The last time I played an organized game on a baseball diamond, Ronald Reagan and the Cleveland Browns were still alive, and if you didn’t know what ‘doing the nasty’ meant, then you probably weren’t doing it.
I turned back the clock last weekend when I took the field for a charity softball game, because I feel that if you’re gonna make an ass of yourself, you might as well do it for a good cause. Never mind that first pitch was at six in the morning. Never mind that we were pitted against a team of Amish and Mennonite dudes who looked as if they’d just come from church . . if church had last call. Never mind that I hate softball. It was all about a good cause. Making an ass of myself was the bonus round.
There are times in your life when your body ignores the high mileage on your odometer and gifts you a pass to a time before ibuprofen became a daily supplement. Saturday morning was not one of those times. It took all of, I don’t know . . twelve and a half minutes? . . for my imaginary athletic prowess to be introduced to forty eight years of age. Let’s just say they didn’t hit it off.
I was batting third in the order when we came to bat in the bottom half of the first. In the majors, the third place hitter plays a pivotal role, as he is the table setter for the club’s cleanup hitter; oftentimes, he’s the difference between a big inning and a quick one. In the majors, they don’t just let any schmuck bat third in the order. Softball is a little bit different because as it turns out? They do let any schmuck bat third in the order.
The first pitch wasn’t so much an arc as a dry hump, listing aimlessly as if a retarded hamster in search of a place to die.
I could have clocked its speed with an hourglass, while making fudge. Nonetheless, I let the morbidly obese rawhide nestle inside the catcher’s glove with a cool glare, as if to say Ain’t no thing. The six million degrees of separation between myself and a legit ballplayer is undeniable, but for the called strike. I look pretty damn professional taking a called strike. It’s the only comparison I can rightly muster, but it still counts.
When the next dead hamster came hurtling in at four and a half miles an hour, the shit got real. My bat went medieval as I crushed it deep over the shortstop’s glove before it bounced safely into left center(ish) for a hit. I would’ve left Willie Mays in the dust with my sprint up the first base line, seeing as he is eighty four years old. The crowd was screaming as my foot pounded first base, and that’s when it hit me. There was no crowd. The screaming was coming from my quad muscle, and it was banshee-like. I contemplated asking for time. Then I thought about calling for a stretcher. I really wanted to be airlifted back home, but I thought that would be a little too dramatic. Especially for a softball game.
I manned up, remaining in the game despite my very real desire to curl up into the fetal position and become a mute who only communicated through signing- specifically with my middle finger. The more I stretched it, the more I realized it was just a tweak. This was a horrible fucking turn of events, considering how tweaks aren’t taken seriously the way tears and pulls are. A tweak is like a muscle sneeze. Big whoop.
The game was moving right along and we were down 4-0. Or was it 5-2? Let’s go with 8-1. If you weren’t aware, the Amish and Mennonites take their softball very seriously, and they’re really good at it so there was no shame in losing to them. The fact that they probably thought we were the charity, yeah . . there was shame in that. So I took to praying for a tornado to spare us this reprise of the Bataan Death March when a funny thing happened. We rallied. I singled and scored as we pushed six runs across to make it a ballgame.
In the face of insurmountable odds, we had forged a new destiny through sheer determination and a steadfast belief in each other. The sum of our fledgling parts gave way to a beautiful symmetry of pluck and might and defiance. We took the field as a team now, no longer content to just give them a game. This was our field, this . . was our time. I snatched my glove and jogged to right field as my brain jammed to the theme song from Rocky.
After which they scored like three runs, maybe five . . let’s go with eight. I pulled my hamstring when I misjudged a fly ball so badly you would’ve sworn I was deathly allergic to leather. We stopped hitting, as if our bats had morphed into Tibetan monks. As the game wore on, we began keeping score (theirs) with Roman numerals . . . and that’s why Rocky is a fucking movie.
To the victors might have gone the spoils, but I got a lot out of those couple hours on the diamond. I was reminded of the joys of a simple game of catch and the rolling banter of a restless bench, and the visceral connection you achieve with the dewy grass as you sweep the outfield grass in giddy anticipation of the batter’s next swing. Most of all, I got pain . . lots of pain.
Next year, I’m just gonna write a check and sleep in.