Wednesday, May 05, 2010
[The above photo is for those of you who requested one of me in my new form-fitting uniform. Stylin’! It was ball one, outside and high, by the way.]
It’s Monday as I write this, but probably Wednesday as you read it. Ooh! Time travel!
In my never-ending quest to turn everything I’ve ever told you into an outrageous lie, I am not only playing softball this year, but also playing in two different leagues. I have my team of 16 years, The Bombers, on Sundays. That was to be expected. However, I’ve also signed on with a weekday league, the M Street Softball League in South Boston.
I last played in Southie in 2004. It’s one of the premier leagues in the city, with pitchers allowed to utilize the “open” style of modified fast-pitch slinging. Unlike regular modified fast-pitch (hand cannot come above shoulder on the backswing) which is the rule in my Sunday league, the open style allows for all deliveries short of the windmill. And some of the guys who pitch at M Street can really bring it. The relative toughness of the league can be shown by one of the rules. If you’re hit by a pitch at M Street, you’re awarded first base. Outside of baseball, and true fast-pitch softball on a collegiate or Olympic level, if a pitch hits you it’s unlikely you’ll be hurt. You are in a slight bit of danger when you step into the batter’s box at M Street.
I actually quit the league, following the 2004 season, because I felt I couldn’t quite catch up to the best fastballs there. My reflexes haven’t improved during the intervening 5 years, but the alignment of the league has changed. There are three divisions now, and the division I’ll be playing in does not include too many of the elite pitchers. In order to ensure truly competitive play, teams within each of the three divisions play each other more often than teams outside of their division. I’ll face true greatness on the pitching mound a couple of times, but mostly it will be on a par with what I see on Sundays.
(Of course, once the playoffs begin – if my team makes the playoffs – then all bets are off. Playoff teams are seeded according to both division played in and finishing position. Therefore, the last qualifying team from the C division will face a highly-skilled team from A or B, and – unless the team from C has depth that was entirely misjudged when the season began – will likely be eliminated quickly.)
My educated guess, from past participation, is that the make up of the league will be about 70% guys in their 20’s, 25% guys in their 30’s, 4% guys in their 40’s, and I’m now in the remaining 1%, which is softball bums for life. And I may be the only position player (non-pitcher) over 50 years of age. I don’t recall playing against anyone as old as me, outside of pitchers, during my previous 6 years in the league.
Mark Senna, who is the commissioner and a former teammate, was my contact for getting back in. For my re-entry into the league, I asked Mark if there was a team that really needed someone to play most games. I’m hoping to win my championship with the Bombers on Sunday, and the weekday participation is for the exercise more than anything else, so all I was looking for was a spot where I wouldn’t ride the pine most nights. I didn’t care if the team had a chance at winning the league.
Mark hooked me up with a team called The Swingers, who went 2 and 16 last year during their initial foray at M Street. From what I’ve seen during practices, that record was probably not an aberration. As old and half-crippled as I am, I might be an all-star representative from this squad. We’ll see.
(That’s not to denigrate the guys as people, since they’ve all accepted me with open arms and seem to be a truly nice bunch. I’ll have fun. And who knows? Maybe once the bell rings, they’ll all become tigers. Also, I have little idea of the competition we’ll be facing. Maybe the rest of the teams in our division suck.)
Anyway, opening night was Monday. Then we played again on Tuesday, with another game scheduled for Friday. With the full scrimmages played this past Sunday with the Bombers, by Friday I will have played 5 games in 6 days, a goodly portion of that behind the plate. I’m either going to be in the best shape of my post-50 life by Saturday or dead.
Speaking of the scrimmages, I’ll close this with some photos from those games. These are all courtesy of Charlie White, a great former teammate who was visiting the city and who asked if he could play in the scrimmages with us. We were thrilled to have him. Truly nice guy with a superb sense of humor, he was (and is) an awesome batter. In my opinion, Charlie turned in one of the top 3 individual performances in our team history during the 2005 season. We played 21 games that year, and he had 32 hits (and also reached via walk 11 times.) Of his 32 hits, 17 were for extra bases. That total included 7 home runs and a still-team-record 6 triples. Now that he lives in Florida, he plays almost year-round. I have no doubt he’s ripping it up down there, as he looked pretty damned good in our scrimmages. I wish he was still in our area. We’re loaded this year, but you can always find a spot for a bat like his.
Here's Charlie at bat. Also a patient hitter, he took ball one here.
Charlie again. He's sporting the very valuable Bombers throwback jersey, which goes for 34 cents on E-Bay these days.
Charlie stepping into the pitch. By the way, I took the photos of Charlie. If they're not as good as the other photos, that's why.
Finally, here's Charlie's swing. Classic slugger stroke. Compare and contrast with my singles hitter swing that follows.
Me, going down to get a pitch. It was a single to left. Nice job by Charlie. Notice he got the shot just as my bat was meeting the ball.
Fast Freddy Goodman in the batters box.
And here's the result - Freddy on third following his triple!
Not too long after, the three players with longest length of service on the team have some fun banter. Me (16th year), Ron Johnson (16th year), Fast Freddy Goodman (14th year).
Freddy on first following a later single. These were just scrimmages against the Reds, another team from our league - sort of spring training games for both of us. We won both, and there was good camaraderie all around. We won't meet them in real play until seven or eight weeks from now. Hopefully, by that time they will have forgotten all of our tendencies :-)
Freddy, as big a Mets fan as there is on Earth, shows off his Subway Series shirt from when the Mets played the Yankees in interleague play in 2006. In the background, Emilio Zirpolo bats.
Me again. I think I look damned good for an ancient geezer whose best days are far behind him.
Me, Freddy, and Big Jay Atton. To the right, Joey Baszkiewicz stands in awe of the assembled talent. If you'll look closely at the photo, you'll see that the bench area slants downward towards the field. Even after putting Big Jay on the low end of the slant, he towers over Freddy and myself. That's why he's BIG Jay.
Finally, here's a group shot of some of the team. For some reason, it's near impossible to get everybody on a softball team to just stop whatever they're doing and come pose for a photo, so a few guys are missing. Robbie Rogers, one of the all-time best power hitters in the M Street league and a new addition to the Bombers this year, strolls by on the far left. In the group section of the photo, Ron Johnson looks like a little short guy, but he isn't. He's about 5'10" (my height), but he's standing on the lower end of the slant and also positioned between the 6'7" Big Jay and the (my guess) 6'5" Charlie.
Left to right, top row: Me, Big Jay Atton, Ron Johnson, Charlie White.
Left to right, bottom : Cam Zirpolo, Fast Freddy Goodman, Emilio Zirpolo
There’s nothing as good as getting out on the ballfield with guys who love the game as much as you do.
Soon, with more better stuff.
(Quick update: The Swingers lost their first game, 14 - 11, but rallied for a 10 - 10 tie on Tuesday. They're a touch better than they looked in practice, but defense will be a concern throughout the year. I caught in both games. I went 1 for 4 [a double], drew 3 walks, struck out once, scored 3 times, and had 2 RBI. Nothing spectacular, but not too shabby for a fossil. The Friday game has been rescheduled for later in the month, so I now have until next Tuesday to heal from my 4 games in 3 days.)