“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America
has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a
blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.
This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all
that once was good, and that could be again.”
–James Earl Jones, in “Field of Dreams”
After the last couple of days, with a Monday that had too much happening for my little brain to handle, and a Tuesday fighting with a laptop that was convinced I’d just invented wireless long-distance DSL (not to mention trying to deal with the sudden flood of pictures from my past), I needed to get away. I needed to spend some time with the love of my life.
I can’t help it. I’m a romantic fool. When I want to escape, I try, somehow, some way, to a broadcast of my beloved Kansas City Royals. At the very least, I turn on ESPN’s gamecast on the Web and follow the game, and usually they break my heart yet again.
I was going to say it’s my own damn fault, but maybe it’s not. I can’t help what I am. I’m Scottish. Clan Farquharson. Our motto: “Fide et Fortitudine.” That’s Gaelic for “Fidelity with fortitude.” Today we might say, “Loyalty with guts.” That’s why I’m a Royals fan in St. Louis. Or at least that sounds good.
In my younger days, I’d go out and play myself. I never was all that good, but I poured every last drop of my heart and soul into playing the game, and I’ve got enough of both that I didn’t spend too much time on the bench. My coaches always knew I’d give 200 percent if I had it, or, more likely, I’d die trying.
And I miss my younger days, the days when I was naive enough to think that baseball was life, the days when my biggest concern was whether I’d be playing left field or second base the next game. Well, the days when I could play honest-to-goodness baseball are long gone. But when I got wind of a softball team being organized at work, I signed up.
Our first practice was yesterday. I’ve played in exactly two softball games since 1996. By 1996, by skills had deterriorated to the point that I was strictly a second-string catcher. I could still hit, but I was a contact hitter with limited speed, and in the field I had limited range and my glove skills were shot. And my greatest skill as a catcher, by far, was talking up the pitcher and getting on the opposing team’s nerves.
Well, I’m probably in worse shape now than I was then, but, betting that my peers have deterriorated more than I have over the past five years (a fairly safe bet, seeing as I’ve pretty much always laid off the beer), I’m attempting a comeback anyway.
Practice went well. In a three-inning practice game, I went two for two with a pair of singles. The first was a close play at first, or should have been, but the first baseman didn’t handle the throw. I ran to second, but the second baseman fumbled, and by the time the shortstop managed to get to the ball, I was rounding third. What the heck, I thought, and I kept on going. The shortstop fired to the plate, the catcher took the throw cleanly, turned, and just managed to nick my lower right leg with the tag a half-step from the plate. Some people thought I was safe, but he got me.
My second hit was a looping single to right. I rounded first, trying to draw a throw, but I couldn’t get the right fielder to bite. The next play was a grounder to short. The shortstop threw to second for the force–I never had much of a chance. The second baseman was a female. Mac user. In my younger days, I’d have flattened the second baseman, just for being the second baseman and in my way. I didn’t this time. It was an intrasquad game, after all. And I guess I’ve mellowed out with age.
In pre-game BP, I ws trying to be a doubles and triples hitter, but once we actually had players on the field, I remembered that in softball, you don’t really want to do that. Unless you’re an honest power hitter (I’m not, at least not at the beginning of the season, and my wrists are still extremely weak so I may never hit for much power again), you just want to put the ball in play and force the other team to make mistakes. I think the game’s more fun that way anyway. I love being scrappy and disruptive.
In the field, I made two putouts. I played an inning at second, an inning in right, and an inning in right center. Nothing happened at second. In right, I got a sharp fly ball with no one on. I don’t even remember the last time I played right field, but I made the grab. That throw to second was harder to make than I remembered it being. In right-center, I pulled in a lazy fly ball from someone I expected to have more power than that. There was a runner on first, but she pretty much stayed put. I probably wasn’t a threat to throw her out anyway, but I don’t think anyone else knew that. When you make the catches, people tend to assume you have a good arm too, until you prove otherwise.
I’m not the slowest player on the team by a longshot, which is good. I’ve never been all that good defensively, but I think I know why now. I was talking to a coach last year, and he pointed out that fielding is a totally different mentality. You’ve gotta relax out there, then when the ball comes your direction, run to it, watch it, and grab it with two hands. I always used to tense up in the field, and I’m betting that was the problem. After trying to leg out that infield homer (actually it would have been a single and a three-base error), I was too tired to tense up, and I actually made all the plays.
Yeah, I’ll be sore in the morning, and probably the next morning too. But that’s good. I need a reminder of how much fun I had last night, trying to score on my own infield single.
Confound it, I shoulda slid.
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