Monday, August 01, 2011
Gamer (n) – In sports, a complimentary term denoting a player who gives his or her all, someone who “answers the bell” no matter how adverse the circumstances.
There are two times when it becomes easy to spot who the gamers are on a team.
The first is the do-or-die situation, such as a playoff game or championship. The gamers will ignore small (or even large) injuries in order to compete. If the situation is one of particular tenseness, or calls for an effort beyond the average, they step up and deliver. They rarely give up, fighting hard until the final minute of play, even when others have already conceded the match. And you need a crowbar to get them out of the game. The bigger the stage, the better they like it. In professional sports, think Tom Brady in football, Michael Jordan or Larry Bird in basketball, or Ken Dryden in hockey. They also come in less-impressive packaging (someone like the late Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees) or less-successful variations (the spectacularly overmatched Randall “Tex” Cobb, in his heavyweight championship fight against Larry Holmes, comes to mind.) They are like Hulk Hogan without the script. They refuse to lose, even when (as in Cobb’s case) it is readily obvious that they lost an hour ago.
The other situation that brings out the gamers is the final throes of a horrible season. These gamers get little recognition, and almost no applause, even in the professional arena. They just plain love their games and play them with the same fire no matter what the win-loss record. That sort of heart is even more admirable, in my opinion, since it’s much harder to put on your game face when the reward isn’t readily apparent.
Modified fast-pitch softball on a Sunday morning is hardly the same as getting it on in the NBA or NHL or MLB, but the same sort of ethos applies. And tomorrow is the final weekend of the season for The Bombers, my Sunday league modified fast-pitch softball team. We have gone from the penthouse of an almost-championship season, to the outhouse of a season wherein we’ve already been eliminated from even the slightest hope of making the playoffs. Our record last year, heading into our final weekend of play, was 18 and 2. The gamers were there for the championship. We lost, despite a valiant effort. This year, we are 3 and 11. The gamers will come out for the finale in this one, also.
All week, in leading up to these games, there have been a few of us who have been cajoling, entreating, almost bribing people to play these games, so that we don’t have to add the ignominy of forfeiting to the already nasty lows this season has given us for memories. The expectation has been that we will have five or six Bombers show up for these two games; maybe not even that high a number. So Big Jay Atton, Jack Atton, and myself, have asked every decent player we know to come down and help out. And, I’m happy to report, we’ve found some good old friends, and some new ones, to be there.
One of the players taking the field tomorrow will be Drew Atton, who has played in every game this year. Also playing will be his girlfriend, Michaela, who has been to almost every game Drew has played in, giving us support, occasionally keeping the book for us, and otherwise gracing our bench with her lovely presence. I’ve been told she’s a player, and she’s come close to suiting up for us on a couple of previous occasions. Tomorrow, she plays. And I’m looking forward to her participation. She’s been to more games this year than most of the guys on the roster, and she will have every right to call herself a Bomber after she plays tomorrow. I’ll be proud to call her a teammate.
Also lending us a hand will be two ex-Bombers, retired from our roster for three years (Ariel Monges) and eight years (Sean Dykens). Both of them are really nice guys whom I immensely enjoyed having as teammates in the past. Having a chance to share a field with them again makes this hideous season somewhat worthwhile.
There may be other surprises. I don’t know whom else Big Jay or Jack might have talked into playing. All I know for sure is that we’ll have three Attons, Fast Freddie Goodman, Michaela, Ariel, Sean, and me. I’m kind of expecting Pat Atton (who has been fighting an injury) and Emilio Zirpolo, too, although I’m not certain about them. In any case, we’ll at least have enough to play, and that’s all I want.
(I need there to be no mistake about this. I’m not saying that the guys who don’t show up tomorrow aren’t gamers. I don’t know all of their reasons for not being there and some of those reasons are probably excellent. What I do know for certain is that everyone on the field tomorrow will be a gamer. That’s no doubt.)
We lost twice, but it was a fun day. That’s not something I’ll say too often.
Brighton All-Stars – 13 BOMBERS – 12
Moe Howard Club – 15 BOMBERS – 10
None of the games played in yesterday’s round robin had any chance of changing the standings. The four teams who played at Cleveland Circle were already locked into their final positions in the standings, so everybody was loose. The games were played hard, and right, but there was nothing on the line other than what a player came away with personally. So, while certainly trying to win, the teams joked with one another and had a good time.
In each game, I ended up with a personal "nemesis"; one player on the other side with whom I had a running mock antagonistic interaction. In game one, it was Paul from the All-Stars, my counterpart at first base for the game.
It began innocently enough before the game when we exchanged smiling insults about each other (he, concerning my age; me, concerning his skills as a pitcher, which is sometimes what he does) and then took on more life when, in his first at-bat, he grounded one up the first base line toward me. He came racing toward the bag as I tried to gauge whether the ball would reach me before he did, and if I should just let it go and see if it would roll foul. When I decided it was going to stay fair, I tried to keep my foot on the bag as I lunged to the ground for the ball with my bare hand. Paul reached me at about the same time as I grabbed the ball. Now, I knew that if I had kept contact with the base, he was out. And I thought I had. I looked up at the umpire, showing him that I had control of the ball, and expecting him to signal an out. The ump walked up the line, however, and took a good long look at things before calling Paul out. I had no idea why. When he signaled the out, he said that I had tagged Paul. Paul argued that I hadn’t. I thought I had the bag with my foot, so I didn’t think either of them was arguing about what mattered. I did feel something hit one of the fingers of the hand I held the ball in, so I assumed it must have been Paul’s shoe grazing my hand as he went by. The main problem, I think, was that the umpire took so long to make the call. It raised doubt all around, and gave Paul more fuel to argue the call. And after the play, I was talking to Paul and he told me that my foot had not kept contact with the bag. He maintained that he kicked the bag out of position when he reached it, that I hadn’t tagged him, and that he should have been safe. It might have been that way. If I didn’t hold the bag, and maybe it was a pebble or something I felt hit my hand, then he was safe. Either way, we both like each other, and the game meant nothing. So what it led to was a couple of mock wrestling matches when either of us reached first base thereafter (following the first one, during which I had wrapped my arms around his chest, I told him what nice tits he had, and he said thanks) and jokes about both of us being no-good rotten cheating bastards, and so forth. I’d give him a mock salute, he’d flip me a double bird in response. It was great.
