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  • It’s been one hell of a year of softball for me. Sunday night, I played in my 89th and 90th games of the year. After these two games, I’ll only have four games left to play, then my ninth year of playing competitive ball again will be completed. This may well have been my finest.

    The year started out on shaky legs –literally. We had our first practice in late March, on a day when it was in the low forties (Fahrenheit) and threatening to snow. As I usually do, I overdid it in that first practice, and was feeling it, especially in my legs, the next morning. I woke up to snow falling – 4 inches had already fallen, and my son had shoveled the driveway, but it was still coming down. As I made my way out to the car to go to work, my heavy backpack slung over my shoulder and travel mug of coffee in hand, I misjudged the slipperiness of the driveway, my legs went out from under me as I crashed hard down on the concrete driveway. I managed to get up, and my legs felt sore, but I wasn’t sure if it was from my practice the day before, or the fall.

    By week’s end, the inside of my left knee was really sore. I went to the doctor to make sure I didn’t break or tear anything - they said it was just a sprain, and that I could probably still play on it, but suggested I keep it wrapped, ice it afterwards, and not overdo it.

    They didn’t really know me. I don’t know the meaning of “don’t overdo it”. If I’m playing, I’m playing all out. Our season-opening tournament was the following weekend, as well as our first regular season games that Sunday night. Nine games over two days. I played them all, had a great tournament and did well in the season-opening doubleheader. My knee seemed to hold up just fine through it all – adrenaline can mask a lot of things. You feel fine while you’re playing – but then you pay a price.

    By Monday, I could barely walk. The level of pain in the knee was intense. So, I began a routine of ibuprophen and regular icing that would continue for the next three months. It was just bad enough that I was dealing with constant pain for several days after I played, but was playable enough that I could play with it wrapped, and it didn’t seem to hurt my mobility. My concession was, I only played on Sunday nights for the first few weeks, until it became a little more manageable.
  • Ironically, I had my best year ever, both at the plate (batting up) and in the field. I led the team in Runs Batted In (RBI) in the spring, as we ran away with our division, earning my second championship as a manager. (My first year manageing, my team only won one game out of twenty, so I do appreciate it when we do well). I’ve played on three other championship teams, as well. The league never lets you rest on your laurels, though, as they put us into tougher divisions in the summer and fall leagues as a result of our championship, and we’ve struggled against the higher level of competition. But, my game continued to thrive throughout the summer. In addition to hitting well, I settled into playing third base more than I have in several years, and I played it really well, making all the plays, with the occasional spectacular play.

    Fall ball has been a different story, though. In my second to last doubleheader of the summer, I was on third base as a runner when the batter nailed me in the ankle with a screaming line-drive that I could not dance out of the way of. The swollen ankle and concern of a more serious injury resulted in a month-long layoff, in between summer and fall seasons, which had me seriously considering hanging up the spikes for good. You do think about these things, especially when you’re down. Some wise counsel suggested that, walking away while you can still walk might not be such a bad thing. My old friend Ray talked about the great athletes who quit while on top of their games, as opposed to the ones who kept playing well past their primes, becoming shadows of their former selves before they finally retired. So, yes, I seriously thought about it, long and hard…

    Until I got the MRI results, and they cleared me to play again. All of those thoughts of retirement flew right out the window. I fell back in love with the game all over again. There’s something about almost losing a thing that you love, then getting it back, that really makes you appreciate it that much more – it was kind of likethat for me. I am nowhere near ready to hang up these spikes. I love it too much.
  • My game hasn’t been as sharp in the fall as it was in spring and summer. I’m still playing well in the field – each game seems to provide me with the opportunity to make at least one spectacular play, and I’ve stepped up to each one and made that play, while also making all the routine ones - but I haven’t been able to get back into the rhythm I had going at the plate (batting) earlier on – I’m not getting on base nearly as often, not driving the ball consistently with the same authority as I was, even as my knee is in better shape than it’s been all year.

    But, none of that matters to me – I’m playing again, so I’m like a pig in shit out there. Fall ball always seems to be like that, anyway – loving every minute of playing, knowing that the long five months of winter, and no ball to play, looms just around the bend. I savor every last inning of play, win or lose.

    Friday night was my best night of the fall. A senior league team, the Time Bandits, recruited my buddy Roger and I to play with them next spring, and wanted to get a look at us at the end of the fall season. Roger had already gone out there for a few weeks, and nailed down the shortstop job, as well as hit well. Friday was my debut. You’re always nervous that first game with a new team. I tried to relax, because you play your best ball when you don’t try too hard. The night before, on Wayne’s team, I hadn’t played my best, and was hoping that didn’t carry over to this night.

    They had me playing Left Center field – one of the most active and challenging outfield positions – and batting lead-off, so I got to shake off the jitters right away. The first pitch of the game, I managed to stroke a gap shot between left and center for a stand-up double. Phew! That took care of my nervousness at the plate. In the bottom of the first, I was able to track down a hard hit ball to my right and catch it on the run, which allowed me to relax and just play my game in the field. I fielded everything hit my way, making a couple of other really good catches.

    I didn’t think I would, but I liked playing in the senior league. I’m looking forward to playing there next Spring. I’m in pretty good shape for my age (59 in 3 weeks), so I can hold my own there, and I’m a much better player now than I was when I first played senior league ball, back when I was a “senior” rookie, at age 51.

    (The last picture was from the time, in mid February, that we just couldn’t take the long winter wait any longer, and a bunch of us went out and played some softball in the snow. I was supposed to be making a Home Depot run, but got diverted to playing softball, instead. When someone posted this and other pictures on Facebook, and tagged me, I was big-time busted!)
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