Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Sporting Life

When one has remained relatively stationary in terms of one's career for nearly a decade, one earns the right to wax a bit nostalgic about better times gone by.  So sit back, relax and enjoy some jolly good tales, the first of which starts NOW.

Ages ago, when spirits were high and our days were filled with new and challenging activities, we had more exuberance and bonhomie than we could contain.  Although we tried many things (boat parties, hoe-downs, bowling, fancy parties), we still found that we had an excess of energy that needed to be spent in a more physical manner.

This is what I can only assume led to the formation of a company softball team.  When the idea was announced and interest was being gauged, I carefully refrained from comment.  You see, I am not terribly skilled when it comes to team sports.  Actually, I am not terribly skilled at non-team sports either.  Therefore, I make it my general rule to avoid the temptation to join up.

SIDE NOTE:  I forgot, I am actually quite good at badminton.  Just ask my college roommates.  Oh, and Foosball.  I am the champion at that "sport" as well.

Throughout the planning stages of the softball team, I was successful at staying away from the notice of the organizers.  This was largely due to the fact that the chief organizers worked at a different geographic location from me and it is much easier simply not to respond to emails than it is to hide from people beneath one's desk.

But then they went and got all crafty on me; they came to my office.  Ambushed me, really.  I was just sitting at my desk, working away like a little busy bee when the two organizers appeared in my doorway, blocking my exit.  I knew immediately that something was up.

At first I played it cool with a smile and a "Hey, what's up guys?  Can I help you with something?"

They got right down to business, slamming their sign-up sheet down on my desk.

"So, Megan," they said forcefully, "are you ready to sign up for the softball team?"

"Well... you guys, I don't know.  I am not really good at sports.  I mean, I can't throw or catch and I really can't run that fast, so I don't think I would really be an asset to our team, so..." I said in my most emphatic tones possible.  (Yes, I realize that my choice of wording was not exactly convincing, but whatever.)

They then assured me that my skills did not matter, for most of the team was largely unskilled.  As I perused the standing team list, I quickly realized that they were not lying. 

"But," I protested, "I am really not good enough.  I have never really played, unless you count P.E. in 9th grade, and that was, like, TEN years ago!"

"Don't worry," they persisted, "it doesn't matter.  We're just playing for fun."

Then they did the old puppy dog eye trick and I got all flustered and desperate to end this conversation that I caved and agreed to be on their stupid team.  My only consolation was that it appeared that many other females had already agreed and that perhaps I would only ever need to be an alternate.

To clarify, this was a co-gender team.  In the "D" league of our local municipality.  In case you were unsure, "D" is the lowest grade of team allowed, so you can see where our leaders' expectations fell.

One of the league rules was that a certain number of females be on the roster for all games, that the batting order alternated between males and females and that the number of women in the field equal the number of men.  Oh, and if you walked a female, she only took one base.  If you walk a male, they took two.  I gather that this was to avoid deliberate walking of males to get to a female on the assumption that most females were weaker in the hitting department. 

There were a bunch of other stupid league-specific rules, but I let the experts deal with that. 

Let me just say, when my company decided to go for this, they really went for it.  No cheapo t-shirts for us, no sir.  We had the high-quality, breathable mesh jersey-type shirts printed.  The only thing that they wouldn't agree to was putting our names (or nicknames) on the back.  I cursed myself for not using this stipulation as a bargaining tool in our original negotiations, but it was too late.

At this point, you may be assuming that my lack of enthusiasm and skill led to me to skip out on most of the season.  True, this was my intention.  Unfortunately, it is not what actually happened.

The only night of play that I missed turned out to be our opener, a double-header.  This was not due to an overabundance of players; it was because I had been to the doctor that day and received a arm-debilitating tetanus shot.  As much as I would like to say that I did not deliberately ask to get the shot in my throwing arm, I cannot.  I did it on purpose. 

When the painful reaction occurred (as I knew it would) rendering me unable to lift my arm above my shoulder, I informed my captain that I was on the DL for the night.  They accepted this excuse, and I created in my head the belief that perhaps after this absence they would realize that they really didn't need me after all and I could spend the games cheering from the bleachers as I wanted all along.

Oh, but our captain was persistent.  He was upbeat.  He was sickeningly positive.  He would not take "Do I really have to?" for an answer. 

Thus, I played every single game for the remainder of the season. 

To start, they rotated me (along with all the other team incompetents) in that black hole of the outfield, right field.  With four allowed outfielders in a game, our captain's strategy was to stagger us to ensure the less confident were covered by people with skills.  This worked only some of the time. 

My fear was so acute in these situations that I was nearly violently ill every time someone came up to bat.  No matter how many practices I attended or tips I received, I lived in constant fear that I would, 1) not catch the ball, 2) not throw the ball to the right person, and 3) not be able to throw the ball at all.

In the end, my captain took pity on me and moved me from the outfield to catcher.  As much as I hate to admit it, I did not mind this change very much.  Despite the fact that I was constantly running to the backstop to pick up the ball when I failed to stop it with my glove.  Despite the fact that the umpires were constantly pulling me back to avoid having my head in the batter's swing circumference.  Despite the fact that I did get beaned in the head quite hard by a ball on one special occasion.  (I played through the rest of that game, thus garnering a reputation as a "tough person.")

By the end of the first season, I was ready to be done.  BUT, as I am loathe to admit, I actually had fun.

So much fun, that when the sign up went around for the next season, I was on it.  Our second season was to be a bit less fantastic than our first, but I did have the distinction of hitting an unplanned triple that only traveled a whopping three feet from home plate upon my initial contact with the ball.  Beat that, Mauer. 

In our third and final season, the captain made the difficult decision to relocate to a league in a different town.  This meant that my career as a softball player was over.  Mostly because it would be a 30 minute after work commute to get to the field, but also because I was ready to be done. 

I was ready to be done because so many of my coworkers had already left the game.  In our inaugural season, attendance was high; everyone wanted to be there and contribute.  The problem was that we were not a very winning team.  On many nights, we were quite pathetic.  Oh, we tried.  We tried hard.  But after so many losses, it is hard to stay motivated, no matter how hard the captain tried to do so.

So when the second season rolled around, only about half the people from the first season agreed to come back.  This led to our captain looking outside the company for help.  Friends were recruited, and even a couple of "ringers" were brought in (including my brother).  We may have had a slightly better record in the second season, but it wasn't enough.

By the third season, the team was almost 75% composed of non-company players.  I have no idea how they did because I did not attend a single game.  I do know that this was the final season for company softball.  It was not just because of low interest; it was also because of changes in the company and a desire to cut back on expenses. 

It has been a few years since we have had a team, and hardly anyone mentions it any more.  This makes me a little sad.  As much as I fought participation and still abhor the thought of playing sports in a public setting, I appreciated the cohesion and sense of community that it fostered.  Maybe someday someone will bring it back.  Maybe I will have a reason to break out my hot pink softball glove once more.  As long as they let me have my lucky number (7) I might just consider it.

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