For those of us who are not in primary, middle, and high school, it is summer. If you don’t believe me when I say this, then allow me to offer up an explanation.
Ever since I was little, my dad has packed up a ratty black and red bat bag with aluminum bats, gloves, pinstriped pants, and florescent colored baseballs, and shoved it into the trunk of his car for a Sunday night baseball game in Elizabethtown. He would head off early for batting practice before the game and then meet myself, my mom, and my sister at the field, where we would watch him swing at slow pitches, hoping for a hit, whilst our bottoms grew uncomfortable on concrete bleachers poured into the side of the hill. The start of the season and the weekly trips on 283 to the field always represented summer for me; whether the weather was warm or not didn’t matter.
I always enjoyed these Sunday nights, riding off to his games, getting to play on the Fun Fort playground before the game, and then running around to the small windows in the rear of the dugout during the game so I could say hi and get a smile from my dad and his teammates. If I was lucky, after the players would shake hands, I would be able to run the bases.
For years my dad played in this league for older gentlemen who, more or less, had not the agility or endurance to be a part of the fast-pitch scene any longer. Today, I tend to call it old-men’s softball. And, these old men are still playing!
“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.” —Walt Whitman
The first week I was home from college, I was able to go to one of his games. He’s with a different team now, and the league doesn’t operate out of Elizabethtown any more, but the feeling I get being there and the atmosphere is still the same. For these men, you can tell that to be able to continue to play softball into old age has been a blessing, keeping their passion for the sport alive. I’ve never seen such a competitive bunch of men, playing each game with the drive to win as if it was for a national championship.
Even though they can’t jump as high for the fly ball, they still do, laying out their limbs like bird wings, reaching, and stretching as far as they can. They still run for grounders like it’s a grenade ready to go off and they have to throw their opponent out at the nearest base so it won’t detonate. And, after they get the perfect pitch and their hit goes out into the edges of the infield, they break for first base as if they can still sprint, even though it’s more like a quick shuffle for most.
Each mistake earns its frustrations and groans. Each big play earns its cheers and claps on the back. And, at the end of each game, both teams meet at home plate to shake hands. The dynamic and competition of the game still hasn’t changed, the support of the families who come to watch hasn’t changed. The only thing that has is what year it is, and I think that’s truly amazing.
Now summer isn’t my favorite season, but it’s a close second because of these games. My dad’s teammates watched me grow up next to the baseball diamond, and never fail to tell me stories about what I was like as a kid, running around with scabby knees and the attention span of squirrel. Being older now, and transitioning into being more of a young adult, I appreciate these games so much more, as I know my dad and his teammates do as well.
“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!” ― Babe Ruth
As we get older, we never know which game will be our last, whether it’s because of bad legs, arms, or backs. But something that will never go away is the love of the game and the passion that competition inspires in us. I love that my dad is healthy enough to continue to play in the old-men’s softball league, just as much as I love watching him play. There’s really nothing better.