Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hits and Catches: The Part of the Sports Movie Where Things are Going Too Good
                When I decided to write about my return to softball, I thought to myself: “Here’s a way to embarrass yourself on the Internet that you haven’t explored before.” I mean, I’ve already gone into great and disturbing detail about the inner workings of my mind and my shortcomings as a human being on this very blog.
                 But my shortcomings as an athlete? That promised to be a hot take.
                Then, during my first two weeks back, a strange and completely unexpected thing happened: I turned out to be a GOD at softball. No I didn’t. Of course not. No, what I turned out to be was a slightly mediocre slap hitter with zero power, good speed on the base paths but little to no ability to actually control said speed, and a warm body willing to stand in right field for innings on end without getting bored and wandering off.
                Basically, I was like Juan Pierre in a blindfold.
                By no means was I the total package, but by god mediocre is several million times better than what I thought was going to happen. Even though my company’s team has a long history of losing, I still expected my performance on the field to be such an affront to basic human decency that I’d be lucky to only be fired for it and not taken out into the back parking lot, flogged repeatedly and then fired.  
                I returned on Tuesday night for my third game. My team was also there, so already we were ahead of last week. Shockingly enough, my first at bat ended with the ball not leaving the infield, but with me standing proud on first base. Infield single. I went first-to-third on a long single to the outfield and there I was. Standing on third, a stone’s throw from home plate and my first official run of the season (third overall counting scrimmages).
                A co-worker steps up to the plate. Makes solid contact. The infielder won’t catch it, but he will have a play, likely at first. The third base coach says go. I stand there. He says go again. I stand there. He says go a third time and I do the only sensible thing a person can do in that situation: I stand there. The guy gets thrown out at first. He jogs by and gives me the “What the hell?” look. I continue standing.
                I have a long history of ignoring what base coaches tell me to do, but I also think my injuries from the week before came into play. I’d have to run really, really fast to get home safely and I wanted zero part in a high-speed play at the plate.
                But it was totally fine, I got to jog home on the next play when someone else got a hit.
                I also had another hit later in the game and, unlike all of my other hits, it was a doozy. It was still a single, but not only did the ball make it out of the infield, it did so in the air, dropping right in front of the left fielder. I also popped out later to end a potential rally, but let’s not talk about that. Let’s focus on the singles.
                An even bigger accomplishment then getting a ball to leave the infield occurred later in the game. It actually occurred twice. On the defensive side of things. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve spent my time on defense gathering dust in right field, which is basically no man’s land due to the lack of lefties in the league and righties who can hit to the opposite field.
                On Tuesday, I was in my usual spot, fighting the urge to put my glove on my head and pick grass – two skills I perfected during my storied run through little league many years earlier. I heard contact and casually looked around to see whose problem it was. With a growing horror I realized the ball was heading for shallow right, out of reach of the infielders. It was my problem.
                I started running toward the spot where I thought it would land. I was moving more on fumes and instinct than anything else because all of my internal organs had pretty much stopped working so that all blood could be directed towards the panic center in my brain. The ball was close. It was a soft looper and it was coming down slowly, but surely. I reached up my glove and caught it! There were loud cheers! Marching bands were struck up! Fans flooded the field! Ecstasy! Jubilation!
                Then I dropped it.   
                Shame. Horror. Fear. Fans pelted tomatoes at me and threatened the lives of my cats. My supervisor assigned me bathroom-cleaning duty even though the bathrooms are shared among multiple companies are cleaned by paid janitors.
                Then I caught it again. Yay! The ball had fallen out of my glove, but I managed to catch it again before it hit the ground. I was so happy that I forgot to throw the ball back in to keep a base runner at first. He must have sensed my excitement or took pity on my because he went nowhere while my team shouted to send the ball back in.
                I actually caught I second looping fly later in the game. That one I over ran and had to jump a little to keep it from going over my head. That time, I got the ball back in the infield quickly. My defensive prowess had become old hat. We went on to lose the game pretty resoundingly, moving our record to 1-3 for the season.  
                In case you’re keeping score at home, and god knows I am, the evening’s doings have put my stat line for the season at: three games played, 4/10 for a .400 batting average, three runs scored, a big fat zero runs batted in, one strikeout (which in slow pitch softball is nearly unheard of), no errors and two caught balls.
I’m scheduled to play in one more game, not this Tuesday but the following one. Considering how well things have gone so far, there is a very real chance that all hell will break loose at that game just to even things out a bit. Seriously. People could die. Animals could be maimed. Empires could fall.
                Adult league softball at its finest.

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