I’ve never liked the phrase, “There are two kinds of people in the world,” but when it comes to sports, I suspect it’s true. There are jocks and non-jocks, and I’m definitely one of the latter.
So when a couple of women on my husband’s rec league softball team canceled at the last minute and he asked me to fill in, I was not enthused. As a kid I was always the “last pick,” and the idea of getting out on that field filled me with painful memories. To make things even worse - I had no softball costume to wear.
My husband said some nonsense about having the right men to women ratio and having to forfeit, and blah, blah, blah, cry me a river.
Softball Game via Shutterstock
But it was no use. He said my lack of softball skills was completely irrelevant. All I needed were double X chromosomes and a beating heart.
Unfortunately I had both.
“Really, it’s just a bunch of old people, having fun playing ball,” my husband insisted. “I promise I won’t put you in any position where you might be embarrassed . . . and it’s a uniform.”
Nervously, I approached the dugout. My new teammates forced a friendly welcome. Twenty years ago these same men (and likely some of the women) would have greeted my slender physique with approval. But on this night they eyed my Olive Oyl boney figure with concern. Clearly there would be no power behind my swing, assuming I could even lift a bat.
The players on the opposing team were covered head-to-toe in scary tattoos and sported intimidating scowls. I questioned my husband. “Game face,” was his reply. That’s great.
Last up at bat, I stood terrified at the plate. The largest, most tattooed man on their team stood on the mound. As he got ready to throw the ball at me I remarked to the umpire, “I don’t really play softball. Haven’t held a bat since I was 12!”
“Uh huh,” he replied.
The ball came and I swung hard. Surprisingly, I made contact. I sprinted for first and made it there safely. The crowd went wild. Okay, not really. But my teammates seemed quite pleased and my husband looked genuinely shocked.
On the next play someone on our team must have gotten out because I was told I needed to leave the field. As I headed back to our dugout my teammates rushed toward me, arms raised in the air poised for attack. I lifted my own arms instinctively to protect my head, but then realized, oh, the high five. I awkwardly struggled to reciprocate.
“Did you see that? I got a hit!” I boasted to my husband.
“Yes, it was actually a fielders choice, but sure, great job!”
I didn’t care what he called it; it felt good. Maybe I wasn’t that bad at sports after all? Maybe if I had just tried a little harder as a child I could have been a jock? I finally started to relax.
“Okay, so on the next one,” my husband continued, “if you get on base I want you to let Marian pinch-run for you.”
“Huh, why? I know how to run and I’m not hurt. Why can’t I just run?”
“Well, it’s a tight game and Marian runs a little faster.” he replied.
I looked over at Marian, who might have been five years younger, but easily had 30 pounds on me. “Really? She doesn’t look faster. Are you sure she’s faster?”
“Oh trust me, she’s faster. Though not as fast as she was before her cancer treatment started,” he added.
“Wait, I’m slower than a woman with cancer? Am I really that slow?”
He didn’t answer. The game continued. People hit, people ran. No one smiled or laughed. I got on base with a walk. Marian took over. More people got out. The tattooed guys scored. The umpire and I repeatedly checked the time.
Though ultimately we lost, my teammates thanked me for a “Great job.” Fibbers all.
My husband insisted they were being genuine, and reminded me that I saved them from a certain forfeit. “The fact that you actually got on base was a bonus,” he added.
It was nice to know that I had exceeded their expectations of merely being able to breathe.
Back in the car I suddenly fought back tears. Why? Good Lord, why - over a dumb softball game? I supposed it was a tension release, from spending ninety minutes on edge, worrying I’d be discovered as the imposter in their midst.
But I really think it was that I didn’t expect these people to take the game so seriously. After all, these were middle-age men and women playing high arc, level “C” coed softball. Not a one of them had a shot at the major leagues.
I assumed that since these players were old and simply playing for the love of the game that it would be more relaxed than the horrible games of my youth.
I expected laughter. I expected goofing around. I expected people to actually be having fun. Otherwise, why play?
“Because playing hard, and competing to win is what makes it fun,” my husband explained.
I stared at him blankly, as if he were speaking another language.
There are two kinds of people in the world.
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