I was talking to my Uncle Phil a few weeks back about fatherhood and the general gist of the conversation was how, when you become a father, you lose some of that edge. You take less risks. Things that you generally would do without even blinking come with great contemplation. You weigh out the risk and reward of seemingly chancy propositions. You go soft.
Last night was an interesting night. I arrive at the ballpark for a 7:30 game of Bruise Bros. softball. Primarily a church team with a revolving door of cameos. It’s how most city league teams in the lower level leagues. You do your best to scrap together a team. All we need is, like last night, Texas Music Educators Association to be holding their annual convention in San Antonio and that knocks out our middle infield. Yeah, we gangsta like that. No offense to our wonderful choir directors on the team, Brandon and Billy, it’s just I can guarantee that you can’t find another team out there with a single choir director on it and we got two of ’em. With the two of them out and then getting stood up like an ugly date by Nick and Brooks (thanks, fellas), we were left with fielding a team of nine guys which, in city league softball means that every time through the line up, you get an automatic out for where the tenth batter should be because you are required to play at least ten guys. So, we got four infielders, three outfielders, pitcher and catcher. If it weren’t for Lance showing up, we wouldn’t even be playing.
First game went as I would’ve expected. The team was flat. Three outfielders never looked more sparse in covering that huge outfield. The infield was playing stiff. I was put on third base and I hadn’t played in any real action in close to a year since I had Ellison. I’ll tell you this, I’m a freaking softy now. One night at the ballpark becomes a constant head game where internal conversations are continuously played out in your head. You trash talk yourself into performance. “Now get in there, you pansy, and whoop…their…ass!” You like your own drill sergeant. I let a couple of ground balls go through me like a wet sheet of toilet paper and I’m wondering what in the world happened to my game. I was noncommittal in my motions, slow off the bat. I looked like I was eighty years old out there. In one sequence, I go for a ground ball and come up to early, run into a baserunner and apologize about five times as he rounds third and heads home and then apologize again between innings like I was scared that he was gonna find me later and donkey kick me in the teeth. Softy. Later, I take a ground ball in the shin and it hurt so bad, the first thing I think is, “Will I ever walk again?” So soft softy.
After going down hard early, we managed to scrap a few runs together to pull it within one run at 10-11 and then they just obliterated us in the final inning of the game to win 23-10. We were flattened. Lousy. Hot. We got run-ruled by some team called “Do Work” which is the hardest way to go out. Not that Bruise Bros. is tremendously better as a name, but “Do Work” is such a terrible name. I don’t mind getting beat by a team named The James Browns or The Travis Bickles. “Do Work” is such a terrible name and we got our asses handed to us on a TV tray. And we watched “Golden Girls” while it happened.
The unwritten rule of city league softball is this, though, if you get whooped, you get right back up, turn around and deal the same card on the next team on the same field. It’s kinda like prison life in that way. In your first week, you take your lumps. Someone guy beats you senseless in front of everyone in the rec yard. All you can do is find someone to return the favor to in a very public place to tell everyone, “I ain’t no softy.” Or so I imagine. Sure my lovely wife finds great comfort that I’m typing on a blog about the ins-and-outs of prison life. That’s what we were out for, though, in the second game. Put a prison beating on a team. We had to prove we were no slouch. Make someone cry.
As a father now (and already a pretty loose competitor), I find myself in a tough place in between games. After getting whooped, you certainly don’t feel good about yourself. You know you wouldn’t be proud if, say, Ellison was out there watching her loser dad take ground balls off the shin. You’d want to do your family proud, but at the same time, it’s just a freaking game. But then if it’s just a game, then why do you show up to play? You show up to lose? No way. You show up to be a freaking warrior. Even if just for 55 minutes at a time. You show up for glory. You show up for victory. You show up for that sweet taste of competition. I hyped myself up for the second game. Fresh start. Do the family proud even though they were both at home sleeping. The game didn’t change from before Ellison was here. It’s played by the same rules. Same circumstances. Many of the same players. It was my mindset that changed. I was playing scared. Fearful. You still wanna be careful. You don’t want to take a line drive off the face leaving you disfigured and unrecognizable to your daughter, but you don’t wanna loose noodle the game either. Swing your sword.
The second game was dynamically different from the get go. Our first time up to bat, we went through the lineup and, still with our automatic out, the game you play when you get to the ninth batter in the lineup with two outs (and an automatic out and end of the inning after that) is you just keep running. There’s very little harm that can come of it. Just keep running until you get to home plate. I’m on first and the bases are loaded with two outs, we’re up 2-0 in the first inning and John gets up behind me. Everyone knew the game plan. Run like hell and don’t stop until you score. John smacks a ball into the outfield and I put my head down and barrel toward second and without even looking at where the ball was, I’m heading into third. I’m watching the third baseman and he prepares himself for a play at the base. Ball pulls him to the right of the bag and I dance into base. Safe at third. Then, out of nowhere, I just start running home. Sam said that I looked like I was going only about five miles an hour when I was heading home. That’s a marathon pace. Just…keep…running. The third baseman, in a moment of complete confusion, tosses it wildly home. Catcher scurries off the plate and I score without even a play. John’s hauling in behind and he scores too. Inside-the-infield grandslam single. Tenth man’s the third out of the inning. We’re up 6-0. Plan worked like a gem.
The game would continue with very little of a contest from the Century 21 team. We were up 13-0 after another grand slam (this one actually leaving the park) and pulling out another round of the ol’ two-out ninth batter “run to the hills” strategy successfully for three runs. This Century 21 team was pathetic. No denim either. They were just bad.
The “no denim” thing began when I had concluded that, in city league softball, your chances of victory become almost 98% when anyone on the opposing team is wearing denim of any kind. Chances are greatly increased if they’re wearing jean shorts, or “jorts.” You pretty much can’t lose when someone on the other team is wearing denim. The thought being that your team really sucks if there’s anyone on your team under the mindset that they can play softball (or any sport for that matter) in jeans. And the standards of a team that would let a player show up unprepared to play like that, wearing denim, is generally so low that their level of play is often pathetic and uninspired. Century 21 had all players in athletic shorts. They just played flat-footed.
At a pivotal point, though, in my evening. I’m on first base after a walk and standing there taking in the beautiful evening (total dad thing, there…mind just drifting away from the game…thinking about Ellison, butterflies). I look at the first baseman on the other team and I see him peek over to the stands and blow a kiss and wave. What the? Dude’s getting killed and he’s over here blowing kisses into the stands. I glance quickly over to where he’s motioning and see his little daughter with her face up against the fence smiling at her daddy.
Say it with me…”Aaaaawwwww.”
Wait…so we’re out here pounding these guys into oblivion and their freaking kids are witnessing it?! Then I notice that there’s like fifteen to twenty people watching them get just whooped. We’re killing these guys and we don’t have one person there rooting for us and they got entire families there to watch dad get owned in prison rec yard fashion. It would’ve meant more to me to get beaten anonymously then to rub their noses in it like a dog that just crapped on the carpet in front of their sons and daughters. But as someone said on the way out, better to beat someone like that then get to get beaten like that. I guess so.
City league softball…where scared dads beat soft dads and fearless beer-swiggling rednecks beat all dads because dads are softies. I’m one too. Even in victory, I’m a softy. I don’t even know how to win without feeling sorry for winning. I felt like apologizing to the families that witnessed that second game. Real classy, Bruise Bros.
Wednesday…hump day. Make someone cry today and prove you’re no slouch.