I say that you still have the desire to play--it's your ego that's holding you back. You don't want to tarnish your golden memories of 45 years of ball-playing. That being said, however, I have to say that to play to recapture the success of your season two years ago could be a bad idea. You're right: you're getting older. Thus, you have to reasonable expectations of yourself...and your skills. It sounds like you do have reasonable expectations--but that damned ego keeps getting in the way. I say play, and play the game for the game that it *is*. It's supposed to be fun. You're not supposed to kick yourself in the ass every time you don't make a play that you would have made twenty years earlier. (I say this with commisseration: I do the same thing. In my case, though, I think I am more driven by perfectionism and low self-esteem than images of years-gone-past glory.)

I say play and play well (though fast-pitch softball is a whole hell of a different game than slow-pitch.)

One last thing: Who the *hell* schedules a scrimmage at 8:00 on a Sunday morning?! Ouch! :)

GreenJello said...

You sound like my hubby. :) The heart is willing, but the body doesn't seem to have the same ideas! He'll be 49 this year, and bemoans the fact that he's starting to feel older.

endangered coffee said...

good luck, and never underestimate the power of a new pair of glasses

Woman in a Window said...

Good on you for going out! Haven't you heard 50 is the new 30? Really. Have fun.

Jazz said...

I think if you have an obsession, the only thing to do is work through it.

Go for it Sully!

John-Michael said...

SulDog, you gloriously wonderful Darlin' You! ... You got Heart, Baby! That's the simple fact of it. You just got a great big lovin' Heart that knows no limits ... be they physical of emotional. Hence that calendar with its irrelevant numbers and data has absolutely no bearing on your life. That's just the fact of your life's Reality. And we all love you all the more for it!

Go get 'em Jim!

Ericka said...

ok, first - stop kicking cats. it's bad for you. and the cat.

second, have you considered pilates? it will strengthen your core and improve your flexibility and balance. and before you start on the "it's for girls" mumbo jumbo, rent a dvd from the library (or get YOUR WIFE to do it for you) and just try it once - you'll feel the difference.

it may help keep you fit and injury free this season! play on, sully, play on!

Theresa said...

I discovered your blog through Maugeritaville. I enjoy your casual writing style and funny spin on life's foibles. As for the softball thing, I'm thinking good luck and try not to hurt yourself.

Uncle Jim said...

Call and I shall provide you with my orthopedic surgeons' number.

Cath said...

Oh Jim you'll be fine! Stop being so hard on yourself!
Enjoy it. Please. You used to love it (we can tell from the previous posts!) so go and enjoy it. I do understand that enjoyment is linked to the lack of frustration that builds when we "foul up" and don't play like we used to (for me it is the piano and keyboards...) but try and be positive and enjoy the company, the feel, just being there... :)


You knew with a title like that you'd get me over here pronto didn't you? Hmph.