|Some members of the Mission Team in the dugout; yours truly kneeling lacing my spikes w/cap reversed (sorry!)|
From the mid 1960s thru the early 1990s, my relationship to baseball was largely one of a fan—oh, sure, there were playground games, a flirtation with going out for my grade school team, & the odd softball games & games of catch here & there. But for the most part, my enjoyment was that of a spectator.
This changed in the spring of 1994. I was living in San Francisco, had just undergone a break-up of a six-year relationship & also had quit smoking (for the umpteenth time) in the late summer of the previous year. As a result, my appetite had returned with a vengeance, & while I’m grateful that I’ve never had to deal with weight problems (other than losing more weight than is good for me), it’s true that I was probably enjoying ice cream a bit much in the absence of cigarettes & it was starting to show a bit.
That being the case, I decided I’d like to get into playing softball regularly—get into a league—& I was sure that some friends of a friend either played in a league or had a regular, ongoing pick-up game in place on weekends. When I called the friend to ask about this, he insisted that theses friends didn’t play softball, but in fact played baseball.
I questioned this assertion: after all, everybody knows (so I thought) that post high school or college at the latest, people drift away from playing the more rigorous game of baseball—hardball—in favor of the much more leisurely & casual sport of slow pitch softball. Turns out I was wrong.
I ended up at Jackson Rec, a baseball diamond in San Francisco off 17th Street, south of the Mission. The players were a motley crew of varying abilities, many of them musicians from various punk/indy rock outfits. & there were women who played as well as men. & I actually got a hit in my first at bat—a base hit to centerfield that I can still picture. In retrospect, I think my dear friend Dani threw me a fat one.
The pick-up game got me hooked—I was at Jackson every weekend—I think the games then were mostly Sunday afternoons—& when the game moved up the hill to Potrero Rec I followed it there. Before we knew it, the cast of characters became less fluid & more settled, & before the summer was over, a number of us had decided to try our fortunes in the Roberto Clemente League. The pick-up games continued, but now there were practices too! It was all rather absorbing.
In 1998 I moved to Idaho; did play a few more times in San Francisco pick-up games on visits to the Bay Area—in fact, I even got a base hit in my final pick-up game at bat—a kind of weak line drive-in to right field, but a clean hit nonetheless. Rural Idaho, however, didn’t offer this kind of “beer league” amateur baseball, & as I was busy living the life of a boho rancher with guinea hens & chickens & llamas & outbuildings to build & repair, I kept myself busy.
But then in 2000, I was asked to play in the July 4th tournament for local newspaper team. In fact, I was even considered one of the team’s best players, which was truly a new experience to me! I was still in good shape, & also not so terribly far removed from regularly playing the faster & more arduous game to be able to perform capably. Long story short, I was asked to join the town team, which played in a summer league in McCall (there are no winter softball leagues in that part of Idaho!) With the town team, I I regressed to being an average player at best: fact is, I always played best when I felt there was “less” on the line—I used to play a good notch or two better in the baseball pick-up games than in the league, & that was pretty true with softball too.
During this time, I was diagnosed with COPD; in fact it was a softball team practice that spurred me to make a doctor’s appointment—on a breezy, cool May Sunday evening, I got completely winded during batting practice. Given that softball batting practice is not usually thought of as especially aerobic, this got me worried. I played the rest of that season in the league, as well as participating in the July 4th tournament; the next year, I dropped off the team & played one last game in the holiday tournament. In fact, my last at bast was a hard ground ball up the middle for a single.
& then I quit. I decided that given my condition, it was just too hard to play. I remembered a game in McCall in the league when I had to pull myself out of the game for the final inning because I was simply too fatigued & winded to continue. There was another game in McCall where I was playing left field. The opposing team had been peppering left & left center with line drives & I’d been doing a lot of running. A batter hit a drive to left center, but in an area where it was the centerfielder’s ball. Given that our centerfielder was one of our best players, I guessed that he’d handle the ball, & because I was completely “gassed,” I decided not to back him up. Of course you know the rest of the story; he botched the play, the ball skipped away to the wall, & chaos ensued.
Much has transpired since 2002: a full diagnosis of my condition, an increased focus on music as an outlet, a return to writing poetry, & eventually a move away from Idaho & the end of a long-term relationship. My move to Portland brought an increase in physical activity, especially walking—two main reasons here: first, I enjoy walking in cities more (counter-intuitive perhaps, but true); second: no car! Nor any likelihood of having one in any foreseeable future.
But while I might have been getting in better shape—maybe even significantly better shape—than I’d been in. But going back to playing recreational softball? Out of the question.
Stay tuned…more of the story on Saturday!