Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We’re Talking About Playoffs: The Actual End of the Whole Mess

The playoffs began and ended for my team last night. By virtue of our less than impressive regular season, we’d been granted a one game playoff against another team who had a less than impressive regular season with the right to go into the actual playoffs and likely get smoked by a bunch of professional amateur athletes on the line.
                There was some concern as to whether or not we’d actually get the chance to play last night due to looming thunderstorms, but as 6:30 rolled around, we bravely took the field, ready to thumb our noses at Mother Nature and dare her to do sumptin’ about it. Well, that’s not exactly true. My team took to the field. I, on the other hand, took to the bench. That’s right, an astonishing five games into my return to softball, my team finally realized what many a gym teacher and little league coach had long since known: I was most valuable defending the dugout and offering words of encouragement to my teammates.
                For the first time all season we had an extra player, which meant the guys on the team would have to rotate, one person always sitting. Wisely, I was the first person chosen to sit and the team got off to a good start. I was also listed at 10th in the batting order, right near the bottom, another smart strategy.
                Let’s talk about the offense first, because this is the part that’s least interesting. First at bat, I work a five pitch walk. This is shocking because I have honestly no clue what the strike zone looks like and since none of the pitches were over my head or in the dirt, they were all ones I’d usually swing at. My only explanation was that I was momentarily overcome by the magnitude of what I’d done so far that season at the plate and thinking of all those infield singles paralyzed me. Eventually I came around to score when one of my teammates hit a ball deep into the outfield. My next at bat, I ripped a grounder right at the third baseman or shortstop who couldn’t make a play on it, allowing me to safely reach first on what I’ll go ahead and call an infield single.
                And that was it. Two plate appearances, one official at bat. We had kind of a rough night at the plate and in the field last night as a team, so the game I believe wrapped early.

                Out in the field. This was an adventure. After sitting the first inning, I was moved back into my home in right center where I had to toss the ball into the infield once or twice, but nothing major. Then something truly shocking and awful happened. Something that sporting tacticians will debate for millennia to come: I was put at third base. The hot corner. Chipper Jones’ living room. I’d gone from playing a position that a napping groundhog could easily play to potentially the hardest spot on the field.
                In all my years of playing sporting games with bases (baseball, softball, kickball, mat ball) I can only remember not playing the outfield twice: Once was at a baseball practice where I was allowed to play catcher. It was a disaster, I forgot you were supposed to crouch and just kneeled the whole time and once when I went to throw the ball back, I hit the top of the batting cage. The only other time I was let out of the outfield was in kickball in gym class. I played second base and was accused by the other team of cheating because I was blocking the base path. The trouble was, I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I just thought I was standing there, ready to play the ball. I had no concept of where the base path was or my proximity to it. Rather than explain to me what I was doing wrong, my wonderful gym teacher threatened to remove me from the game if I didn’t knock it off because I guess she was bummed by life choices which led to her wearing swishy pants to work every day.    
                My first inning at third last night (yes, you read that right) was wildly uninteresting. I didn’t do much, the ball never really came my way and I did my best to avoid blocking the base paths whatever that meant.
                I was moved back to the outfield (left center this time) and spent a good deal of the inning chasing down balls that were alternatingly hit over my head or twenty feet in front of me.
                Then it was back to third because you know what they say about quitting: you should never do it while you’re ahead. And in this inning the shit went screaming into the fans. First batter drives a rocket of a grounder right at me, off the middle finger on my throwing hand and into the outfield. Next batter drives a slow grounder right at me. I pick it up and, with all the confidence of a guy who belongs buried deep in right, threw to first. The ball had the distance. What it also had was a wicked curve that saw it break away from the first baseman and directly at the head of the poor sap who had mistakenly hit it in my direction. Luckily she managed to make it to first without getting a softball embedded in her left ear. At this point, with a play at third, the shortstop had to direct me where to stand. It looked dangerously close to blocking the base path, so I stepped back for fear of being shouted at by a short chubby woman in swishy pants. I’m not bitter. The ball went into the outfield and someone had to yell at me to get over and cover third since I was still terrified to get too closed to the bag. Luckily, there was no play and the rest of the inning went on without incident.    
                The game ended shortly thereafter, our hopes for playoff glory dashed resoundingly. Still, it was a noble effort to cap off a wonderful season which saw us win two whole games, but more importantly, have a lot of fun in the process, if I may be so sappy.
                My personal line for the year ended like this: six games played, 7-19 for a .368 batting average, six runs scored, one walk, two catches on defense and at least two errors from my time at third, maybe a few more from my time elsewhere. I also managed no RBIs, three strikeouts and 0-2 with the bases loaded.
                So, what have I learned from all this? Is it that I should stop being so pessimistic and to realize that I’m not so bad at softball that I could accidentally throw the world headfirst into WWIII best case scenario or worst case we go straight from me striking out to the apocalypse?
                Of course not. The lesson here is that we all got damn lucky and everyone should pray extra hard that my team decides to skip softball in the spring and try water polo or something, otherwise I may just play with them again and, if I do, there is literally no telling how bad it could get. It’s like the great Yogi Berra always said: “You’ve all been warned.”

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