Sunday, August 2, 2015

There's nothing soft about a 24-hour softball tournament

I don't know what I was thinking when I agreed to play in a 24-hour softball tournament.

I should blame the endorphins. I was, after all, in the Angie's List gym under the influence of Kelsey Taylor when I made the decision. But still. It's been a good 15 years since I played softball somewhat regularly, and then it was once a week. Double headers were rarities. We didn't sleep on the hard ground for only three hours in the midst of it.

And we were never fueled by spicey Bloody Marys throughout.

It was a fundraiser for the American Heart Association, organized by Angie's List. For the longest time after agreeing to play,  I thought only about having to hit the  team and individual fundraising goals. No one else from my department could play (though they all donated)  so I thought I was doing the right thing for all concerned. 

Thanks very much to those (co-workers, friends and family) who helped out.  My father had a heart condition and heart surgeons saved him more than once. I was in 8th grade when the phone in the kitchen rang bearing news the first time he was rushed to the hospital.

My mother immediately left for the hospital after dropping the phone and blurting out the news to my sister Diana. The news was a shock because as far as we knew, my father was a mythical hero with equal parts of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Moses and a dash of Jesus tossed in. He was  our hero. Invincible. Certainly not sick. 

The news swept our town like a tornado. People decided he'd not come back from this. They  started showing up, tear-struck, at our house and my Grandparents house with food and flowers. He was in the hospital all summer; my mother at his side despite repeated attempts by the hospital staff for her to vacate the premises.

I don't know what the rest of my siblings after my mother dropped the phonel. I fled to the apple orchard and commenced upon the biggest, longest prayer of my life. Then or since.

It had only been the day before that my friend Tracy Reeves and I had gotten a pack of cigarettes and I'd lied to the folks at the Sea Cove restaurant in town to get matches. We went to the city park and smoked the whole thing by the railroad tracks.

My father was devoutly Pentecostal. Anything that came as close as a whisper to fun was sin that could send you straight -- do not pass Go -- to the firey pit. Once there, you were truly screwed. Real fire surrounded you. You walked on red hot coals. People taunted you from up above. I always pictured it like the people in Heaven could come lean over shiny silver guardrails to peek into Hell where they'd try to send down water soaked cotton balls attached to long sticks. 

The people below (me included) would try to reach the water balls but they always erupted like marshmallows too long in the flames.

Anyway, I was certain that smoking those cigarettes and telling that lie had pissed off God and he reacted like the vengeful God I'd been told he was: by striking down the person I loved most. So I prayed, and I cried, and I bargained. If I wouldn't smoke again --ever -- God would let my father live.

He did. So I didn't. Ever. Not tobacco, not pot, not hashish. Nothing. Because right up until my father died at 70, I couldn't bring myself to break that promise. Of all the lessons I learned in my 16 years on the hard pews at the Coalmont Church of God, I think I learned most that God has both a long memory and longer stick.

Not that I didn't sin in other ways. But not smoking was the only thing I'd promised not to do. God might be Almighty but I'm not stupid. I know how a bargain with a higher power works. So, anyway, doing something for the AHA wasn't a hardship. 

But I honestly didn't give the actual physical event much thought. I work out. I'm in fairly decent shape for my advancing years. The worst part, I thought, was going to be staying awake for all of Round One. We had games at 8, 10 and 11 p.m. Friday after work and then one at 2 a.m.

Setting up camp was fun. The VIP tent had snacks and drinks and we had coolers full of energy drinks, more booze and snacks. We brought Jeff's new mini grill and more than enough to share.

Softball is not a sport that anyone loses weight at or even tones up. It's a game some people play with a can of frothy beverage their feet or, certainly in the dugout. How hard could that be?

I forgot about the crouching, the bursts of running, the stretching to catch, the repetitive motion of tossing from home plate to the pitcher. Or how far right field is from the infield. Or how far a missed fly ball can roll.  

Earlier this year I pulled something in the upper thigh, groin area. It is a fickle injury that attacks sometimes, it seems, for the pure hell of it. I'll be walking to the copier and my thigh will just kind of want to stop working. I'm careful with it, have been resting it a bit and stretching as directed by Kelsey -- our Fitness Director, coach, and except for those hours of agony, a friend. I'm pretty sure it's 99 percent healed, but I went into the games knowing I wouldn't be mistaken for Speedy Gonzalez and determined not to try to imitate him.

In one late game, we picked up a player from another team. He apparently thought I might be related to that Mexican mouse. I was on first base when Jeff, hitting behind me, hit a solid single. We were at first and second, when this new guy gets up and doubles. I'm happy at third, dreaming of making it home when the next batter gets up. But new guy didn't know I'd stopped. 

Jeff turns around to find the guy trying to share second. Not a great scenario. And one that made for an easy out. Despite my presence on the team, we did make it to the semi finals and I played every time I was supposed to. Not because I'm a go-getter, but because I knew that like a shark, if I ever  stopped moving, I would die.

