Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ambivalent Softball

A few summers ago, I started playing softball. I got into it through the crew I play pickup touch football with on the weekends who played IM slow-pitch softball through BU in the summertime. The BU Intramural league is great because it's competitive, but pretty relaxed. It's a 10 game season with players of varied skill. Not ever having played organized bat/ball sports (mostly because I had always hated it) this was a perfect introduction. My team basked in the fact that we were pretty bad and the self-effacing humor helped cut any tension. While I always hated when I muffed a play, I never felt like the guys got on my case.

Five years later, I still play with those guys and we ended up making a few playoff runs culminating in a pennant win in '05. I've gotten a little better every year and I feel I can play at a mediocre level. This year I joined a work team that plays in a league with other community teams. These guys are significantly more serious about their softball, making a big difference in the team atmosphere. It's very different for me in many ways. First, it's modified fast pitch so instead of slow arching training softballs, I'm swinging at regular softballs rocketing at me at a decent speed. Not to mention that some pitchers have junk to throw, so I see curves, knuckles, and change ups. Secondly, I'm wearing a cup. I'm thinking I want to have kids some day, so gotta protect the junk. I rarely wore a cup in the past, even when I played football in high school and lacrosse in college. I think I was just lucky all those years. Anyway, playing with a cup affects my mobility. I think it's cause my thighs are big and rub together at the crotch anyway. The cup just gives me one more thing to chafe with.

But, really that stuff I've gotten used to. It's the other things that have made this season so much more onerous. I think it's all just part of the game though that as an inexperienced player, I missed out on. I found our team's mission statement while cleaning up after a game, here's a few choice passages.

1) Take the game very serious. This is a community softball league, and scouts could come by to assess our talent. In the last 10 years since leaving high school, your skills have probably increased exponentially, so you could probably quit your day job and head to the Big Show.

2)One way to prove you are ready for the Show is to really get on your teammates when they drop a fly ball or let a grounder get past them. Getting angry and yelling, "Come On!" is an excellent way to motivate someone to get better and very constructive criticism. "I told you to ..." is also a good way to show your coaching ability. It helps if you have other teammates to yell out contradicting instructions to help the player stay focused.

4) Play at least 3 games a week. The more games you play, the more likely it is that your teammates will start cutting out other parts of their lives that would interfere with softball. When they are completely socially isolated, they can feed of the emotional support of their teammate's constructive criticism.

5) Speak in as many different languages as possible to show your commitment to diversity. This is particularly helpful if you are talking about benching a guy who looks Asian and probably didn't take 5 years of Spanish in high school.

So basically, I am at the point where I can't wait for the season to end. I was praying we'd lose last night and get knocked out of the playoffs. Ironically, we pulled off a huge comeback victory after being down 8-0 capped by a 2 RBI single by the only kid who is probably worse than I am. This kid has gotten more grief than anyone, but shows up to play almost every game and came through in the clutch. It felt really good to congratulate him.

For the chance for one more magical moment like that, I'm willing to play one more game.

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