For the past few months, several buddies of mine have been gathering on Sunday mornings to compete in a pickup softball game. I hesitated to play because frankly I wasn’t sure if these games would be competitive enough for me, and I really didn’t want to show anyone up. After all, I still “spin” twice a week (see – issue 64) and came in 1,265th place in that Houston half- marathon earlier this year (see – issue 61). While I may be the same age as many of these “players,” I hardly expect that they can compete on my level. (Then again, who can?)
Each and every Monday, I would hear the recap of the past day’s game from several friends. Countless “inside-the-park homeruns” (obviously errors weren’t counted), diving stabs in the field that almost turned into double plays (but never did), 21-18 pitchers’ duals where one guy would strike out virtually every game (and always had an excuse). But, mainly the highlights focused on injury reports with strained hamstrings and quadriceps monopolizing the post-game chatter. Instead of snow cones and Frito pies (that we enjoyed after Little League games), these players celebrated victories (and near victories) by applying two thin layers of Thero-gesic Penetrating Pain Relief (as advertised by those famous athletes Rush Limbaugh and Paul Harvey). After hearing these gory details, I began to think my doctor buddy who initiated these outings had an ulterior motive. Perhaps he was looking to generate some additional business from his aging (and injury prone) friends. (I just didn’t realize ENTs treated pulled “hammies.”)
As time passed, these games became quite popular as the “40-plus” crowd wanted to drink from that fountain of youth and relive those prior All-Star moments. Soon, enough people asked to play that two separate games were scheduled for a certain Sunday. Again, I was called and “begged” to join one of the squads. Reluctantly, I agreed. Luckily, after a short two hour search, I was able to put my hands on my old baseball glove. It was right next to my bowling ball (that earned me a trophy or two in the 7th grade) and my Rod Laver wooden tennis racquet (that probably still has a few aces left in it). Once an athlete, always an athlete.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
With glove in hand, I met another buddy at a neighborhood ball field the day before the big game to shag some flies, take some “BP,” and run a lap or two around the bases (a feat I assumed I would be doing several times on Sunday). My friend had been playing since week one and had some pointers for me prior to my first appearance. He’s a decent little player; a light-hitting shortstop with an adequate glove who still secretly dreams the Astros may come calling. (They already have Adam Everett for that role.) Since he would be coaching the opposing squad, I suspected he was also doing a little scouting to determine just how much trouble his team would be in. Trying not to be too obvious, he shared with me his strategy of assembling a team with speed to compete against his opponent’s that was made up of sheer power. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that 40+ year old Jewish guys possess neither speed nor power.)
After a few minutes of playing catch, fielding grounders, and shagging flies, I began to feel a twinge in my groin area. (Can I say groin in these newsletters?) Perhaps, I should have stretched better (or at all); perhaps, I shouldn’t have been diving after those hot shots to third (that practically stopped rolling before making it to my glove); perhaps, spinning and jogging are simply not adequate training for hardcore softball. In any case, by the time our 10 minute workout had ended, I could barely walk off the field under my own power. This strenuous episode of “catch” had resulted in a very painful groin injury. Realizing that I was now questionable for the big game, the opposing coach breathed a huge sigh of relief. (Perhaps this was his plan all along.)
THE BIG GAME
I tried to hide my injury and simply play through the pain. (As an athlete, I am accustomed to such challenges.) Recognizing that most teams lack power at the end of the lineup, my coach ingeniously batting me ninth to throw off the opposing team. Likewise, I was assigned to play right field, undoubtedly another ploy to give them a false sense of security. Obviously, they would try to exploit the fact that weaker players typically patrol right field, only to be shocked by my abilities to make plays. In the first inning, I surprised them by making two running catches that may have been inside-the-park home runs with a lesser player in right. (Unfortunately, the All-Star moves contributed further to my groin pull which played a major role in my misjudging two other fly balls that sailed over my head.)
The bigger issue about playing right field was not the countless shots hit in my direction, but rather the long run I had to make to and from the dugout between innings. Sensing that I needed to remain strong for the latter innings (when I had to be at the top of my game), I offered to switch for an inning or two with our catcher (who refused because he was suffering a pulled hamstring) and our 11th man on the bench (who also refused because of a pulled quad). I suspected they feared the ridicule they may face for not being able to handle that position as effectively. Though I continued to fight through the injury, I was actually quite flattered.
Much to my disappointment, my pulled muscle also took its toll on my hitting. Yet, despite a line shot that was stabbed by the pitcher (who may have been seriously injured without his jack rabbit quick reflexes), a seeing eye grounder hit deep in the hole at short that was fielded by that Adam Everett want-a-be (whose scouting the day before paid off), and a hard hit fly ball that had home run written all over it (before being caught in shallow left field), I did manage to go two for five and only once made two outs in the same inning (and, at least, I never struck out).
Throughout the game, the competition grew more and more intense. Ongoing chants of “we want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher,” “let’s get two,” and “a walk is as good as a hit” (there were no walks) gave the game that big league feel. In the end, our team came out on the short end of a hard fought 18-13 battle. I can’t help but feel with a healthy groin the results would have been quite different. We shook hands with the opposing team, recounted plays that could have (and should have) been, and vowed to take revenge the following week. (Four weeks later, I have yet to be invited again.) Dejected, tired, embarrassed, we all had one thing in mind, “where’s the Thero-gesic Penetrating Pain Relief?”.