Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Ghost of Wally Pipp

I was happy to see - courtesy of my buddy Christian's update on Facebook on Monday night - that my brothers/sisters in arms (and bats and gloves) from the City of Newark Law Department softball team won their quarter-final playoff game, springing the upset on perennial powerhouse Lowenstein. While that may not seem like a big deal to you - I suppose you were watching Monday Night Football, the Yankees game against the Rays or the season premiere of House (the strategic placement of the Mac computer in one of the seemingly endless number of scenes of House/Cuddy canoodling and cavorting in bed frightened the bejeebers out of me - just saying) - for our little ragtag team of softball players it was a historic moment. Thursday night when they take the field in the semi-finals against Patton Boggs it will mark the first time that the Law Department softball team has inhaled the rarefied air of Essex County Lawyer's League penultimate game.

There is an old saw about the relationship between the ability to soar and being free from an association with turkeys that - given my status during the entirety of my farewell season on the diamond - is wholly apropos. For years, my law school friends (and this list is intended to be inclusive and not merely illustrative) David and Diego have toted Yours truly (a/k/a "the anchor") with them from league to league in pursuit of an endless summer of enjoyable, quasi-competitive softball. I am sure that I am leaving some of the places in which we have played out but I have a ready recollection of a Sunday league in Union County, a Sunday Doubleheaders league in Nutley and the City of Newark League as places where we have planted our flag prior to entering the Essex County Lawyer's League. A lot of leagues over a lot of years. I had neither adult children nor gray hair when we first started to play. Now I have both......and have had both for too many years to remember.

At the beginning of the season I had decided myself that this was to be my final year. Not only have my always marginal skills diminished to the point of - if not embarrassment - then at least occasional discomfort and irregularity - but my desire to play had been reduced to a level somewhere south of passionate. Not one of us has enough time in our day-to-day to do everything that we would like to do vis-a-vis leisure time activities, which sometimes leads to us favoring one thing over another. That is what befell me. As of this time last year I had competed in exactly one running event, which was the 2008 Big Chill 5K in New Brunswick. In the span of the past twelve months I think I have competed in more than two dozen races of varying distances ranging from 3.1 miles to 13.1 miles. I have gotten hooked on running. It supplanted softball as my favorite sports activity. And with no more time in my day in 2010 than I had in 2009, trying to find time to play softball became more of a chore than a pleasure.

Thus I embarked on a plan to participate on a substantially reduced level this year - playing as an "emergency (a/k/a "we are short a player and will have to forfeit if you do not play") player. All went according to Hoyle until one night in late June when I popped the groin in my left leg while running the bases and felt as if I had been shot out in the middle of the diamond. The fact that I was playing on a balky knee likely exacerbated the impact of the groin injury. Then again, how the hell would I know? I neither practice medicine nor play a doctor on TV. All I know is that since the end of June, while my ability to run straight ahead at a consistent pace on a relatively level surface - such as on a road or on a treadmill - has remained fine (relatively speaking that is) my ability to move laterally, to accelerate and decelerate rapidly and to get up and down from a crouch (kind of, sort of the tool set one needs to be able to play softball - especially the position of catcher) has been non-existent. When I hobbled off of the field at Orange Park on that late June night, it marked the beginning and the end of my famous final scene.

Considering I had hoped to rocket off into softball retirement in a manner akin to the way Ted Williams did from baseball (when his head and his body were still one and before either had been transformed into a cryogenic Popsicle), it would not be unduly critical to say that I have fallen just a bit short of my own expectations. Contrary to what Dylan Thomas might have hoped for me, when it comes to slow-pitch softball I did indeed "go gentle into that good night".

And freed from the albatross hung perennially around their necks, my teammates have not only survived but have thrived (drop a footnote here to Walt "Clyde" Frazier"). Talk about your classic example of "addition by subtraction". For that I am neither unhappy nor surprised. And I hope that their run continues for two more nights. I recall back in the summer of Aught-Eight when we completed our season undefeated - only to have to wait about one month at the end of it to start the playoffs. We lost in our first game to a team we had summarily thrashed in the regular season. Last year, we actually won playoff game - our first one ever in this league - before losing in the quarterfinals in a tough, well-played game to the Lowenstein team.

It is a silly thing I know but when I think of all the days and evenings I have spent in the past sixteen or seventeen summers playing softball with Diego, David and John (David's brother) (Christian and Dave P joined the ranks several years into the annual insanity), it makes me smile. We try our damnedest to fight off the ravages of time. We do it in a million different ways. This bunch has found a terrific way to do it that is drug-free (not counting the post-game beer at the Star Tavern), chemical-free (save for those found in the aforementioned post-game beer and post-game pizza at the Star Tavern) and, above all else, fun. The end came for me this season - and it came earlier than I was ready for it to do so. Maybe that proves that I am not quite ready to walk away from this completely? I know not. I have a long time to contemplate it. May 2011 is, after all, a lifetime from now......

....whereas tomorrow is only a day away.


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