At 3 a.m. -- a good five hours past the time my bed normally hits the pillow (and maybe seven before I get prone) we were preparing to grill.

I managed to stay upright for another couple of hours. Jeff came into the tent for a catnap around 5 before he was up to umpire a 7 a.m. game.

I'm not sure if it was the late/early hour, the muscle fatigue or the alcohol that let my body believe sleeping in the ground was a blessing, but I'd never been so happy to lie down in the grass. Even surrounded by a group of ballers still going strong, I was asleep in record time. If you haven't figure it out by now, 90 percent of the people we were playing with were young enough to be our children.

I take it as a point of pride that while I wasn't stellar on the field yesterday morning, I did manage to play while at least two whole teams of youngsters  failed to show back up. Yes, we got to the semi-finals through a combination of luck and forfeit. But a W is a W.

It is also true that as I sat on that dugout bench, I was wracked with pain. My toes hurt. My feet hurt. My knees were killing me. My thighs were on fire. I'd pitched in between games to give some folks some batting practice and my right arm was numb. My back was like a little kid trying to get his mom's attention even though she'd long since tuned him out. "It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it HURTS!"

I was also dirty. I think I might have smelled. And yes, I might have sent up a prayer or six that we'd lose early in Round Two, the single elimination round. Or that we'd get to three outs before it was my time to bat. I did not, however, quit. 

Our last game started at 10:53 a.m. Saturday, which meant that we would play until 11:53 a.m. unless we were behind by too many runs early on. We were up against a team that took the game a lot more seriously than we did.  A couple of them - imports I'm sure - were kind of nasty about it. Most were more fun and some of those guys had joined the grilling party the night before.

Of course each of the meaner-spirited ones were loaded for bear come Saturday morning. We were losing, but not as badly as the day before, when we got our last out at 11:50. By ASA rules, we had to start the next inning, which would have mean Team Evil got to bat the hell out of us again.

Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensued. Mostly in my head, I'm sure. But I was not alone. Thank goodness the Captain intervened and conceded for us or we'd still be there on that gritty field.

I almost cried with relief and the idea of my shower and bed that awaited me. Yeah, there was more Bloody Mary mix and the championship game to watch.  Jeff could likely have gone on to play with one of the other teams; I'm sure our powerhouse, Nick, and our steadiest player, Eric, either tried or did. Kelsey, for sure, was there to the end.

I don't know what her deal is. She's part Rhonda Rousey, part Xena Warrior Princess and part Engergizer Bunny. I love her to the depths of my soul. But I cannot keep up with her. 

Ali had shunned us for time with Jenna and had planned for Nick to come over to watch bad movies. I unpacked the car only of the things that needed refrigeration, then hit the shower. I crawled into bed, wet, and power napped, planning to be awake when Nick's parents brought him over.

Nope. When I did get up, Ali and Nick were into their second scary movie. Every muscle in my body seized up. Getting to the bathroom was like surving Hell Week for Navy SEALS. I think I got up and actually walked, bent over like a 90-year-old around 8 last night. 

Today was better. I didn't scamper off to the bathroom, and bending down to get the paper in the driveway was an exercise in discipline, but I forced myself to move around.

Even on a good day, I have bad knees. It's a gift from my mother whose response to pain -- or any opportunity really -- was always to stop doing whatever hurt and read a Harlequin Romance on the couch. It got to a point where she wouldn't go down to the mailbox. When my own knees started hurting like that, I vowed to work through it. It's a large part of why I keep at the battle of the bulge.

So, reflecting on my poor response to the softball tournament, I decided that not only would I not return to my bed today, I'd mow the yard as part of the 10K steps program.  Did I look good doing it? Uh, no. But I did it.

Will today find me on the couch with a book? Maybe. 

It's another gift from my mother; one I can't shake.  I read a lot. I started borrowing my mom's Harlequins when I was seven or eight. I gauge that by a memory of my sister Donna catching me at the Little League park where we went every single night of the summer (it seemed) because my brothers played baseball. "Do you see what your daughter is reading!" 

Donna was married when this occurred. I remember that because I didn't get to see her all the time anymore, and I was happy she'd stopped by. She would have just turned19 and I would be turning 9 the next month.

My mother didn't seem to think me reading a Harlequin Romance was a bad thing. Did it adversely shape my expectations for healthy relationships later in life? Probably. But I had a crazy good vocabulary in elementary school.

Let's face it, we lived in the country and the closest library was miniscule. Amazon hadn't yet been invented and we didn't have a lot of books laying around the farm. Between the Bible and a Harlequin, what would you have read? 

I like to think I've upped the quality of the books over the years, but I am much like mother when it comes to being able to say no to a good, soft porn paperback.

At least I'm not smoking.


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