Monday, July 30, 2007

The Monday Softball Diary - Rounding Third

It’s Saturday afternoon. For a number of reasons, tomorrow may – or may not - be the end.

The Bombers face elimination. If we lose to the team named Bacon, in either one of the final two games, it is death. We cannot get into the playoffs if we lose a game. So, these games may be my final two games in the Allston-Brighton Men’s Softball League.

I’ve played in this league for thirteen seasons, since MY WIFE and I moved to Watertown from Dorchester. I was 37 at the time. That’s an age when most athletes, whether professional or amateur, have either already retired or have begun counting down the years on the fingers of one hand. For me, it was the start of the most enjoyable years of my athletic life.

I’ve had a few arguments with teammates. I almost came to blows once. I’ve gone home after games cursing, wondering why I was subjecting myself to some bit of stupid crap or another. But I can count on the fingers of… well, one finger… the number of teammates with whom I’ve ended on unfriendly terms. Overall, I’ve had the nicest teammates a guy could possibly ask for.

(The one fellow I didn’t end on good terms with was an outfielder. He was playing left field as we were getting beaten in the second game of a doubleheader. The game had pretty much passed the threshold of possibility, insofar as winning went. And the other team was hitting bombs to left field; just running this guy from foul line to fence to the point where he looked like he’d just finished a marathon. As manager, I decided to give the guy a break. I asked him to switch up with another fielder. He stormed off the field, thinking I was trying to embarrass him or something. I wasn’t taking him OUT of the game, mind you. I was just asking him to move. I was trying to do him a favor. He didn’t show up the next week, which was the last week of the season, when we needed to win to make the playoffs. We lost.

He was the very epitome of a bad teammate. Whatever he may have thought of me as a manager, he pissed on his teammates by not showing up – if he hadn’t already done that by walking off the field in the middle of a game. If he had a problem with me – which he obviously did – fine. Bitch me out. Take a swing, if you want. But don’t leave your teammates in the lurch. If you think I’m a crummy manager, that’s OK. But I don’t abandon my people.)

I came pretty close to having a fistfight with another guy. He played for the Bombers for 12 years; every year I’ve been here except for this year. I’m a friend of his today, as I was for virtually all of the time he was my teammate. The almost-fight happened eight or nine years ago. Another managerial decision prompted it, of course.

We had lost game one. I was announcing the starting line-up for game two. In game one, he had played the outfield. For game two, I penciled him in as the DH. He gave a loud sigh and dropped an obscenity bomb in my general direction.

I was on a hair-trigger that day, for some reason. I shouted something along the lines of, “What the fuck! Do YOU want to do this? Do YOU want to make out the line-up? Here! Go for it!”

I then threw the scorebook at him.

He made a small move my way, but then stayed where he was, silent. He made no move to pick up the scorebook.

I said, “Don’t just talk about it! Do something about it!” I wasn’t just talking about making out the line-up, of course.

Well, he was in his early 20’s and I was in my early 40’s. He had a couple of inches on me and maybe thirty pounds. I can handle myself, but I’m glad he didn’t take me up on it. I cooled down, he cooled down, and we BOTH hit home runs in the next game and won.

(As I crossed the plate, everybody on the team was saying that he should piss me off more often.)

After that clearing of the air, we were good friends and good teammates. He played hard for me and never questioned a line-up decision again. I hope to have dinner with him sometime soon. He’s told me that he might come down to the field tomorrow to see my final game. That’s very sweet of him to even consider it.

Tomorrow may not come, though. It’s raining very hard right now and Smith Field has hideous drainage. The forecast calls for periods of no rain, however, so…

I hate being up in the air on this. I’d rather that it pour buckets or just stay sunny. I hate going to bed on Saturday not knowing if I’ll actually be playing my (possibly) final set tomorrow.


While I’m waiting, let’s talk about the Flames.

Drive – 12 FLAMES – 6
Robinson/Paige – 19 FLAMES – 10

We had two shots at basically clinching third place, but we didn’t get the job done. Now the team faces a must-win in our final game, just to secure fourth. If we can’t do that, we finish fifth. Fifth place means that we’ll have a much tougher job on our hands. I’ll explain.

In the Flames league, fifth place plays fourth place in the initial round of the playoffs. The fourth place finisher only has to beat the fifth place team ONCE to advance, while the fifth place team has to win two in a row. That’s the penalty for being the last playoff qualifier.

In Tuesday’s game, we had a 2 – 1 lead after one, but we trailed after two and were never a real threat after that. I had a very good game, my first one in a while. I had three solid hits in four times up. Unfortunately, I was erased all three times on force plays a batter or two afterwards.

I really felt good. I was using a slightly different stance, holding the bat back and level. I also started using a larger stride, timing the pitcher’s delivery. It worked very well. All three hits were stroked up the middle, right back through the box. I was on it and I felt really, really good. I was looking forward to our next one, on Thursday, to see if I could get into a real groove for the stretch run in both leagues.

