copyright Bil Lepp 2014
I play in a co-ed summer softball league that is quite similar to what Renaissance re-enactors do. We all show up in costumes that resemble uniforms worn by actual ball players, and many of the us harbor the fantasy that we can actually play softball. We even go to places where real softball games have been played and we try to act out what happens in a softball game. We say historically correct phrases such as, “Swing batter,” “Atta boy,” and “There is no crying in baseball.” Like re-enactors, we learned these phrases from movies and books.
In truth, some of the players are very good, but they are in our league simply to pass the time when they are not playing in a real league. The rest of us tend to group together like wounded water buffalo, hoping the rest of the herd will keep us hidden from the carnivores. We are an entire league of people socially conditioned to migrate to right field, people who believe the coach must be talking to someone else when she says, “Go play second base.” We are the people for whom participation trophies were invented.
We should have team names like ‘The Last Picks,’ or ‘The No, He Was on My Team Last Times.”
The truly good players are at shortstop, left, left center, and first. I say ‘left center’ because we field ten-player teams with four outfielders because, as I said, most of us are natural right fielders so the rules provide double the opportunities to play out there. So, ‘right center’ is a person with just slightly more skill than ‘right field.’
Even losers have a hierarchy.
Our team actually has a good right fielder, which is a conundrum I often ponder while playing right center.
A short history of my softball experience would include two years in T-ball during which I never got a hit, and then in college our theater group had an intramural softball team. We were called Wounded Goose. We figured out that the frat boys on the other teams assumed we were homosexuals, since we were thespians. We encouraged this assumption, which was not entirely wrong, and wore pink turtlenecks as jerseys. The other teams didn’t want to tag us out because they were afraid they would ‘catch gay’ if they touched us. This came in handy on the rare occasions when we got a hit.
Our current league is designed to get the games over with quickly. Each batter steps to the plate with one ball and one strike against them. It is not a league full of great pitchers. Even mediocre pitches are called-up to the better leagues. Because the pitching is bad, there is an unwritten rule that you are supposed to swing at anything you don’t have to turn around to hit. A pitch has to be way out of the strike zone for you to let it pass without suffering scorn from the ump. The ump has to officiate four or five games a night, and he often starts drinking beer before Game One, and doesn’t let up until the last out is called. Beer doesn’t make him a worse ump, but he will call you out so he can go pee.
I shun the shame of walking. I like to walk. It is not only my best chance of getting to first base, it is my best chance to get to second base. We bat male, female, and if the pitcher walks the male, then the woman behind him in the order can walk as well, if she wants to. This keeps pitchers from just walking all the guys. I bat second to last in the line-up, which means the person who bats after me is an equally bad batter as I. So, it is strategy. If I walk, she walks. I’m on second, she’s on first. If there are already runners on base, they advance as well. With one walk I can produce two RB(W)Is and put myself in scoring position. So why swing?
You know why. There is little more satisfying in the world then swinging the bat just right, hearing the smack as the ball changes trajectory, and then watching the ball curve over the raised the glove of the leaping shortstop as you run toward first thinking, “My ball is going to land in the grass!”
Even when the only people in the bleachers are the teams waiting for the next game to start, even when the left fielder lights a cigarette when you step the plate, even though your manta is, “There is no shame in a walk,” the reason that even the losers return the diamond year after year is because even in the worst league, there is merit in a hit, and great satisfaction in making the ump have to wait even longer to pee.