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.

“Wool Suits With No Underwear”

As I mentioned in my August 18th post, Jah Energy (my community coed softball team) was about to play the Number One team in the league, Ron’s Auto, who had won the past three championships. They are a team chock full of young firemen (who have yet to succumb to firehouse chili), mechanics, and powerfully athletic women.  Jah consists of graphic artists, writers, teachers, clerks, the unemployed, and oldsters.

Still, we had fought hard to win our “one or done” play-in game to face Ron’s in the semi-finals.  And we didn’t plan on quitting before the series started, even though our team knew we only had our best pitcher for the opening game.  He and his family were going on vacation.

The season runs from April to September, so it’s hard to begrudge anyone taking time off.  It’s part of every team’s yearly expectations.

And pitch that opener he did.  Jim’s a southpaw and he chucked a beauty.  It’s not easy to make an arc ball do tricks but he had that softball curving in both directions and floating over the plate.  When Ron’s did manage to get their bat on the ball, it usually flew high into the outfield where our team made dramatic catch after catch.  Our infield played tight and solid on every ball that came their way.  Add to that our first baseman’s picks, and Jah held the schtarkers (“bruisers” in Yiddish) to six runs while we eked out eight with the lower end of our lineup tablesetting for our best hitters.

First game to Jah, 8-5.  An incredibly low scoring game in our league.  It was a happy day in Mudville.

But then there was the next game.  Either we came out flat or they came out lusting for revenge, or both.  The game was over by the third inning. (We play seven.)  Our outfield is surrounded by trees—except in right—and it seemed like every ball went over or in them.  One of our women pitched the first half and did a decent job, but it didn’t matter.  They clocked anything and everything they could reach and they seemed to reach ’em all.  We had no choice but to bring our best player in to pitch the second half, though that left our outfield even more vulnerable than it had been.  It seemed like they spent that entire game running up the slope to get balls hit behind the trees. Ron’s players wheeled around the bases like a merry-go-round on speed.

Second game to Ron’s, 28-8.  Well, we were consistent in our run scoring, but there were some seriously long faces in the bar that night.

We had a day between the second and third game and it helped.

Both teams came to play in that third game, but Ron’s were the home team and jumped out to a quick five run lead by the bottom of the first.  We fought back and tied it up, but only momentarily, since they thumped right back with three more.  And that was the rhythm of the entire game.  We never led, tho we never for a moment quit and made run after run–but still lost.

Third game and series to Ron’s Auto 15-11.

The first game of the championship series (which was the only one I was/am able to attend) ended with Ron’s crushing The Wanderers 28-1.

So I look back at my first season of co-managing with mixed feelings.  The team played hard; interpersonal issues were effectively dealt with; playing time gripes were minimal; and, people enjoyed playing with each other.  Still, we ended up in fourth place–a bummer.  At the bar after losing the series, Sara (co-manager) and I had a long talk about whether we wanted to stay on for next season.  I guess we’re gluttons for punishment or believe in glory,  but we both made a two season commitment to manage the team.  And despite our fourth place finish, I think everyone will be pleased.

A few words on another subject:  This Thursday I’ll be flying out to the Midwest for another trial that begins September 6th.  Once again I will try to report in on the “hey kids, it’s not really like Law and Order” process as the trial moves along and buttress my typically ‘only Monday’ posts whenever I have time to write.  As usual, I’ll send out individual notices to those on my mailing list (if you want to be added, just send your email address to and place my usual notices on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Google Plus.

So keep an eye out for dispatches from the hinterland.

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss
of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

Who Won The Game?

I’ve been a sports junkie for most of my life.  In fact, the only period I can’t remember being glued to the sports pages and tube was during my years in Madison, when the 60s provided their own other world.  But even then I kept my eye on Bob Gibson, the great St. Louis pitcher.

