On Wednesday night, after a layoff of more than 10 years, I stepped back into rec league softball. I left the game as a position player and I came back as a pitcher.
If you’re a fan of the movie “The Natural” you can see that I kind of pulled a reverse Roy Hobbs. On the big screen he comes back to the game as an old man playing the role of slugging outfielder after last being seen as an amazing young pitcher decades ago.
Of course, the big difference is that Hobbs was great as a pitcher and a hitter and I’m terrible no matter what position I play. But none of that takes away from the great time I’ve had playing ball again.
I warmed up for our opening night doubleheader with a couple of team practices and two trips to the batting cages and came away from one practice session bloody and bruised. Some things never change.
When I was younger, faster and thinner (but just as uncoordinated) I broke my leg and dislocated my ankle at a coed practice. I kept up the knack for stupid injuries by straining a muscle in my leg in my first at bat in my first game this week. The whole thing cracks my wife up.
Want to hear something crazy? I sort of like getting hurt in a “Fight Club” kind of way. The pain makes you feel alive in a primal, moronic, pig-headed fashion. Would I rather be at home fruitlessly cleaning dishes, dying a slow death every day, or dragging myself through two softball games in a mild form of agony?
I love dishpan hands as much as the next guy but I’ll take the pain that comes out of competitive activity any day of the week. I may stink when I pitch and hit but I wouldn’t even be out there if I hadn’t lost 38 pounds this year. And you know what? I’m proud to be able to be on the field again — playful mocking by my better half be damned.
In case you’re curious, we lost our season-opening doubleheader. In fact, we got killed. But I’m used to that and it’s not a big deal. The last rec league softball team I played on, the Riflemen, lost 19 in a row before pulling out an extra-inning win in the last game of our second season thanks to a free out courtesy of an opposing player ejection.
The best part of getting out there and playing again was competing with friends. There I was, back on the field for the first time in a decade as fired up (and non-productive) as ever. Spiking the ball after catching the final out of an inning, screaming out encouragement, bad jokes and all kinds of nonsense all night long.
As a pitcher working the first game in my life I threw enough strikes to hold my head high and when I stepped to the plate I made contact every time. It’s nothing to write home about when the woman you share your life with excelled as a fast-pitch softball player through high school but it means something to me.
I was finally back on the field. Maybe not better than ever, but just being there was all that mattered after a decade of sloth.