Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ode to softball

This season marks the 28th year I've played ball. Perhaps that's why my left shoulder hurts. My left elbow also gives me trouble.

So does my back. And my right wrist.

And both knees.

28 years ago did I think I would be a full time softball player? No way. I was 4 years old running across the grass to the infield where my other red shirt clad teammates were playing catch. Like the rest, I'm sure I loved batting more than fielding. Something must've clicked though, because from that summer day so very long ago and every summer yet I've been apart of a ball team. After tball came coach pitch little league (where my Dad helped coach and pitch, and yes he did bean me. A few times), after that came kids pitch, babe ruth, legion ball, and then highschool ball. As I grew up in baseball however I realized early on that I wasn't going to be donning Yankee pinstripes. Politics started early in the sport, and if Daddy didn't know that Daddy or your family didn't live here or there, you weren't drafted into the upper leagues. And if you weren't there, you didn't get noticed. I actually remember at one of the tryouts I was throwing from the mound and looked over to see that not a single one of the coaches was watching. They were mingling around with each other and what not. So I fired the ball over in their direction, it banged off one of the fold up chairs, everyone whirled around and other players in line had mouths agape, and I walked off. It was kind of like that scene from the hunger games.

I was bitter about it then. I'm not anymore.

But then high school ball came around and it was the same story. But I loved playing. I actually love everything about ball. I love the smell of glove oil while you're breaking in a new mitt. I love taping up the end of my bats grip and getting the taper just right. I love the feel of diamond dust crunching under my cleats. I love the look of a field right after it's dragged and the lines are freshly painted. I love all the rituals I religiously adhere to, like never ever touching the foul lines while running onto the field and off it or drawing an "X" in the dirt and then hitting the center of it when I'm on deck. I love how it feels when you crush the ball just right in the sweet zone of the bat and the ball launches out over the fence (you actually don't even feel the hit when this happens).

But I wasn't so naive to think that baseball was really going to take me much farther than high school. It was about this time (at 15 years old) I was asked to help out by playing on my uncles softball team.

And instantly discovered a new love. And haven't looked back.

Is slowpitch softball a sport? Yes. Is it an incredibly athletic endeavor for the elites? No. Does it take a lot of skill to play well? Yes. Can anyone play it? Yes. Can anyone play it well? No. Like all things, it does take practice to get good at. I do commit quite a few swings before the season starts and I do, when no ones looking, practice my foot work drills whenever I think about it. I visualize scenarios and what I'd do in them, I do one arm hitting drills, and yes, I enjoy watching youtube videos of majors level softball.

In short, I'm obsessed with the sport. Just ask my wife.

I've toned down my temper with softball the last handful of years. No longer do I throw my glove violently, or spike the bat into the ground when I pop the ball up. I don't kick fences as often, and I haven't whipped my bat bag into the grass after a loss in a while. I still get frustrated with myself and still don't take losses well. But I've matured and also want to set a good example with my kids watching. It is only a game, and I play on competitive yet laid back fun teams. But there is still pride involved, and when I don't do what I'm supposed to I do get upset. I've just learned to express it a little better.

As bragging rights, the only time I haven't played a game is if I'm out of town. The only time I've missed because of injury is 2 seasons ago when I dislocated my left knee cap. And even then, I came back for the last 5 weeks of the fall campaign. I've played the last 8 seasons with a torn up left shoulder, I have tendinitis in both my throwing elbow and right wrist. I've played with bone bruises, dislocated fingers, sore muscles, nasty colds, run down exhaustion, etc. etc...

I remember back in the day when my old man was in the twilight of his own slowpitch career. He said the reason he stopped playing is because it took him 45 minutes to get his pants on with all the tape and braces he had to put on first. I understand, however I think I'll play until the point, if ever, I just truly can't.

But for now I'm not thinking about that. For now, I'm just focused on when my next game is, obsessively checking the weather reports for that day, and trying to figure out why my swing isn't working like it should.

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