In the second game, the guy I interacted with was Mark Dion, coach and pitcher for the Moe Howard Club. Mark always has a comment or joke following a play. It’s usually in good humor, but he rubs some folks the wrong way because he’s a competitor and given to a bit of hot temper on occasion. I can understand that, but I find him entertaining and we get along well. Anyway, he’s a good pitcher, can bring it when he wants to, and has a real nice knuckler, too. We’re somewhere in the same age range. I’m not sure, but I think he’s a year or two older, and if he’s not, I hope he’ll forgive me. Anyway, when I got a hit off of him, which just happened to be my 300th, I’m standing on first base when Big Jay Atton asks for a time out, goes to the mound, and asks Mark for the ball as a souvenir for me.
(It was really nice of Jay to do that, but it was somewhat embarrassing. I mean, I’m proud of being the first Bomber to reach that milestone, but I’ve always hated it when a game gets stopped to congratulate someone on an individual achievement. I knew the guys on my bench knew about it, and that they’d give me handshakes and whatnot when I got back to the bench, and that would have been enough, but I’m not Derek Jeter getting his 3,000th. Jay having to explain to the other team what happened felt sort of odd. To their credit, the guys on the other side gave me some applause, and that was sweet of them. I thank them for that.)
Anyway, the ump threw Mark a new ball and he said, "Oh, great. I give up some guy’s 300th hit and now I get a nice fresh ball so the next guy can pound one, too." The next time I came up to bat, he wound up, said something like, "300 hits. Well, shit, we’re both AARP members, it’s about time", and I laughed so hard, he blew the first strike right by me.
(I want to mention something that I didn’t make note of last week when I told about the possibility of my reaching 300 hits. Big Jay Atton did something more impressive and, in my self-centered way, I didn’t realize it until after I had published. Jay hit a home run last week that tied him for the all-time club lead in that category with Ron Johnson. He had a chance this week to take sole possession of the record. He didn’t do it, but I sure wish he had. It would have been hilarious to see Mark Dion’s reaction if I had come out to the mound to retrieve ANOTHER ball as a souvenir.)
So, I got my hits to reach 300, but there were lots of better days at the plate yesterday.
Ariel Monges made his return to the Bombers a great one. He went 5 for 8, with two triples, and played a solid outfield. We asked him after the games were over if he’d like to make a true comeback next year, and he said he might. I sure hope so. If there’s one thing I know about Ariel, it’s that he’s a gamer. He’ll be there for us whenever he’s able. He’s a good guy and a smart ballplayer. We’d be stronger with him on the team.
Sean Dykens also made a nice return after eight years absence. He had two hits and two walks, scored three times, and drove in two. He’s a versatile guy to have around, able to play in the outfield or at third base, or even as a catcher in a pinch. I always enjoyed having him as a player when I was his manager, as he does whatever is asked of him with no complaint and I could always count on him to be there for me.
The best surprise of the day was Michaela. She had two hits, resulting in two runs driven in, and she can play some. She was a little anxious at times (the league she usually plays in, as I understand it, starts each batter with a 1 and 1 count – a frickin’ idiotic rule - so she tended to swing at the first pitch anywhere near the plate, which didn’t help her) but she was pretty cool under fire all other things considered.
Of the guys who have been there all year for us, Big Jay had the best day. He didn’t get that record-breaking homer, but he did go 5 for 7 with a double and four RBI. Fast Freddie Goodman wasn’t far behind. He had a 4 for 6 day that included a home run (and it should have been two homers, as he was absolutely robbed by a diving catch on a vicious shot he hit to left field in game one.) Jack Atton, who has been snake-bitten all season (I’ve never seen a guy have so many line drives and good hacks caught in one year) finally had a few miss the fielders, going 4 for 8 with two doubles and five RBI. Finally, a shout out to Paul Dion of the Moe Howard Club, who gave up playing with his own team to round out ours for the two games. He had a three-run home run in the game versus the All-Stars, and caught both ends of the doubleheader (taking lots of good-natured ribbing from his own team in the second game, of course.)
I have every confidence that we’ll come back strong next year. Jack Atton is a fine manager and he’ll find us some good players, gamers who will commit to being around for us every week. It’s strange to feel so optimistic coming off of a miserable season like the one just completed, but I know we’ve got a good core. Jack will fill the gaps and then we’ll give the league some sort of fresh hell in 2012.
FINAL BOMBERS STATS HERE
I’ve got one more game remaining to be played, with The Swingers at M Street, but it’s a make-up of a rainout and I don’t know when it’s going to be rescheduled. I’m sure it will be, since it has playoff implications for the other team. And I was pleased to be asked if I was interested in the fall league. I said yes, so I’ll probably get to play some more games in September and October. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy a few Sundays with MY WIFE and you’ll get a reprieve from me writing about softball for a month or so.
(You could at least act disappointed. Geez.)
Soon, with more better stuff.