On Thursday, I led off the game by drawing a walk and coming around to score three batters later, on Brian Dillon’s double. I felt good at the plate.

I was not running the bases very well, though. For some reason, I felt very slow. That carried over to the field a bit. I chased a foul pop and couldn’t get to it. I felt like I was lumbering, not running. Maybe it was my knee, but I don’t know. I just felt s-l-o-o-o-w. On another play, the batter hit a pop to short right. I was fooled and took a half step in before realizing it was going to the outfield. I couldn’t recover in time to even make an effort at it.

We led 2-0 after one. In my second at-bat, I was slightly fooled by a change-up. I got it off the handle and grounded to the second baseman, forcing Mike Minchoff.

I came off the field after the third, with us leading 4 – 1. As I got in to the bench, Pete told me he was taking me out and putting Hector Acosta in at first.

I was slightly taken aback. A win would clinch fourth and actually put us into third with a game to play. Pete had said earlier that he was going to handle this as though it were a playoff game. Hector is ineligible for the playoffs, having not played in enough games to qualify. And I’d played in every game this year, the only man on the team to do so. I had just had probably my best game at the plate all year a night ago and I had led off this one with a walk and scored. I wasn’t looking slick on the field, but I wasn’t making errors, either.

I understand Pete’s thinking. Hector has more power and a bit more range at first. Also, we’re not pros. This is an amateur league and Hector had closed up shop early – he’s a barber – to get to the game. Pete wanted to give him some time for that effort. He had replaced Dave Vargas earlier, too, and Dave is easily one of our top players. That was to get another fellow some deserved time.

OK, I understand that, but I really wanted another crack at that pitcher. I really wanted to get into that groove.

Hector went 1 for 2 in my place. He made a good play on a foul ball, getting to it when I wouldn’t have. He also booted a grounder later on, which I have to think I’d have fielded cleanly. I suppose it was pretty much a wash, so no complaints from me. I’m just disappointed I didn’t get the playing time. I really wanted to build my confidence back up.

(As noted last week in this space, managers don’t necessarily have an easy time of it. I’ve been one for way too long to start bitching about another manager’s decision on me, especially when the manager is as fair – and nice- as Pete is. I'm just talking it out here, on paper, to sort out my own feelings, so I can move on and not worry about it. So, OK, I won’t. There was another decent reason to give Hector the playing time, which I’ll talk about later.)

Anyway, the game was going well. We led 6 – 1 after four. Pete had made the right moves and things were going smoothly. Jack Atton was pitching very well. Then the roof fell in.

We gave up six runs in the fifth, on a couple of hits, a couple of walks and a couple of errors. So, we’re down, 7 – 6. In our sixth, Carl Hyman tied the game, driving Mike Minchoff in with a single. Then, in the top of the seventh, we had the worst defensive inning we’ve had all year.

We gave up 12 runs, 1 of them earned. There were seven errors. The team just absolutely imploded. It was shocking to watch from the bench. I certainly don’t feel like going over it blow-by-blow. We lost, 19 –10. We had a short rally in the bottom of the seventh, but it was too little, too late.

Now it’s on to Tuesday and a must-win to have a chance at fourth. And I won’t be there. I’ve got a previous engagement – a concert – that was planned and paid for months ago. I’ll be missing my first game all season. I told Pete about it a few weeks back. That’s the other good reason for Pete having taken me out. Since I won’t be there for the finale, it made sense for him to give time to Hector, who will probably be there. We seemed to have the game solidly in-hand; I was running tired; no real complaints. At least I should be well-rested for the playoffs, wherever we start them from.

(Forgive me, guys, but I’m hoping it rains like a son of a bitch on Tuesday. That way, I can enjoy the concert knowing I’m not missing a chance to contribute.)

And, speaking of rain, it’s still doing it tonight, off and on. I’m hoping for the Bomber games to be played tomorrow, but it’s becoming more doubtful by the minute.


We played them.

Bacon – 22 BOMBERS – 6
Bacon – 15 BOMBERS – 14

No playoffs for us. We didn’t deserve them. We had three shots at closing out some other team, clinching a spot for us, but we didn’t get it done a single time.

We lost our final 9 games of the season. We were 3 – 4 at one point. We finished 3 –13, dead last.

You know what? I had a swell time, anyway. This might be my favorite Bombers team – no disrespect to any of my past teammates, of course. Every one of these guys had a great attitude. Every one of them wanted to play every inning of every game. There was no quit in this team; not even a little tiny bit.

(That’s excluding the guys I cursed out last week, of course. None of them showed this week, either. Good. I’m glad they stayed home. The guys who were here deserved the playing time.)

Ted Williams homered in his last at-bat. Well, there wasn’t much chance of me doing that. The last home run I hit was in 2004, in the M Street League in South Boston. Before that, it might have been in 2000. When you go three or four years between dingers, you can’t realistically expect one to dramatically show up.

