“You’re still playing softball?” my daughter asked incredulously tonight as I hunted for my crusty cleats, as if somehow being too old, too slow and, well, bad would suddenly stop me from playing in our co-ed softball league this year.
I mean, why should this year be any different?
Playing for our Red Star Tavern team isn’t about being the best or making every play or, in my case tonight, any play. It’s about the camaraderie, the joy of competition and the drama of seeing how many of us are going to end up in the emergency room each week.
Tonight, Sean and Betsy left the field with deep, bloody gashes in their respective knees. You can’t get that kind of entertainment sitting at home, particularly since ER is off the air.
Betsy bought it rounding third, her cleat sliding across the damp base and sending her face first into the mud about a quarter of the way toward home. Later, most of the other women agreed they would have crawled back to third at that point. I said I would have simply stayed there, called my husband and had him bring the car around.
But Betsy is a trooper. Knowing the score was tied in the bottom of the sixth and also being somewhat influenced by Sean barreling around third behind her, she picked herself up and actually slid under the tag at home, thus shredding whatever skin still remained on her lower extremities. Sean would score on the next ground ball, also sliding and being the nice guy that he is, coming up with a matching wound suitable for suturing.
I should point out that we were at an unfair advantage tonight. Normally, we are one of the more competitive teams in the league. Tonight, however, we played against one of those teams that is particularly galling in the adult softball world, and that’s the opponent with players younger than yours.
Their clean-up hitter looked like he was still in high school. Their women were sneaky good. And their secret weapon was the player you really hate – the short, squat middle-aged guy who needs a pinch runner to get to first on a walk and looks like he should be bowling, only to rear back and hit a screaming 400-foot home run to clear the bases in the seventh.
By this point, I was playing catcher, after having already booted two balls in the infield, moved myself to right and now was needed to replace Betsy behind the plate since she could no longer bend down.
Let me pause here for a second to say something on my behalf. I used to be good. I swear. Softball was my best sport when I was younger. OK, much younger. But I had a good glove and an above-average arm and OK, so I could barely hit my weight. That’s not important right now.
A few years ago, when I joined the Red Star team, I guilted my husband and kids into coming to a game. I thought it would be a fun time for them, make them proud even, as they saw me streaking across the field making diving catches.
Afterward, as I limped to the car, my husband couldn’t help himself. “Gee, honey,” he said, not trying nearly hard enough to erase the condescension from his voice. “You’re kind of, um, slow.”
I was incredulous. I mean, of all my qualities as an athlete, I was never slow.
“Slow?” I asked meekly.
“Yeah,” he replied gently, “really, really slow. Like you were running in slow-motion slow.”
After punching him in the arm, I had to admit I had noticed certain changes as I got older. When you’re young, you see a ball and you run after it. But then one day you notice that when a ball is hit, your legs must first have a brief conference with your brain. During that one- or two-second delay as you consider moving, your brain is now having a discussion with your central nervous system. At some point, your legs enter into the equation and by this time, the ball is dropping and your pitcher is yelling at his shortstop and leftfielder as our pitcher Andy did tonight when he shouted out, “God, are we old.”
He spared our third baseman Melody, who – no lie – gave birth six weeks ago. Andy is nothing if not a gentleman.
Because it is my blog and I am no longer operating under the ethical standards and practices of a real newspaper, I’m going to say we won tonight. And while I’m at it, I’m going to say, since they asked, that Josh made a diving catch in left and Andy was 4-for-4.
I’m also going to say I beat out a throw to first, my back isn’t killing me right now and that the fat guy struck out to end the game.
That makes me feel so much better.