Batter Up! Bottom of the 4th
Making a Comeback
So, I didn’t play any ball from my late 20’s until my 50’s. I coached a few youth teams while my son was playing, but unlike his old man, he didn’t try to fashion himself into being an athlete that he wasn’t. He was more drawn to theater, so after a season of T-Ball and one season of coach-pitch Little League, he moved on to soccer, track and field, then into theater, where he found his niche. As an adult, he has discovered a sport of his own — rugby!
I might have been a theater kid myself, if things had worked out differently. Before I really got into sports, I was very much into recreating the dramas I fell in love with the music from, like West Side Story and Camelot. When my family got its first stereo console when I was around 7, most of the albums they purchased were musical soundtracks. I fell in love with West Side Story and Camelot, and used to like to recreate the scenes from those musicals with my friends when we played together. I was a little director in the making — I would memorize the words to the songs, and envision the scenes and try to direct my friends in playing the different parts. This was when I was 7 years old.
Somehow, the theater-play gave their parents some angst — I never knew why — and I was banned from hanging out with them. That sort of ended my theatrical aspirations. I was made to feel like something was wrong with doing that. That was right around when brother Chris took me to my first ball game at Forbes Field, so I dove into baseball, instead. I never dove back out of that sport, although for a period in the early to mid-70’s, my interest did wane for awhile, after my hero, Roberto Clemente, went down. But baseball is the one thing in life that has always made sense to me.
During the years that I didn’t play any sports, I did yearn for the day that I would get back out on the field. We moved to Virginia when I was 42, and I set my sights on playing senior league softball when I turned 50. I figured by then, Jonathon (J.B.) would be old enough that he wouldn’t need me carting him around as much and I’d have a little more time on my hands.
As it turned out, I did return to the field at age 50, but not to play senior league ball. We had just joined a church congregation, and they were looking for players for their men’s softball team. Their team played in a Master’s League, which was for men 35 and older. I went out for the church’s team and quickly discovered that I still had some game. I became that team’s regular left fielder that first season, and got to bat up in the middle of the order. I had a penchant for driving runners in, and soon acquired the nickname “RBI”, which stands for Runs Batted In. I really had a blast that first season back to playing ball. The season pretty much ran from June to August, and the team played 20 games, plus an end of season tournament of about 4 or 5 more games, depending on how well we did. We won a total of 1 game on the field that year, and 2 more when the other team forfeited a couple of games.
The next season, the guy who’d managed the team the year before asked if I would take the reins. He’d banged up his legs pretty good, and didn’t want to manage if he couldn’t also play. So, I took over as manager. I’d always wanted to try my hand at playing 3rd Base, and it turned out that our 3rd baseman from the year before had suffered a terrible injury in the end of season tournament. A hard-hit ground ball had taken a weird hop right up into his face, breaking his nose and shattering his eye socket. He was done with competitive softball after that, and nobody else had much of a stomach for playing down at the Hot Corner after witnessing that scary injury. So I penciled myself in as the team’s third baseman, by default and by design. I was the only one who wanted to play down there, but it was the position I wanted for myself, anyway. It was, after all, the Hot Corner, where the toughest action happened. I wanted to be there for those hard shots down the line. I wanted to test my mettle on those kind of plays.
That year, in addition to playing and managing on the Church team, I answered a call for players by a senior league team, the Diamond Fever, so I could play some games where I wasn’t also managing. That was quite an experience, playing for the Fever. Those guys were some serious ballplayers, who’d been playing for years and were now in their 50’s — I learned a ton from playing with them. It was great just being one of the guys, as opposed to being “the man”, managing the church team. While the Diamond Fever won a lot more than they lost, my church team struggled. We again only won one game out of 20 that first season with me as manager, but we played well in the end of season tournament, coming in second place in that. That was a beginning.
I got some feedback from my manager on the Diamond Fever about my skills at playing 3rd Base — “you have great footwork and make the plays on the batted balls down there as well as anyone I’ve seen, but your throws to first are erratic, and you don’t have enough zip on the ball to be a solid third baseman.” He generally played me more at second base, sometimes shortstop, or in the outfield. I didn’t really care — as long as I got to play, I was happy. I figured I could work on my throws, and become better at third on my team. I eventually did.
That fall, the league reached out to see if we’d be interested in playing in a fall Master’s league. I was into it, and the team was into it, but not enough other teams were, so the fall Master’s league never came to be. However, the league commissioner came back and asked, “Would you guys be interested in playing in an all-ages fall league?” I posed that question to the guys after our last game of the summer season. One player said, “All ages? We’ll never win any games in that league!” Somebody else said, “What’s the difference? We never win any games in this league.” All agreed that they’d like to keep playing into the fall, so we entered the all-ages league then, and never looked back.
I started reaching out to recruit some younger players, and that’s when the real fun began. That’s also where the bottom of the 4th inning will end, with the home team getting creamed — but there is still a lot of ball to be played. Come on back for the top of the 5th, when the church team becomes the “Diamond Flames”, and starts learning how to win.