Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Slow pitch

One of the best things about adulthood, bar none, is the fact that no one makes you participate in organized youth sports. I spent a lot of time in my formative years playing youth sports: cheering on my teammates as they charged ahead of me in the batting lineup, bantering with the assistant coaches as I sat out the inning in the dugout, winning the end-of-season awards for Most Sportsmanlike, or, even more humiliatingly, Most Improved. As a kid I would literally spend the entire schoolday dreading Little League practice, wondering what new failure or humiliation might be waiting for me there.

Through the years I sort of improved: my hand-eye coordination got better, and I learned the value of hustling. Even if you are truly bad at something, if you really hustle, you can generally get by all right. (This is true of everything.) In basketball I was able to snatch rebounds and really thrash the ball around to shake off other players, and I was tenacious at defense, keeping my eye on my opponent's midsection so he couldn't fake me out. In baseball, after I would completely miscalculate a line drive or a fly, I would run extremely quickly to wherever it landed on the ground and hurl it back towards the infield. There was a real upward trend.

Now, of course, I'm a grown-ass man, with a wife, an advanced degree, a professional career, my own apartment, copious student loan debt, and the freedom to fill my leisure time as I see fit. Rarely in the last decade has this included organized sports, save from individual efforts like running, which doesn't involve catching things. Yet tomorrow, dear reader, I will be playing on the firm's softball team, as we face some other corporate team at a ballfield on Roosevelt Island. That's right -- it's time to play Little League for adults, except now, rather than play with random kids from other elementary schools, I get to play with my coworkers! Awesome!

Obviously I am not going into this unprepared. Last Monday, when I found out that I would have to be playing softball in a little over a week, I promptly went to Sports Authority and spent about $60 on miscellaneous equipment. I also spent another obscene amount of cash to rent a batting cage at Chelsea Piers on Saturday. Anna, John, Mona and Ashesh, who were very good sports about everything, accompanied me. It was actually a lot of fun, even though we were surrounded by children's birthday parties. As I stood in the cage, my body ratcheted into the familiar position -- knees bent, shoulders cocked back, forearms tense, breathing steadily, whimpering slightly -- I felt the same good old sense of panic. Blood pounding in my temples, queasiness in my gut, the whole deal.

By the end of the hour (at which point we had all thoroughly lost interest in batting) I was feeling a lot better. After a couple of tragicomic whiffs at the beginning, I was making contact with every single slow, loping pitch, knocking the softballs into some solid line drives and a few angry grounders. I realized that I made better contact if I stepped a little farther back from the plate. I felt confident, even though most of my hits felt ugly against the bat, giving me that ringing feeling in my hands, like I was batting with a piece of rebar.

So that's where things are. Tomorrow night is softball night, unless it rains or something, which would obviously be horrible. In the evenings I have been oiling up the new baseball glove I bought, which feels cheap and plasticky on my hand, and there was a moment the other night when I smelled the leather, and I threw the ball into the pocket and held it there, and I realized I was actually kind of excited to get out there and see what happens. Not that this is redemption, or that I even need redemption, but maybe I will surprise myself. It could be something good, you never know. Batter up...

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