Yesterday, my softball team, the Ball Breakers, played a doubleheader against the Dragons on the fields of Watsessing Park in Bloomfield, New Jersey. I drove up there and got to the fields early, so I wandered around for a bit, stopping into the Port-O-San and checking out the Wings, sponsored by the NY Eagle play. (Only for the eye candy, which is plentiful on the Eagle's team. Damn them!)
Other Ball Breakers started showing up around 3 p.m. and we had a problem: there were big puddles on the field. Teams with earlier games had played instead not on the ball fields but on the grass in the park. And that's what we were looking at, too. Playing on the grass is hugely problematic. For one thing, the ball does crazy things, making fielding ground balls difficult. But for another, it's dangerous. Running at top speed down the baseline on uneven turf instead of nice soft sand results in all kinds of injuries.
Our opponents, the Dragons, started showing up. The pitcher for the Dragons, a woman named Anna, I love love love. She's a good pitcher: she pitches the ball rapid fire, establishing the rhythm at the plate, making the batter dance to her tune. But for some reason, I can read her pitches like neon signs. I know exactly what's coming over the plate, ball or strike.
Wham Bam, the game was on. The Dragons took a lead early on, in the first or second inning, bringing in like eight runs. And the rest of the game was all about the Ball Breakers holding them defensively and getting in hits. The third baseman for the Dragons had an annoying habit of standing right on the baseline--in other words, In The Way. The umpires were aware of it, and said that according to the rules, they'd favor the runner. But so unnerving to be running from second and see someone standing in your way of getting to third. "Just run her over" said one of my teammates. Easier said than done, since for one thing, she was a girl, and for another, she seemed sweet.
But it caused problems, Ben, our first baseman, having to pull up short to avoid plowing into her. Easier said than done. On the grass. When you're running at top speed. And Ben went down, and there he was, rolling around in agony, unable to decide whether it was his knee or his ankle that hurt him more. And he was out of the game. So we put another player, Anthony, on first and took Ben out of the game. Which was problematic. Anthony has a sprained wrist, so he was less than effective.
But in the end, we managed to climb out of the basement and win the game.
Yay Ball Breakers!
So between the games, our Fearless Leader, George, approached me. "Drew, I'm going to need you to be catcher. I've got to move Billy from catching to first base, since Anthony shouldn't be in the game."
Catching is hard! It's like spending an hour and a half doing squat thrusts. Up and down, up and down. You keep your glove out to give the pitcher a target, and all the while, the batter is swinging a bat as hard as he can right over your head.
The game began, and we took the field first. The swinging-the-bat-right-over-my-head issue was the first obstacle. I just had to pretend that wasn't happening. Left handed batters, in particular, made me nuts. And I also kept thinking that every time the pitcher threw the ball out of the strike zone was My Fault, and I was full of self-recrimination. What am I doing wrong? And another thing. Baseball has been described as the pitcher and the catcher throwing the ball back and forth, with the batter trying to intervene. And the big job of the catcher, of course, is to catch the ball. In baseball, this is somethhing of a bigger deal, because if the catcher doesn't catch the ball, runners can steal bases. In softball, it's only hugely embarrassing. It's that Junior High School Cafeteria experience, where you drop your lunch tray and can just feel every eye in the room boring into you. And yeah, I kind of did that a lot. But the other aspect is that the catcher is a fielding position, and my fielding skills are... ummm... not where they should be. I've been playing the game all these years, and still I'm saying "please don't let it come to me please don't let it come to me please don't let it come to me" with every batter. (NEXT year, I'll tackle that. This year I'm getting it together at the plate.) And the moment came. The batter just clipped the ball, so it went about eight feet from the plate, and that's a fair ball. I lunged off my knees, grabbed it, took a breath--no easy thing as I'm watching the batter tearing to first--and lobbed the ball to the first baseman.
And the runner was out.
And of course, every time we got three outs, that meant I had to get up from squatting on my haunches at home plat and get into the batting line up. Every at-bat, I got a hit, except for once when I got walked. And every time I got a hit, I made it to first base. Mostly, alas, I was stranded. But once or twice, I had the sublime joy of running across home plate! And then it was back to squatting.
In the second game, the Ball Breakers extablished a lead early on. And it was a nice solid lead. But the Dragons managed to get some really impressive hits and our lead evaporated. But we managed to hold them defensively, and then there was that hold-your-breath moment when the tying run was on second and the go-ahead run was on first. And both those guys got home. (Yesssssssss!)
And we won the game. The final score, I think, was 13-11.
So after the game, our Fearless Leader calls us all over to announce who gets the game balls. It's a new thing we're doing this year. Every time we win a game, the managers sit down and decide on an MVP, or at least, the most deserving. For the first game, it was Ed, who made a really stunning catch, and got some great hits at the plate.
And for the second game, it was me.
Everybody cheered with gusto. I was floored. I was holding back tears. (Because as we all know, "there is no crying in baseball!") Fearless leader explained, "You stepped up when the team needed you, you made that great out, and every time at bat you got on base."
I'm the dog of my team. Maybe it's because I never played little leage growing up, or even had a catch with my father, but the basics of the game elude me. I try and I try and I try, but I just don't seem to be gifted with much in the way of ability. Now the Ball Breakers play in the "recreational" division, so only a few of us are truly masterful. And it's not uncommon for guys to come on to the team with no experience, and be pretty sucky their first year. But they get it together more the next year. And the next year. And the year after that, they're even better.
Not so much with me. My sparkling with and personality goes a long way towards making up for it, but sometimes, in the later inning of a close game when we really need some hits, there's a palpable feeling of "oh no" when I come up in the batting order. Which is hard on me, too. I don't doubt that any other team would have strongly suggested that I'd make a great "team statistician" or something, but the Ball Breakers let me keep on playing, and would be sorely disappointed if I didn't.
Which is good, because I truly love the game. Playing softball has brought me some of the best moments of my life.
Life without softball would be all but unliveable.
I have been given the game ball.
Everybody there signed it.
I'm going to find some way of preserving it, and I'll keep it and treasure it forever.