Editor’s note: If you do not participate in the crazy realm of slow-pitch softball, this column will read like jibberish to you. If you do play, then I hope you can relate to everything I write. Enjoy.
Every January, a fever hits Nashville. Softball season is approaching, and to many people of all walks of life, that’s the sound of music… only without Julie Andrews dancing on top of hills, unless those hills are alive with the sound of batting practice and draft beer.
I enjoy playing and will do so again this summer when/if Tour Dates allows it. However, I fall into a minority group of players. I’m not quite the polished “warrior” who would, if allowed by law, sacrifice small animals in the dugout before every trip to the plate. And I’m not quite the “hobbyist”, who would rather eat hot glass than dive for a ball with a runner on third. I’m in that middle group. I’m a competitive guy and hate to lose, so I’ll try my hardest with all the remaining athletic talent in my aging body to win. But at the same time, I can look at the revelry and laugh at how many softballers consider their game to be religion.
Everyone plays softball in Nashville, it seems. Bankers, mechanics, salesmen, bartenders… basically anyone who doesn’t have much else to do on Wednesday nights. This, by the way, is slow-pitch softball. Regardless of what anyone says, it’s more of an activity than an athletic event. It’s a sport that was invented for two reasons: to prolong the athletic habits of men everywhere, and to piss off wives. It’s like the designated hitter rule in the majors, that is, if club managers ever had to listen to a DH explain to his wife that whether she understood or not, he had to miss “wallpaper the bathroom night”. Note: It was also invented for the purpose of guys getting together in friendly sport and then going drinking, but that more or less falls into category #2 (wives gettin’ pissy).
However, not just men play. No, sir. There are several women leagues and co-ed leagues, and many of them are just as competitive if not more competitive than some men’s contests. But most men like playing in men’s-only leagues, unless they have a girlfriend who plays on a co-ed team, and they either want to keep tabs on her out of low self-esteem and lack of trust, or they want to stand out, like if Evander Holyfield were to fight at the middle-weight level and proclaim to the world how awesome he is. Before all you Martha Burke types get your double-standard panties in a wad, I’m not saying that women’s or co-ed softball teams are inferior. I certainly wouldn’t want to bat against some of those fast-pitch college players. All I’m saying is that I (and most guys) would rather play games against men and not games in which your teammates hold their collective breath every time a fly ball is hit to right field. Just sayin’.
Most teams play with the same roster each week. Those are the teams that win every summer. The teams I normally play on consist of players with fluctuating work schedules and worse yet… family lives. If little Timmy has piano recital practice or the wife has an emergency in the form of a broken air conditioner in the SUV, then it’s forfeit time. In fact, I believe wives are the reason why reserve lists are even allowed. In softball language, the words “alternate player” are synonymous with the words “single man”.
Sometimes even the reserves have things to do and can’t make the game, which makes things interesting. In that case, a scab player who isn’t on the official roster is persuaded to play under the name of an existing team member. It’s laughable when a scrawny intern from someone’s office mailroom plays under the name “Leroy Jenkins”. What’s even funnier is when the other team actually goes through the trouble of alerting the officials. It’s like the Roman coliseum crowd crying foul because a gladiator only had one arm.
Personal matters are important, sure… but that misdirected attention doesn’t exist across the board. Many hard-core softball players actually sacrifice their family lives, which in some cases is just plain wrong. If little Timmy contracts e-coli at the school cafeteria, he better have enough white blood cells saved up to stave off a worse condition until after the seventh inning. Or sometimes… until after the second round of victory beer pitchers. Then and only then is it okay to head to the hospital. That’s over-the-top commitment. These types of players, of course are the kind of guys who go through the same ritual every spring:
- Buy unnecessary equipment like flip-down sunglasses and pinstripe pants with extra knee padding. It’s softball, for crying out loud. Lugging all that stuff to the park is like bringing caviar to a backyard fish fry.
- Buy new bat bag, fully equipped with batting glove pockets and insulation. Yes, there’s a demand for bat bag insulation, just in case the team schedules a scrimmage in the bitter July cold of Canada. That has never happened, but to many softball warrior enthusiasts, the year they buy a regular bat bag will be the one year the Nova Scotia Nationals make a formal challenge. Of course the insulation is really “needed” to protect the bat when it is stored. Ironically, the players who use such bags are the same players who throw their bat into the dugout when they ground out to the pitcher. Apparently, equipment only deserves care if it produces results. I’m looking at you too, pitching wedge.
- Stitch nickname onto said bat bag. Nicknames are normally things like Stumpy, Slim, and Jerknuts. I know for a fact those aren’t real names, because the names stitched on the players’ work shirts are different.
- Hit the gym and the batting cage. Pump up, because to some players, flying out to deep, deep center field is more manly than getting on base with a line drive to the gap.
- Write memo to the boss, explaining that overtime on Wednesday nights is totally out of the question. If that’s a problem, they’ll quit.
I like playing softball with my buds. And I admit, at one point I was consumed with our team’s league standings, team chemistry, even the local weather report. But it shouldn’t be taken that seriously. Try to win, yes, but have fun while doing it. My advice to all you softballers:
- When someone’s girlfriend and/or wife is in the stands, and they ask every 3 minutes what the score is, we should laugh with them, not ridicule them for not paying attention during the biggest game of the year. That ridicule remark, by the way, is a sour response usually given only when the score is lopsided in the opponent’s favor.
- When the umpire calls a strike, you shouldn’t get irate with him. Rather, you should hate yourself for not swinging at a close pitch in slow-pitch, 15-mph softball!!! It’s almost like taking a pitch in tee-ball.
- Don’t buy a stat book. Nobody really cares who went 2 for 5 last week. Guys who really care probably spend sleepless nights worrying about draft night in their fantasy football league.
I have a blast playing softball and I understand it’s a hobby that to some people means a lot. I totally respect that. Everyone has something they love to do, whether it’s gardening or skydiving or slandering politicians in TV ads. And if that’s what floats your boat, then more power to you. I may be out there with you some time this summer. If I am, take it easy on me, Jerknuts. I’ll buy the first round, but only if little Timmy is not in need of a paramedic.