It’s that time of year. Your softball team has started its quest for the league trophy. And for a brief, shining time, you can once again pretend you’re 12 years old. And this gives your sad, frustrating life a moment of meaning. You have the chance to be the superstar that you dreamed you’d be back in Little League. The scrappy leadoff hitter, the gold -glove outfielder, the competitive athlete. For just a few hours you can pretend that you have a full head of hair and no belly. You’re no longer a CPA or a bus driver. You’re that skinny kid in high school with the quick bat and the sexy swagger.
Softball is your chance to show the world that you’ve still got it. It’s your opportunity to demonstrate just how cool you can be, just because you can hit a ball the size of a grapefruit that’s thrown at you underhanded at two miles per hour a hundred feet into shallow center field. You are the man. You are a softball player. And OK, in reality, you’re not very good. But you’re still there, still playing, still showing up to every game! That’s because you’ve learned the rules. The rules of the veteran softball player.
Rule #1: You never slide
You always surrender. Sliding is for those players that really, really care if they’re safe. You really, really care that you show up to work the next morning not on crutches. You are not Jimmy Rollins. You are an overweight guy who made a mistake trying to stretch that single into a double. You willingly accept your punishment and look your teammates in the eye as you head back to the bench. Big deal. Your car is nicer than most of theirs anyway.
Rule #2. You let the better players have their way
You say nothing when you’re asked to sit more often than others. You don’t complain when you’re batting last. You back off when the shortstop pushes you out of the way to catch the popup hit right to you. You ignore those “a walk’s as good as a hit” or “hit it on the ground” pleas from the dugout. You always pretend you have a leg injury if you get on base so you can be substituted with a faster runner. Why? Because you’re a team player. And your car is nicer than most of theirs anyway.
Rule #3: You play second base
Or right field. Or catcher. You play those positions not out of choice, but because the manager puts you there. Which means that you suck. But that’s OK. You don’t have to try too hard when a ball is hit to you because everyone knows that you’re only playing that position because you suck and no one’s expecting you to make the play. If you do make the play, you’re a hero. If not, then no one’s disappointed. Win-win.
Rule #4. You wear jeans to the game
Or sandals. Or glasses. Or you have a beard. Any combination of these four things means that you’re probably a lousy athlete. So you’ll bat near the bottom of the order and play second base, right field or catcher. And two things will happen: You’ll get little action and fewer at-bats which lowers your risk of injury. Or you’ll get lots of action because the opposing team is targeting you and hey, it’s good exercise. Win-win, again.
Rule #5. You never walk
Why? Because even though you can barely hit the ball out of the infield, you at least have enough self dignity to realize that you’re playing a game of slow pitch softball and the whole point is to come to bat swinging. Those guys who “work the walk” in slow pitch softball are the same guys who “take the first pitch” and adjust their batting gloves (batting gloves?) after each ball is thrown. This is slow-pitch softball for pete’s sake! You know enough to realize that when a 45-year-old guy comes to the plate looking to “work the walk” or otherwise behaving like a leadoff hitter in the MLB during a Sunday morning softball game he likely has a small penis. There. Said it.
Rule #6: You do not watch the NCAA softball games on ESPN
You will be humbled. Embarrassed. Amazed. Yes, they are girls. And they kick ass. Your confidence doesn’t need to be shattered this early in the season.
Rule #7. You never discuss your softball stats with anyone
You avoid this because a) you are terrible and so are your stats but more importantly b) no one in the entire universe gives a flying you-know-what about your batting average. It’s slow-pitch softball! If you’re batting less than .500 it’s embarrassing. And if you’re batting more than .500 it’s not that impressive. That’s because … it’s slow pitch softball! So go ahead — relive that awesome line drive you hit over the first baseman’s head three days later as you’re driving to work. Your memories are your own to enjoy. But trust me … no one else cares. Or remembers.
Rule #8. You resist all calls to play short field
There are 10 people on the field during softball so where do you play the extra person? You know by now not to play the “short” fielder, which is someone who plays shallow between the infielders and outfielders. This decision is always wrong. It’s been miscalculated too many times. No one will ever guess where the other team is going to hit it. You’ve learned that playing four-across in the outfield is generally the best approach. Being a veteran softball player you guard this secret with your life. It’s a very, very important piece of knowledge that every successful softball team knows.
Rule #9. Finally (and most importantly)
You apply ice to the area for 30 minutes every few hours for two to three days. You wrap the hamstring with an elastic bandage. You elevate your leg on a pillow when sitting or lying down. You take Aleve. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.
Have fun. And play hard. But not that hard. It’s just softball.
Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.