With summer fast approaching now is the time of year to dust off the old baseball glove, knock the mud off the bottom of your cleats, take a few practice swings at the batting cage and loosen the old arm up for what substitutes as what is commonly known as the Great American Pastime. It’s the time for all of us so called “wannabees” and “has beens” to climb down off the bar stool and make good on our boasts of our athletic prowess and to maybe capture some of the memories of the glory days gone by or maybe to create some new ones along the way.
It’s called bar league softball and while it’s supposed to be conducted in a coed non-competitive format, well, let’s just say that some things never change.
” A man's got to know his limitations”
Right now, I’m guessing that Clint Eastwood, aka Dirty Harry was spot on when he uttered those words.
It’s been twelve or so years since I’ve tried playing with big boys and girls at this so-called gentle game. Even back then I was probably way past my prime when it came athletic endeavors but ever since my kid took up sports in a competitive way there’s been this little voice inside my head that whispers out to me that maybe I can still cut the mustard. Just like the other parents on her teams, I watch her games from the sidelines and critique her play and drift back in time and think about how I would react under the same circumstances. We’re always the toughest on our own and from what I know about human nature I don’t think I’d be too far off base in thinking that most of the parents gathered around are probably thinking the same things about their own kids.
Re-living the dream…
Some of you out there are probably thinking that that’s a sad, almost pitiful way to go about your business. Others might feel a smile cross your lips as you recall your own moment in the sun, that one time you made that one play that has long been forgotten by most but in your own head you can still remember the situation and still smell the grass and feel the dirt beneath your feet and the cheers of the crowd still faintly echo in your ears.
And so, in an effort to prove to myself and maybe to my kid that I “still got game” I signed on for my local watering hole’s softball team. Since I was by far the oldest guy on the team, I fooled myself into thinking and, when sufficiently lubricated, bragged aloud to just about anybody who would listen that I was once a gifted athlete who could still compete with the all youngsters who still might be able to learn a thing or two from the geezer.
Top of the third inning. Your hero is at shortstop. It’s the position he played as a youth and the one he’s the most comfortable with. The batter hits a hard grounder to third and instinct takes over. I rush to back up the third baseman and as the ball ricochets off her glove I dive back to my left and with my arm outstretched and fall in a heap of dust. Somehow the ball stuck in my glove and I pop right back up looking to make a throw on a runner rounding third. The other teams third base coach holds them and I shake it off secure in the knowledge that I prevented a run from being secured.
After going down one-two three in the bottom of the third, we head back out on to the field. The first batter hits a pop fly down the third base line that look like it will probably go foul but I get on my horse and give chase. I feel like a gazelle, running effortlessly after the ball but get called off by the charging left fielder who makes a much easier catch than I would’ve had to make. As I come to a stop, I feel a small twinge run down my left hamstring but walk it off.
Two batters later, a soft line drive head over second base. With the ball square in my sights I take off running and I’m sure I’m gonna get there in time and make the catch and save the day for the good guys when all of a sudden…
I know it the minute I feel it. It’s a form of agony that goes by the name of a pulled hamstring and folks, for those of you who have had one; you know what that feels like, for those of you who don’t, consider yourselves lucky. To say it hurts like the devil doesn’t give the devil enough credit.
I had to cart myself off the field and sit on the bench and coach first for the rest of the game. My day in the sun lasted all of about about four innings.
Today, thanks to my diving stab, it still hurts when I breath and for all I know I’ve either bruised my ribs and maybe even cracked one or two. My right leg sends me a gentle reminder in the form of blinding pain of my stupidity every time I move it the wrong way or try to put too much weight on it.
I think to myself, maybe I should stick to golf where the only real danger of getting hurt comes in the unlikely form of a wayward golf ball headed your way.
But then I think of the smiles from my teammates and the good natured ball breaking that has gone on since the game (We eventually lost 16-11) was over and wonder if I’ll be ok for next Sunday.
On second thought, maybe Dirty Harry was wrong. Maybe when you try and test your limitations is when you’re at your finest. All I know is that it felt good to feel the sun on my face and the camaraderie of being on a team. It sure beat sitting on the bar stool watching ESPN and waiting for the rest of them to get back and to just hear stories about the game.
At least this time, I felt a part of it.