By Andy Young
Special to The Windham Eagle
My team’s Greater Portland Senior Softball League season ended earlier this month with a 23-10 drubbing in the loser’s bracket of the post-season tournament. Our two straight playoff losses were unsurprising, given our regular season record of 16 defeats in 17 games.
How does a team allow 23 runs in a seven-inning contest? Very easily, as it turns out, and were it not for the league rule limiting scoring to five runs per inning (until the final frame), we’d likely have surrendered another dozen or so before our opponents got tired from all that running around the bases.
When I began playing men’s slow-pitch softball, I was a fleet-footed outfielder who batted leadoff, or somewhere else near the top of the order. The truth: I was really good.
But … the whole truth: that was nearly four decades ago.
I stopped playing the game in the mid-1980’s when complications involving employment intervened. (Translation: I finally got a real job.)
But a few years ago, circumstances changed again, and when a friend asked me to join his team in the over-50 league, I couldn’t resist.
At the first practice the guy running things asked me where I played. As a newcomer I sensibly responded I’d go wherever he wanted me to. I wanted to add that if he asked me to play catcher, I’d know it was time to call it a career, but it turned out there was no danger of that, since in the senior league there’s no shortage of physically limited players who actually want to play the game’s least demanding, least interesting position.
A softball field looks a lot like a baseball diamond, but that resemblance is misleading. Slow-pitch softball is to baseball what checkers is to chess. Or maybe what “Candyland” is to chess.
Young slow-pitch softballers who can’t maintain a batting average of at least twice their weight (or three times their weight if they tip the scales at less than 200 pounds) will be hitting at the bottom of the order, assuming they can locate a team weak enough for them to merit any playing time at all.
The only necessity for anyone over 50 wanting to play softball is the desire to have fun, and thankfully all of my teammates had that prerequisite.
Whatever requirements that players possess even a modicum of athleticism pretty much evaporate once one qualifies for the senior league; that’s how someone like me can still participate.
Some modifications help level the playing field: for example, anyone can request a pinch runner at any time, first base and home plate have been altered to help avoid collisions, and pitchers have to duck behind a screen after each delivery, lest they get separated from their senses (or some more tangible body part) by a line drive hit up the middle.
Everyone on a 1-18 team bears some responsibility for the squad’s dreadful record, and this summer I was no exception. Because of arm issues I could no longer play shortstop, and when circumstances dictated my return to the outfield, the infielders serving as cut-off men had to run halfway to the outfield fence to relay my anemic tosses back to the infield. (Update: when I saw my doctor, hoping to improve the situation, his no-frills diagnosis was: “You’ve got a really old shoulder!”)
I won’t be holding a formal press conference to announce my retirement, but if I did, I’d paraphrase renowned 20th-century philosopher Yogi Berra, who moonlighted as a Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees. One of his oft-quoted declarations was, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
It’s over. <