In my final at-bat, I singled up the middle sharply. The only thing more fitting (and funnier for my teammates, so I wish I could have done it) might have been a base on balls.

I went 3-for-4 overall in the final game. Hurray for me!

Thanks, Conrad, for the five-for-five wishes. If I had anything truly worthwhile left, I’d love to be your teammate for another five or six years.

Thanks, Jack, for the choice of positions in the last one. I appreciated the offer to pitch, but first is my home. You made the whole year a lot of fun and you saved my legs more than once.

Thanks, Jason, as always, for the laughs. I love the way you can be hard-nosed one minute and cracking a joke the next. Go have a buffalo-chicken calzone, big man.

Thanks, Eric, for bringing the cold drinks all year. You’re a hell of a nice guy and a gamer.

Thanks, Chris, for showing me what youth looks like and reminding me of the reality. I mean that. Man, you have a ton of stuff that I never had even on my best day. Enjoy it, Youth Of America.

Pat, you’re the only guy younger than Chris. You made me feel positively ancient. But, honestly, I’m also proud to have been given your respect – when you weren’t ragging the shit out of me. Listen to the advice your Dad gave you during the final game. Strengthen that arm.

Mike, you’re a pitcher’s best friend and you probably drop more sweat, per inning, than anybody on the team. Thanks for keeping us up when we came into the bench with our heads down.

Joey, I loved playing on teams with you. I hope you take this as a compliment, because that’s how I mean it: You remind me of ME more than anyone else. Any way on and no complaints. I wouldn’t be surprised if you start writing goofy shit like this in fifteen years or so, too.

Ariel, you’re a class act. You always have been. I’m very glad you came over to us this year.

(I wish I had been your height. I would have drawn about 200 more walks during my career.)

Ruby, you bastard. You couldn’t let me lead the team in walks in my final year? My one claim to fame as a ballplayer and you took it from me. Filthy hippie Jew!

Speaking of filthy hippie Jews… Hi, Fred! You’ve been my teammate longer than anyone else. Hell, I’ve known you about five years longer than I’ve known MY WIFE. You’re my good friend, as well as my teammate. I don’t expect to ever retire from that.

(I know. How corny can one guy get? Fuck it. I don’t care. You think that was mushy? Wait’ll you see what I say about the next guy.)

Ron, I have the utmost respect for you, both as a ballplayer and as a man. My biggest disappointment this year is that you were away and I wasn’t able to share the field with you this final weekend. As my manager, you were too nice for your own good. As my player, you were the guy I built the line-up around.

This is how much I respect you, Ron: I grew up in a section of Dorchester populated by a lot of folks who didn’t love black people. I like to believe that I’m not a bigoted guy, but my environment from those years is something I’ve found hard to totally discard, much to my shame. But whenever those types of moronic thoughts show up in my head, all I have to do to get rid of them is say to myself, “Ron Johnson is a black man. How can I possibly think something so stupid, knowing him?”

And I guess there’s really nowhere to go from something like that. I’ve got anywhere from one to eight more games to play in the Flames league, depending upon how the playoffs go, and then I’ll be totally finished.

Prayers gladly accepted.

(By the way, I was so caught up in the games, I completely forgot about taking a team picture. I guess that's a good thing - not that the team would break the lens or anything, but that I care so much about playing that I forget about stuff like taking photos. It's nice to have something that makes you so happy you forget everything else.)


Anonymous said...

Sully, my name is John Leary. I play for the Dot Rats in the Brighton League. On behalf of my teammates, good luck in the future. (If are actually retiring:)The league is losing a class act and a man dedicated to playing the game the right way. Good luck. Your blog has been great to read over the seasons.

Anonymous said...

Geez Sully, I knew you weren't jumping for joy when I took you out last week, but I never thought you'd rip me in print!! My reasons though??? Not fairness, availability this week, or being a good was only that you are retiring and Hector is playing next year, I hope. I wanted to kiss his ass so he'll return to the Flames. If you'll be missed on Bombers as much as you'll be missed on the Flames....who??? Seriously, I've only known you three years but I've enjoyed it greatly. You're a terrific guy and a terrific teammate and still a pretty decent player. I hope to keep in touch and maybe we can be shuffle board partners at the home!

Suldog said...

John - Thank you VERY MUCH for the kind words. If I hadn't thought I might bore everyone to tears, I would have put in all kinds of nice stuff about the other teams in the league, too. I've enjoyed the competition immensely.

Pete - Shuffleboard! Now there's a game I can still play! I wonder what kind of stats they have? :-)

Unknown said...

Suldog - I was guessing you were taken out because of your lame duck status. Looks like my great baseball mind is right. All those years of watching the great Yankee managers has rubbed off on me.

So, how did the last game go?

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