Softball sorrows and a long discourse on the national passtime

| | Comments (2)

My absolute favorite part of summer is getting to play my favorite sport: softball.

Actually, my favorite sport by far is baseball. But since opportunities for a grown man to play baseball are far too few, softball it is.

I'm on two softball teams this summer. My parish team is 2-6 so far. Our first few games we played well, but lately we have been suffering from a severe inability to get basehits and a deficiency in fundamentals.

For instance: last night we had a guy on first and the batter hit a line drive to centerfield. The runner on first took a few steps off the bag, which was the right idea since the centerfielder was probably going to catch it, and then inexplicably took off for second. After the center fielder caught it, it was obvious that our player simply did not know what to do. The throw came in to first, and he was out by a long shot. Of course, this was the runner's mistake, but we also had a guy on first coaching, who should have been calling the runner back.

On another play, we had a guy in a rundown, but one of our fielders held the ball way too long. Instead of throwing it as soon as the runner committed, he held on to it until the runner was already sliding safely into the bag.

As for myself, I had a great start to the season. Playing third base, I was fielding well and getting on base frequently. But I banged up my bad knee a few weeks ago and it's been hampering me ever since. Additionally, they moved me over to shortstop the past two games, where my reduced mobility has been more of a liability. We're getting our regular shortstop back next week, and I'm very much looking forward to going back to my little corner.

Yesterday was particularly frustrating. I just don't have enough confidence in my knee to get down on the ball, and so I muffed two grounders. Additionally, all but one throw from the outfield that I had to cut off came in on a bounce or two, which makes it difficult to turn and fire an accurate relay. I did nail one guy at the plate - my throw was so far ahead of him that he stopped and headed back for third, but the runner on second had broken for third, so we ended up getting two outs out of the deal. But every other time, the lob from the outfield skipped in and I couldn't make a good throw home. On one cut-off, after I finally did get the ball, I turned and gunned so wildly I almost took the ump's head off.

At the plate, I've been a bit above average most of the year. I don't have a great deal of power, but I can fairly consistently dump it over or through the infield. Additionally, I stubbornly adhere to the "run out every ball" rule. I am absolutely positive that I lead the league in reaching base on an error. My theory is that you have about a 25% chance on any ground ball of either the fielder or the firstbaseman making an error. Additionally, running out the hit increases the chance that the fielder will make a bad throw because if they see you hustling down the line, they are far more likely to rush things and make a mistake. I can't tell you how many teammates' necks I've wanted to wring because they hit a ground ball and lazily jogged down the line; or even worse, took a few walking steps and stopped, or worst of all: tossed the bat down and walked immediately back to the dugout while the shortstop was leisurely throwing them out.

Yesterday, I reached base my first two times on an error. Each time, I hit a sharp ground ball to the left side of the infield, and legged it out. Each time, the throw went past the first baseman. Had I not hustled, the fielder would have had more time to make a more accurate throw.

My third at bat, I laced a beauty that should have dropped in behind the third baseman and would have scored two runs (everybody was running with two outs) - except the third baseman was about 6'5". I wanted to drop it between him and the right fielder, but instead of turning around and running for it, he took two steps back, planted himself, leapt in the air and just nabbed it. My whole team started cheering when I hit it, but promptly shut up when he stretched out and came down with it. My fourth at-bat was a fielder's choice.

In my other softball league, which is a team from the campus Newman Foundation, we are 0-1 with two rain outs because the U of I fields we play on have terrible drainage. We got creamed in our first game, although most of our team was MIA due to a Church function. We should be at full strength this week.

I love playing softball, though I of course prefer baseball. These sports give you the perfect combination of complete reliance on teammates and the opportunity for complete individual achievement (I feel like Robert DeNiro now). There's only one thing finer than stepping to the plate and outsmarting the defense by placing a hit into a gap with pin-point accuracy, and that is playing on a defense that is clicking on all cylinders, with the entire team is catching and throwing and making smart defensive decisions.

Baseball is also the perfect democratic game (in the cleanest, most pure sense of that word). The strike zone is relative to a player's size, giving big and small the same chance to hit. The 5'5", 165 lb Venezuelan and the 6'3" 250 lb Iowa farmboy can both hit .300 and make the all-star team. As proud and as revered as an ace pitcher is atop his mound, he must still put on a helmet and wield a bat, facing humiliation and getting a taste of his own medicine (unless he is in that ridiculous entity known as the American League). The most egalitarian feature of baseball, however, is the fact that in every single baseball game, every team is assured an exactly equal number of chances to score. There's no clock to watch, no coin flip, and certainly nothing as ridiculous as a possession arrow; nay, each team is given 27 outs evenly distributed over 9 innings, and they have to make the best of it. This means that no matter how badly a team is getting beaten, they always have a chance to come back. Many a game has been won in the bottom of the ninth with two outs.

Furthermore, baseball remains the most uniquely AMERICAN sport. Basketball is an international phenomenon now. Football is still pretty uniquely American, but that's because the rest of the world has real futbol, or rugby to watch, which they much prefer. But baseball is still an enigma in much of the world.

This is not to say baseball is only American; Asian and Latin America are of course immensely fond of the sport. This is yet another telling aspect of baseball: where it does catch on, it spreads like wildfire. All of Japan had an electric air when Ichiro Suzuki was a rookie on the Seattle Mariners. His games were shown live in the middle of the night and then rebroadcast all day.

Baseball is the most gentlemanly of games. If the home team is winning in the ninth inning, they don't take their bat. Everybody goes home and we try again tomorrow. The men wear caps and their shirts button up.

Finally - and I really believe this - baseball is a truly Christian sport. It is Christian in that is the most leisurely of athletic endeavors. It perfectly blends moments of intense excitement - think of an inside-the-park homerun! - with periods of seeming (but not actual) inactivity, which provide players, coaches and fans alike an opportunity to contemplate the situation and to strategize.

Contemplation! This most Christian of endeavors has a home in baseball. A day at the ballpark is full of opportunities for contemplation. The action on the field provides enough object, but there are plenty of opportunities to turn one's mind towards higher things as well. The grass, the sky, one's fellow players or fellow spectators - one truly has time to take in and contemplate all during a three hour game.

In fact, I believe that it takes a contemplative to fully appreciate baseball. Understanding the cerebral aspect of this game demands patience. The impatient go mad trying to endure the calm between pitches, even when that calm is weighted with the tension of a full count, or runners in scoring position with two outs, or a potential no-hitter.

Yes, baseball is my sport, and no other. I no longer pretend to substitute in the offseason. I was into the Bulls when they were worth being into, and I'll turn on a football game if there's nothing better to do (which is about never), but it's all in anticipation of spring training. Now that it's summer, and my boys in blue are starting to play like I knew they should be playing, all is well. Even if they were losing, it would all still be worth it, because my passion is for the game itself, not for Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez or Moises Alou.

Yes, all is right in the world. Now, if only my baby would be born...

Bookmark and Share


I guess I'm the only one who waded through this whole entry... so I figure that I have to comment on something. I like the Baseball as a Christian Sport line of thought! That should be developed further. Also, I agree on the running out a boffed grounder, but I admit that I'm not very good at it. Too much anticipation.

Congratulations on Matthew!

its taken me awhile to get around to reading this (what with giving birth and all) but its a great post. the one thing i would add is how much it teaches. all the positive skills you listed are wonderful things for little boys to learn in their formative years. i bet a child psych could say lots about the good development fostered by baseball.


Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on June 15, 2004 9:00 PM.

Could it be? I guess not. was the previous entry in this blog.

"It's kind of like a snooze alarm" is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.