This past Monday and Thursday my son Jake and I went to watch Jah Energy play and win its semi-final series. The team played all around solid softball with few mistakes and a stout defense. Jah’s pitching was superb. Batters kept the bases busy during the first game and played long ball the second. It made both of us happy to see the team we had played for earn the chance to win the championship.
But for me the operant words in that last sentence were “had played.” Past tense–with little future action other than a symbolic inning next year before I officially retire.
This season was the first in twenty-five years that I hadn’t played, coached, or managed. The first season when, until last week, I hadn’t attended a game or practice. I told myself I didn’t go to the games because my shoulder surgery kept me from driving. Eventually I realized I stayed away because it was too weird and painful to feel there was no real place for me on the field.
Once Jah came in first and started the play-offs, however, I couldn’t resist. You can bet I’ll cheer them on during the championship series–wholehearted enthusiasm mixed with a really difficult goodbye.
I knew how I was going to feel when I first got to the field and saw all of the team’s new faces. I immediately remembered the early years when Ruben, Jah’s founder, rebuilt the team damn near from scratch each spring because of the turnover. We actually recruited folks we met in the park and hoped they knew the game. Every season worrying about having enough players or too many players, enough women or not enough women. Going through a ton of team iterations throughout those twenty-five years and enjoying every one of them.
Sitting there, remembering all those years of playing in the cold, dank days of Boston’s April. Coming out early on Sundays before practice to work with people who wanted to improve–myself included. Staring directly into the sun during the summer, hoping my glove was in the right position to catch the ball I couldn’t see. Dealing with the push/pull tension of competitiveness versus just having fun. Also recalling coming home after play-off games and writing them up and sending the stories to my teammates. Now that was a pleasure–especially if we won.
Faces from the past kept popping into my mind and Jake and I would talk about them. How Q. would always manage to piss the other team off with his trash talk. Hell, some of us would bet on which inning it would be before someone blew up. How Jonathan used to club the ball farther than anyone we had ever seen, though Rone, who still plays for Jah, is the best athlete the league ever had.
I remember Tom who played shortstop and loved to heave the ball over my head. (My first base mantra was if you were gonna miss, miss low. Those I could pick. But over my head? Not with about three inches of air under my feet when I was at my best.)
I sat there watching John who created the league and has worked as an umpire every single year from the league’s inception. Remembering the managers I played for and the lifelong friends I’ve made.
Face after face after face from the league that I’ll carry around with me for the rest of my life.
And of course thinking about being on the field with my older son Matt–then in later years with Jake, my nephew Lee, and niece Julia. That was probably more satisfying than the set of championships Jah won during my tenure.
So this is gonna be it. I can’t play anymore (except for that token appearance next season), our manager Sara is a much better manager than I was, and I don’t think coaching third would do it for me.
Truth is, it’s time. Not merely because of my shoulder either. I held on too long. I knew it when I no longer wanted the ball hit to me. Knew it when I couldn’t cover enough ground to make a routine play. Knew it when I tried to switch positions and become a left-handed catcher but couldn’t buy a base hit. But knowing it’s time to go and going ain’t the same. It took the shoulder blowout to drive it home.
So there we were sitting in our chairs chatting about the past, the great plays we’d seen over the years, and all the people. It would be nice if a future someone watching a Jah play-off game in a lawn chair had my face pop into mind.