Up until a month ago, I believed I still cut an awesome figure on the softball field.
I moved swiftly around the bases, getting from home to first in under 10 seconds, scooting down to second, stopping to catch my breath, faking towards third, then stepping safely back to second.
In the field, I scooped up grounders (some of them pretty hot), chased down long flies (they seemed long anyway), even pitched a full eight innings on many occasion. This was, to be honest, Senior Slow Pitch Softball. Minimum age: 55. But age is only a number, right? I was a force to be reckoned with. My DeMarini bat, Nike spikes (plastic and blunt, but still they are spikes), Mizuno fielder's glove well oiled and broken in. Even a batting glove, just like the pro's wear. Yep, time is only a figment of the inactive imagination.
There are senior games on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Kind of an open gathering. You show up, sign up
on a batting order/position board. So each time you play with different guys. Lots of fun, no pressure, and most of the guys are 65 or older. There are a lot of excellent players here, and they're all there to have fun. I play only once a week, sometimes twice. Here's a link to info on it. Kirkwood Senior Softball
The other game is more competitive. It's for 55 and over and it's a league. Once a week, on Tuesdays. This is more serious softball, with some incredibly good players, guys who have won gold medals or ribbons or trophies for winning competitions. Even though I wasn't up to that caliber, I had this invincible belief I could still carry my fair share, or whatever the proper sports analogy would be. My trophy case is empty, my chest bereft of ribbons. I got a gold medal once for winning a game, but that was only because the other guys didn't show up with a full team. Forfeit, actually. Still, a medal is a medal.
Then I got a wake-up call. Four weeks ago. The timing on this was remarkable. I was leaving for my Tuesday league game, and I had this gnawing feeling that I wasn't playing quite up to my usual self expectations. It wasn't as much fun as it used to be. Some balls were getting by me that I used to snag. There were fewer and fewer "attaboys" and "way to go." I told Mary Lee, as I was leaving for the games (we play doubleheaders in this league), "I'm thinking I will quit after the games today." And I meant it. She was supportive, said whatever I wanted to do, but I knew she was glad, and her words as I hustled out to my car were, "Don't get hurt." Always her parting admonition. And I always say, "Don't worry. I won't." How's that for a dumb response?
I played the first game. Not a lot of fun but we won and I was okay. I called her. "Hey, the first game is over. I didn't get hurt." Then we started the second game. Late in the game, I covered second base on a grounder to the third baseman. The runner on second broke for third, the third baseman looked at him, started to throw the ball to me. The runner headed back to second. The throw came, I caught it, the runner hit me, full frontal. I held the ball, the runner was out...but something had slipped or bent in my rib cage. It hurt. I said something to the runner about his being too demonstrative (not my exact words). I finished the game, even slashed a single to right in my last at bat. (Yes, slashed!!).
That night my chest hurt. I think I had re-injured a broken rib from this past February. I called Jim, the team manager, and told him I quit. He was sympathetic, even angry that the guy had run into me. Jim has his own problems, struggling with COPD. So ended my higher level of competition on the diamond. I wasn't able to play softball or tennis or bike ride for almost four weeks.
Last Friday, I returned to the field for the older and slower game. The "pitcher" line on the sign-up sheet was blank. I put my name down. I like to pitch. Which I did. Close game. Got into the late innings, we were up by one run. Other team down to their last couple of outs. Hard hitter up there. A younger guy, under 70. Had hit a long-ball home run previous at bat. I lofted one of my hard-to-hit spinning bloopers towards the plate. He took a swing, connected, and less than a nanosecond later the ball was headed at me at about 300 mph. I didn't think. Went to pure reflex. Put up my glove, next to my heart, and the ball went into the glove. I don't think I even remember what happened after that. We won the game and, thanks to remarkable luck, I wasn't dead or headed to the ER.
I decided that afternoon I would not pitch anymore. I will play only where I can get out of the way of hard-hit balls or fast-moving runners. I will not put myself in harm's way. I will not depend on luck to keep me vertical. Like Stan the Man, Sugar Ray, Michael Jordan, I know when time is moving on. No, it's not time to quit. Just time to listen to my wife. "Be careful. Don't get hurt."