Why I love the game of softball
I just hit two milestones in my life. I recently turned 50 and I recently attended a reunion party for my slow pitch softball team. Turning 50 was no big deal to me, but that softball party turned out to be a side-splitter. I laughed so much the muscles in my cheeks hurt. It was also at that party that I realized just how important the game of softball has been to my life.
My story is much like the story of many softball players. When I finished high school and went on to college I thought my baseball playing days were pretty much over. I’d never even thought about playing softball. In fact, I thought softball was just a game for old guys.
Then one summer evening following my freshman year, a friend of my friend invited us to play with their softball team as fill-ins for one night. We left the field with an entirely different perspective on softball, because we had actually played and really enjoyed it. The friend who invited us said we’d start our own team the following season and that’s what we did.
When we started, we were all in our twenties, some of us from the same high school, others were friends of friends of friends. Our first season was mostly league ball. Then the coach, he was the coach because he was the oldest at 25, suggested we try playing in a tournament. I said, “What’s a tournament?” I soon found out I loved tournaments even more than league ball.
I don’t recall how we did in that first tournament, but I’m sure it wasn’t very well. We were young and still had those “baseball” swings. But we loved it. And what seemed to be as much fun as playing the game was the time we spent with one another in between the games and hanging out after the games.
That’s where the friendships were formed. As the years passed, we got better and better as a team. We also got closer as friends. We had some players come and some players go. But we generally had a core group of about 7 to 10 guys that was the nucleus of the team. When we did add a new player to the team, his “tryout” was more a feeling out to see if he’d mesh with our group of friends. If he fit in with us, we then worried about whether he could play softball. As I said, we got better and better, but we were never the best team around.
Our typical season was just like any other team. We’d plan our season of tournaments with mostly local ones and we would set aside a couple of key weekends for a big tournament trip. Our team usually made one out-of-town trip to the beach each year. We figured that if we played well, that would be great, but if we played poorly, there was always the beach.
As the years went by, in addition to playing softball together, we were also attending and participating in each others’ weddings. We watched one another build families, get divorced, get re-married, and even a few funerals. As much as guys can do for one another, we provided each other with support in career moves or big life decisions. Usually that amounted to just a couple of lines, something like this: “I’m leaving this job to take that job”……. Teammate: “Good call, that job you had sucked and now you’ll be off on weekends for tournaments.” We actually had a player walk out on his job because we needed him in a tournament that day. He just left. I think we won that tournament……and he found another job.
When I hit my late thirties I wanted to try another side of softball and that’s when I started getting involved as a tournament director. I found I loved doing that just as much as I loved playing. There’s something about this game that I just can’t seem to get enough of.
It was around that same time that our team started fading away. One by one, we’d lose another part of the nucleus. Players had kids and they couldn’t devote as much time to the team as before. Other priorities started taking over. For me, it became more important to run a good tournament than to play in one.
Most of us still see each other and we play golf together and even go on an annual golf trip. The nucleus is still there, we just don’t get together as often. I’m reminded of all of this because of that reunion party we had. The jokes and laughter brought back so many great memories.
In my softball career I’ve played in hundreds if not thousands of games. Out of all those games and tournaments there are a few highlights. But what I really remember and cherish the most are the friends I made and the memories we all made together.
I recall seeing documentaries about baseball and how the game of baseball has been the one constant through the past hundred years of American history. I think about softball that way in my own life. Through the past thirty years (basically, my adult life), I’ve had different jobs, lived in different places, and done different things. The one constant through it all has been softball. Every year since I was 19, I’ve been involved in the game of softball in some way, shape or form.
It’s funny. I can still remember when I was a kid and how I thought softball was just a game for old guys. It turns out I was right. We’re all over 50 now and everybody wants to play senior ball.
It sounds silly when you say it out loud, but I really do love the game of softball.