Saturday, September 10, 2011

At The Point of Intersection Between Crosses and Diamonds

Why not you?
What do you think, you're special?
Bad things happen in the world.
Bad things are going to happen to you.
It doesn't mean you are a bad person.
In the same way, good things happening to good people doesn't mean they're good.


This summer was the first one in a long time in which I did not play softball. For just about every summer since the three of us graduated law school together almost twenty years ago, one of my two very excellent friends (a reflection of the quality of their character is having a millstone like me as a friend does not detract from it) Diego Navas or David Rubino has put together a team and found a league in which to play softball. When we were much younger than we are now, we played in a Men's League in Nutley on Sunday afternoons. Every Sunday was a doubleheader. Several years in that league, catching doubleheaders in the heat of Jersey Julys and Augusts taught me that Ernie Banks was either a liar or a sadist.

As we have aged (sorry - "matured") we have toned down the level of competition a bit. For the past four or five years our team has played in the Essex County Lawyer's League. The arguments over blown calls are more spirited and well-researched than they were in the old Nutley league but the risk of violence is substantially less. It is in the Lawyer's League where - this summer - Diego and David played. And did so without me.

As a person of few friends (by choice - almost universally theirs), my favorite thing about playing softball was spending time with Diego, David, Christian, John and Dave (LD 17). Truth be told on the softball field and at the Star Tavern afterwards were the only places I ever saw any of them - at least as a general rule. But as I have aged, my knees have continued to betray me. And while they carry me in a not wholly embarrassing fashion over generally straight roads in races of varying distances, they can no longer change direction well. Nor can they assume a crouched position. When one's position is that of catcher, those are fairly significant limitations.

The other thing I miss the most about playing softball was the opportunity it presented me to meet some really outstanding people. No, not other lawyers. A couple of Septembers ago our season ended relatively early. Diego was still working for the City of Newark and he ended up putting together a couple of games with different fire houses in the Newark Fire Department, including one in which a number of folks from our team simply filled in positions on two different Fire Department teams so that they could play one another.

The games I was able to take part in all took place right around this time of the year. I do not know enough about firefighters to know whether prior to 2001 the month of September had a significance greater than that of any other month on their calendars. In the decade since, it certainly seems to. Newark, New Jersey has a professional Fire Department. Here in the State of Concrete Gardens many of our smaller cities and towns (such as where I live) have fire departments comprised of volunteers. Newark is an exception. And while I have no familiarity at all with the relationship forged between members of a volunteer brigade, I was simply blown away by the interaction I witnessed among the men and women of Newark's Bravest.

At the end of every evening on which I was privileged to spend a bit of time on the softball diamond with this particular band of brothers and sisters, I came away feeling as if I had spent the evening at a family function. I had been invited to come into someone's home and not merely observe but fully participate in a love-filled get-together. I drove home smiling contentedly as if I had just eaten an amazing meal. And I had not eaten a damn thing.

Over the course of a dozen or more years playing softball, we played in our share of memorable (to us anyway) games (I swear that if someone with a video camera had been in Yanticaw Park all those years ago to record John Rubino's laser from right field to cut down the guy from Fedway (a/k/a "the fastest guy in the league") trying to score from third base in a game we ultimately one 1-0, it would still get YouTube hits in the six digits annually). None of them though were as memorable as those impromptu, drop-in affairs with the men and women of the Newark Fire Department.

I hope this September Saturday finds all of them well. And that when dawn breaks tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that it continues to find them well. And to keep them that way. And I hope that same spirit protects their brothers and sisters irrespective of zip code. And continues to keep them safe.... they make their way through the darkness to make certain that the rest of us are safe as well.


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