Opening Day 2018

It’s not quite forty degrees here in New Jersey.  It’s cold.  Hand stinging cold.  It’s the cold that makes your nose and ears hurt. 

Did I mention it’s April?  I think the fact that it’s actually spring makes the temperature outside that much colder.  

At least the sun is out, though the day will remain in the low-40’s.

Yet, even with the (close to) frigid temperatures, I am excited, very excited, unbearably excited, to get outside this afternoon.  Today is the Opening Day of our softball season.  

I just love to play ball.

Even if it’s cold.

I have been playing in various competitive men’s softball leagues for the better part of the last thirty years.  Growing up, I was convinced that I’d be a New York Yankee.  I wasn’t good enough.  Not even close.  I never even made it to high school varsity.

This then, is, and has been, my Major Leagues.  

I just love to play ball.

Today I’ll be playing for a brand new team.  They drafted me to be the young hot-shot rookie.  This is probably the last time I’ll ever come to a team as the young guy – my last rookie season.

This new team I am joining is in an “Over-50 Men’s Softball League.”  I’m not (quite) fifty yet (but I will be this season so I am eligible to play).  I was told by a teammate that the “young guys” like me will be expected to play all nine innings so the older guys can rest a bit.

I love the fact that they want me to play all nine innings!  I can’t wait!

This year I’ll actually be playing in two leagues.  In my hometown of Wyckoff, New Jersey, I play in an Over-30 league.  I’m actually still a shortstop, but I’m certainly not one of the younger players and as I get older (and slower) and the competition gets younger (and faster), I wonder how much longer I can play at a competitive level in that league.  Luckily for me, there are a host of players round my age still hanging on.  Like me, they don’t ever want to give this up.  

Maybe this is also their Major Leagues…

From what I understand, the two leagues have some differences.  In the Over-50 league, players can run through the bases.  I guess once you reach a half-century, you no longer need to slide.  I still might slide, though, unless it makes me seem obnoxious.  It’s not to show off, I don’t know if I’m good enough to show off, it’s just that when I play, I think that I’m a lot younger than I really am.  

When I play ball, I’m a kid again.  I don’t want to ever grow up and realize that I’m at middle-age and might not be able to do this for many more years.  I just want to play.  I want to be a kid again.  I don’t ever want to grow up.  

I also understand that the Over-50 league plays with metal bats.  This both excites and terrifies me.  The Over-30 league went to wood about seven years ago.  With a metal bat, I was (somewhat) of a power hitter.  I hit my fair share of extra base hits and would even club a few homers a year.  I haven’t hit a homer since they went to wood.  In some recent seasons I haven’t even hit a triple.  Or a double.  (Ouch.)

I’m hoping for a few round trippers with the older guys this year.  Hitting the ball and touching them all will feel good.  It’s been far too long.

But, since I play on the infield, I’m a little terrified about the hard line drives that rocket off of the metal bats.  I haven’t had to field missiles like that since the Wyckoff league went to wood.  If my hitting suffered because I lost my power, my fielding improved because the slower exit velocity from the hitter gave me more time to react to catch the balls and make the plays.  I hope these old guys don’t hit the ball too hard at me.  I haven’t tested my reflexes against a metal bat for many years.  (The perfect league would allow me to hit with a metal bat while my opponents would be limited to wood.)

Ah, what does it matter?  Whether I catch the ball or get any hits, in a few hours I’ll be playing softball.  The long and wonderful season is on the horizon in front of me.  

I can’t wait.

I want to play forever.

I just love… to play ball.

 

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Becoming Our Heroes

During my youth, the word “hero” meant one thing to me – a professional baseball player.

My first hero was Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles.  I loved Nettles.  He was a hard-nosed power hitting third baseman.  Nettles led the American league in home runs in 1976.  In 1977 and 1978, he earned the Gold Glove for his stellar defense at third base.

Continue reading “Becoming Our Heroes”