My true love has always been softball from the time I could hold a bat, but the name is misleading. Softball? A new softball is as hard as a rock.
I played the game in a Seniors League in Grand Rapids, just for old timers over 55. It was also co-ed.
Before my first game, I received a roster with a list of all the team names. Some that I still remember are Erring Elders, Geriatric Gang, and my team, the Resting Retirees. These names should have given me a clue as to what lay ahead.
I drove to the field and searched for my team. I didn’t know a soul. I had a slightly queasy feeling as I approached the diamond. Down the left and right field foul lines, a bunch of brightly colored ambulances were parked with paramedics setting out stretchers. That should have been enough to turn me around, but I decided to forge ahead.
The captain of my team greeted us with a scowl. He was on crutches and looked as old as the hills.
I noticed two sacks at first base, and I asked what that was all about. He explained, “The one closest to second base is for the first baseman to put their foot on. The one on the baseline is for the runner to touch if they ever make it to first base. This prevents collisions.” This made sense to me.
Something else caught my eye. I asked again, “What are those things between the bases?” He mumbled, “Oxygen inhalers.”
Oh, oh! What next, I thought to myself.
He saw that I was nervous, so he explained further: “Remember, no cleats — bedroom slippers only. And no stealing bases or sliding. Let’s keep the ER empty.”
I remarked once more: “I know it’s slow pitch, but how slow is slow?”
Our leader replied, “Oh, it’s slow alright — very slow. In fact, it’s so slow you’ll think the ball isn’t even moving.”
Then he pointed to the plastic tee at home plate. “Think that will be slow enough for you?”
I then asked another dumb question: “Since we’re playing T-ball, what does the pitcher do?”
“Not much," he said, “just calls balls and strikes.” Balls and strikes in T-ball? That’s it, I thought. No more questions. Let’s play ball.
Since there were more than nine people on a team, and the special rules stated that everyone had to play, that meant that the captains put all the extra players in the outfield. This worked out well. Since hardly anyone ever hit a ball to the outfield, it gave the outfielders somebody to talk to while waiting for the inning to end.
If a ball did get out of the infield, the outfielders would flip a coin to see who was going to chase it down. Chase is the wrong word — walk it down explains it better. Then they would form a “bucket brigade” to relay the ball back to the infield — not by throwing it, but by kicking it back in hoping someone was able to pick it up.
Most games ended 0-0. Scoring wasn’t important; survival was.
Our team finished the season with a minus batting average, and with only minor injuries and low esteem.
Two left us during the year. No, they didn’t die — they just called it quits. That’s what I had to do after the summer I turned 68. Good ol’ Arthur Itis put an end to a promising second career.
— By Richard Hoffstedt, Tribune community columnist