Wednesday, April 22, 2009
(Part One Here.)
12:05pm, Sunday - I'm home. And I feel pretty good.
When I first got to the field, I was the only one there. That wasn't unusual. I'm almost always the first guy to the field, no matter what league I'm in. I'm usually so psyched to play I beat every other player by twenty minutes. In this case, I wanted to warm up, in private, before anyone else could critique my creaky-kneed runs around the bases.
It was a cold morning. The wind was blowing hard, it was about 45 degrees, and my first thought was, "What in hell am I doing here? I could be home having a nice hot breakfast with MY WIFE, instead of torturing myself."
I ran up-and-down the first base line, feeling a bit looser each time. My knees were stiff and hurt a bit, but the pain wasn't increasing. That was a good sign. I became fractionally warmer, but it still was not pleasant. After that, I exhausted all possible forms of entertainment available via stretching. I then sat down on one of the benches, lit a smoke, and waited for someone - anyone else - to show.
Finally, somebody came walking through the fence from the parking lot, but it wasn't one of my teammates. It was the manager of another team from the league - almost as deranged as I am, thus his being there so early in the morning, too - who was there to meet his team for a practice session. We exchanged small talk for a minute, then Jack Atton, my manager, appeared, along with Billy Botting, a 20-year-old (20-YEAR-OLD!) teammate from last year.
(Billy is a tremendous hitter. He'll be 21 before the end of the season, so I promised him a free drink for every 5 points he hits over last year's average. Heck, he hit something like .625 last year, so I don't expect to have to buy him too many, but if I end up having to get him absolutely plastered, that'll mean good things probably happened for the team, so I hope that's how it works out.)
Other guys showed up every couple of minutes, some from the Flames (my former weekday team.) Pete Mittell, the manager of that team, was first to show for them. Pete is a true gentleman and one of the nicest guys ever to step foot on a ballfield. Notwithstanding that, I think his first words to me were, "Is that you, Sully? I didn't recognize you. You got real old."
The banter often runs towards insults, and some of them can be much rougher than what Pete said (as well as filthier) but it's all taken in stride and you're expected to either match the obscenity level or come up with something funny as a topper. The best thing about playing ball, at my age, is that you get to be 12 or 13 again. You can make all sorts of hideously immature jokes, and hear whole bunches of them, too, which is even better! There just aren't that many places left in the world where you can say something about your dick being the size of a 36-ounce baseball bat while knowing with utter certainty that nobody will be offended or take you even the slightest bit seriously. Or ask you to prove it, Thank God.
After warming up, I truly didn't feel bad at all. I fielded a few hard grounders at first during BP; dove at a couple and didn't get them, but just being able to throw myself on the dirt and not break anything was promising; and the laughs came free and easy for all of us.
During the actual scrimmage, the first pitcher we faced was throwing with a decent bit of speed. He also had a good change-up and a pretty fair knuckler. Not bad. And we were playing the game with four outfielders, as we'll be doing in the actual league for the first time ever. Therefore, what was needed, at least from me, was decent bat speed and keeping the ball down, on a line or on the ground.
I had three at-bats. I singled sharply to right-center the first time up, driving in a run. In my second at-bat, I grounded out, but I drove in another run while doing so. And, in my final at-bat, I hit a hard sinking liner that short-hopped the second baseman, but somehow hit his glove and bounced up into the air, coming down exactly where the shortstop could grab it, step on second forcing the man who had been on first base, and then relay to first in an attempt to get the DP, making me run full tilt for the first time all day. I felt surprisingly decent after actually running like that - AND I beat the throw.
All in all, I think I did a good job hitting. In the field, I didn't face any hard chances, so no problem there.
I feel I've earned myself a return ticket to the field for the final scrimmage next week, and if I do as well as I did today, I'll feel like I deserve a spot on the team. I won't expect to play every inning, but I think I'll be able to contribute some value.
So all of my self-flagellating seems to have been an over-reaction. Gee, what a surprise, me, over-reacting. Who could have imagined such a thing?
The best part of the day, as mentioned before, was seeing all of the guys again. That's why I truly love being part of a team, even if all I do is keep stats or something.
I've played ball with Ron Johnson, on this same team, for 16 years now. He and I are the only original members left. My very good buddy, Fred Goodman - that's him, on the left, in the photo up top - has been my teammate for even longer, going back to when we both played for a company team in South Boston starting in 1986 or thereabouts. He wasn't on this current team the very first year of its existence, but he's been here since the year after, making this his 15th season. Both great guys.
Jack Atton, the manager, is a good friend. I was the manager before him, and I chose him personally to be my successor. That's because I knew he cared deeply about winning and losing, but not so much that he'd be psychotic about it. He's got just the right attitude - try your hardest to win, but the world isn't going to end if you don't, so have fun. He's been my teammate for about 11 or 12 years now, I guess, going back to some time spent in the M Street league, one of the toughest fast-pitch leagues in the city.
Jack's nephew, Jason, is the one I gave my glove to when I first "retired". That's how highly I think of him. He wasn't there this week, but I expect he will be next week and I'm looking forward to seeing him again. Huge kid (6'7" or so) with a great sense of humor and as much raw talent as anyone on the team. Love having him for a teammate. Great RBI guy.
I could go on and give everybody some props, but that would get boring real fast. I love them all.
And now, I'm looking forward to playing again, rather than fearing it. I guess that's the best I could ask, isn't it? Yes, it is.
Soon, with more better stuff.