Sports have been a significant topic between me and many of my friends.  Is Big Papi washed up?  Compare Charles Barkley’s lifetime stats to Larry Bird’s, then tell me who was the better player.  What do we think about millionaires playing for teams owned by billionaires?  The list stretches endlessly (at least according to my life-mate Sue).  It’s that guy thing—the substitute or perhaps testosterone version of intimacy.

But today’s post isn’t about professional sports or my obsession with it.

The subject’s up because this year I’m co-managing a community co-ed softball team, Jah Energy (named after the Jamaican god).  I’ve played for Jah nearly twenty-five years, much of which I was a pretty good first baseman (“if you’re gonna throw wild, throw it low. I’m too damn short and fat to leap high, but I can pick ’em out of the dirt”).

Now though, I’m too old to play much anymore (probably close to, if not the oldest person, in the league) so the shift to co-manager makes sense.  Still, it’s super cool to hit the field every once in a while as catcher, watch my son playing first or outfield, my nephew covering third, and the diamond stocked with representations of Jah’s different generations–including some first year newbies.  One of the benefits of catching is you see it all.

But managing a community co-ed softball team is more of a challenge than I ever had as a player.  There’s finding enough women who want to join, for example, and deciding the minimum number of games people must attend to be on the playoff roster.  Collecting dues.  But for me, the most difficult issue is finding a balance between my desire to win and trying to have everyone play—no matter their skill level.  A seriously schizo experience.

When I held down first base, the answer seemed simpler.  Everybody plays.  But truth be told, I was a starter and mostly played  full games.  It was the other positions where people were shuttled in and out.  Kinda made my largess an easy do.

Come a decade or two, (and I was no spring chicken when I first joined Jah) our manager at the time began subbing me out.  I knew my skills were eroding and that the woman who replaced me was the better athlete.  Not only in the field, but at bat.  (A banjo hitter, I never hit a home run during the course of my twenty-five years.)  So for me it was still “everyone plays” in part, because I now was one of those “everyones.”  But another part of the conflict went internal; should the shadow of my former self play at all, or just let others take my spot?  And how much of the “let others” take my “spot” was really for the good of the team, or was I simply embarrassed by my declining ability?

Well, for the past few seasons, whatever the reason, I mostly chose the latter, satisfied to coach third base and enter a game in the late innings every once in a while as a defensive replacement at first or catcher.  This arrangement continued to shield me from the winning/playing time conflict.

Ain’t shielded no more.  Now most of you know I’ve had a pretty turbulent spring, so, much of the weight has fallen on Sara, my co-manager.  She also has difficulty balancing playing time and winning.  We talk about X, we talk about Y, but eventually we end up with a back-and-forth about playing a terrific outfielder the whole game or replacing him halfway through when each fly ball then becomes an adventure?

One might think it’s an easy call. Stay the course, play everyone, and that be it.  But losing regularly, even in a community league, grinds the grit from your spirit.  Not just mine, but the whole team’s–even those who spend a lot of bench time.  Slowly my take on “everybody plays” began to change.  I too was tired of losing and grew closer and closer to playing our best players as much as possible.

Only as manager, I’m forced to see and accept both sides of the issue.  Despite my desire to win another championship (we’ve won two), a season that runs April through August requires a significant time commitment.  From where I now sit, it’s just not fair or okay to keep people with less skill off the field game after game.  To say nothing of the legitimate complaints that would hit the fan if we actually worked it that way.

So Sara and I middle it, which probably pleases no one.  We work hard to find times when substitutions might not affect the outcome—a situation that doesn’t occur during too many games.  We also try to play our best players much of the time, but wewill take ’em out if the need to get someone else into the game is greater.  Much to the chagrin of those who come out and those who really want to win.

And this is just the regular season.  What’s gonna happen during playoffs?

To be honest, this managing gig is a gut buster and man, I miss the days when playing time decisions weren’t mine to make.  But time doesn’t reverse itself (except in Superman comics) and since this team means so much to me that I plan to have my ashes spread over our home field, I expect to be struggling with this shit for years to come.