I play softball. Have I ever mentioned that before? I guess I did in the Jim post. Anyway, I play softball. I’ve played in my church softball league for about 14 years (wow, that’s scary). For the last three years I have been the commissioner, of not only my league, but two others as well, totaling about 25 teams. Its a lot more work than one might think, but I enjoy it for the most part. When I’m not dealing with truant umpires, illegal bats, unprepped fields, and having to play collection agency for tardy league fees. But like I said, for the most part I enjoy it. One of the leagues I run is a coed league, one is a mostly men’s recreational league, and one is a men’s competitive league. That’s the one I play in. Despite the name, competitive league, its really just about having fun. And its way more fun to win. I play to win.
There are six teams in my league, two from my church, Santa Rosa Bible, and four from other churches around town. I play for SRBC Blue. Our record this year said we were a .500 team, seven wins, seven losses. But really we were better than that. For the summer league softball team manager, also me, the number one challenge is getting all your players to the games as often as possible. With jobs and vacations and injuries, this is not an easy task. When all my guys could be there, we were a solid squad. We struggled early in the year, to a 1-3 record, and had a critical double-header coming up, versus the two top teams in the league at the time, including our arch-rival SRBC Red, managed by my cousin. Incredibly, we swept the doubleheader and when on to win six of our next seven. We were poised to make a run at the top of the standings. Then the wheels came off. We lost our last three regular season games, all by one run, including our last where we held a two run lead with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the seventh, and we blew it. The skid left us with the #3 seed in the playoff tournament and forced to have to play the defending champs, the young and always dangerous, Hessel church. As noted in the Jim post, that game ended after seven innings in a 10-10 tie.
After the incident with Jim that night, things got a little crazy for the ol’ commissioner. Since I cancelled a couple games, I spent the next day frantically making phone calls and sending emails to try to get things squared away. Well, no one wants to hear about some boring administrative paper shuffling, so we’ll skip all that and just say it worked out alright. Hessel graciously gave us the win from our tied, suspended game, even though their pitcher had saved our left fielders life, literally. As a result we would be facing the perennial league power house, Spring Hills.
Spring Hills had been the dynasty of the league for a long time. They were the New York Yankees of church softball. They had speed, they had pitching, they had defense, and their lineups over the years had rivaled the ’27 Yankees. The Murderers Row of slowpitch softball. