There was a time, long ago, when I was physically active. I wrote this back then.
I like playing softball. The only problem is that I’m not that good at it. I’m a better observer than player. This is not a good thing, especially on the field. Grounders go through my legs and strikes loft into the catcher’s glove undisturbed.
I heard that our church had a coed softball team in a local city league, and was looking for participants. “You’ve been excellent at warming the bench for years at the little league”, my mother told me. “Why don’t you go warm the bench for the church team?”
It seemed a good idea, but I’ll admit I was a little skeptical at first. Our team would be defending the city league championship for the second time. We would be playing many challenging teams from large corporations around town. What if they were too overbearing and talented for us? What if I messed up? Would I be ostracized and humiliated by my fellow Lutherans? Could I play up to par? The city’s deputy police chief was on the team. He was a brute. He had muscles in places that I haven’t even got places for. When he hit the ball, the ground shook. We should have nicknamed him Casey.
Regardless of the obvious pressure, I signed up, knowing that I would thoroughly enjoy it and that it would provide an obvious opportunity for me to go buy a new pair of cleats. New cleats are vital to the success of a ball player. If the shortstop misses a sharply hit ground ball, take a look at his shoes. If they’re old and worn, that shortstop has no excuse for not stopping that ball because he’s a veteran. He’s been marked and doomed by his cleats for all to see. If, however, the second baseman misses a slow dribble, and he’s wearing new cleats, no one holds it against him. He’s obviously new at this. Boy, did I ever need those cleats.
My troubles began right with the first practice. Softballs carry differently than baseballs. This was a lesson I learned the hard way…as I ran…long distances…after the balls I missed. Softballs are also harder to throw in a straight line. When I throw them, they tend to float down like snowflakes. This gives the opposing team plenty of time to calmly waltz around the bases and score many runs against us while the catcher has a nap waiting for the ball I’ve thrown to land.
Hitting was only slightly better. You’d think that after having baseballs whipped at me by gorillas on the pitching mound in little league, slow-pitch softball would be a breeze. It was. I could feel several breezes each pitch. First came the breeze made by the ball floating by me. Then came the breeze made by my bat hitting air. Then came the breeze from the coach as he exhaled deeply in an effort to remain calm. The balls came in at an angle I’d never had to deal with before when hitting: straight down. It was as if it was hailing softballs the size of…softballs.
To top it all off, they told me I had to learn a whole new set of rules. Some, such as the ten run, sixth inning mercy rule, were meant to shorten the game to its strict timeframe of an hour. Another was the pitching count. You went up to bat with a ball and a strike already on you. I thought they were joking. Then I heard “Striiiiike two-yerrrrr out!” Seeing as how this was a coed team, other rules had been changed to “even the playing field” (everything but the pitcher’s mound). The batting order had to alternate between the sexes. Women got to hit a smaller softball. It carried farther and was easier to throw. Men got the regulation-sized one with dimensions roughly the same as an Oldsmobile. If a man got walked, he advanced directly to second, and the woman batter behind him got the choice of taking her chances at the plate or taking the easy way out and going straight to first. Other rules simply were made to throw a loop in things. For instance, if you hit a ball out of the park, it wasn’t a home run. It was an automatic out. Luckily, I never had that happen to me. I was worried, though, and tried my best not to hit the ball hard. It’s the only reason my season batting average was 2.75, honest.
Despite my best efforts, we still won the championship that season. In a weird turn of events, I even came off the bench to hit in the winning run, which happened to be our deputy police chief. He landed on home plate with only a minor earthquake. I had tapped a little dribbler to the left side of the shortstop, and the second baseman bobbled the ball off her chin. I made sure to thank her afterwards.
What do you not excel at?