Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Favorite Pastime

That's me up there, in 2009 before the last baseball game of my illustrious career. A teammate took that shot of me prior to our game in Cooperstown, aka the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I played in one game of a tournament on the same field where they filmed parts of "A League of Their Own." Known as Doubleday Field, the diamond was built in 1920 and has hosted games of all sorts, including some regular season Major League exhibition matches, throughout the years. I felt honored to play on the field, but bummed because my appearance there marked the end of a five-year period where I returned to hardball after 25 years away from my favorite sport.

I stopped playing because it just wasn't right for me to disappear for a summer's worth of Sundays when I had two young kids. When I returned to the game at age 40, my son, Owen, was three. Two years later, my daughter was born. After five years, I considered joining another league that played weeknights, but opted out after Owen decided he wanted to play Little League. I coached his team and didn't know if I could commit to night baseball while overseeing his team.

Prior to my five-year return to America's national pastime, I played softball for a few years with my wife, Beth, and her father, Rich. I really liked playing, but as I crept toward 40, I harkened back to my youth, and my favorite game: baseball. I played Little League and Babe Ruth for seven years, and sandlot baseball seemingly from birth until I went away to college. I was never much of a hitter, but I prided myself on my defense.

I made two All-Star teams, one in Little League and one in Babe Ruth. I have no problem telling you that the reason I made the Babe Ruth team was because my best friend's father coached the team.

All of this is a long way of telling you, my faithful follower(s?) that last night I got back on a softball field for the first time in more than a decade.

Recruited by a neighbor, I joined a team with the unfortunate name of Awesomesauce. The only time on a field I had before the game was a brief batting practice last weekend with two neighbors and one other teammate. Felt good to be out there, which made me excited for a game.

I had no idea how much I would play, or what position. Mostly, I thought about not hurting myself. Every season I played hardball I managed to tweak something: a hamstring, a quad, a groin. One year I got spiked and hobbled around for a few games afterward.

I went to the gym yesterday morning, focused on stretching, a bit of cardio and not too much strength work. And of course, I managed to tweak my left adductor muscle doing an exercise I should have been smart enough to avoid.

Last night was a cold one for softball, but I was happy to be at Hoyt Field in Cambridge, a diamond I never knew existed although it's only 15 minutes from home. My teammates are all nice, and the game started well with us scoring a bunch of runs. I knocked in a run with a single in my first at-bat. I made a few plays at shortstop, and knocked down a ball that prevented a run from scoring (although that run and a few others scored later in the inning).

Trouble came in my second time at the plate. I hit a grounder to third and had to hustle down the line. About halfway down the base path that tweaked muscle announced to me that I was perhaps a fool to be doing what I was doing. I limped across the bag a second after the ball hit the first baseman's mitt.

I played in the field again, and had one more at-bat, during which I hobbled around the bases and managed to score a run. By that time, however, our team was down by quite a few. We lost to a team with a lot of big hitters.

I'm bummed about the injury, but hoping I can nurse it along with stretching, Advil, whiskey and taking myself out of the action a bit more. I had surgery two years ago to clean out torn cartilage in my left hip. My hip/lower back/upper leg nexus are weak and aren't gonna get any better. My right hip has begun to feel sore lately. If I can't play more than a few games this season, that'll be it for me.

It sucks that the older we get, the harder we have to work to do something as simple and fun as play softball. Last night I watched balls fly over my head, deep into left field, and thought, "Man, five years ago I could've run that ball down." My father-in-law played softball well into his 60s, and many of the guys from my hardball team are still chugging along well into their 50s and 60s, so hope is alive in them.

I know, I know. Sounds like I'm making too much of an injury. But it's a nagging one that has plagued me off and on for quite some time, and there's nothing I can do to make it better. Rest, stretch, baby it a bit. Maybe look into hip replacement or bionic adductor surgery....

Monday, April 6, 2015

Baseball is back....

It's been a long winter, and although spring has sprung, it hasn't brought very warm temperatures to Boston this week. But that's OK, because it's Opening Day!

One of my favorite memories of going to Fenway Park is the game that Beth and I attended with Owen and my dad in 2009 (see picture above). A friend of mine from college handed over tickets (free of charge!) to the State Street Pavilion. We had great seats along the third base line, didn't have to deal with huge crowds for food and beer and honestly I don't remember if the Sox won (I think they did) but it was just so cool to be there with three generations of Sox lovers.

My dad passed away a year ago today, the day after my 49th birthday. Those few days in the hospital with him and my family were the toughest of my life. I'm thinking of him today and remembering all the times we played baseball, listened and watched the Sox, both on TV and in person, and just enjoyed the simplicity of soaking in our favorite sport.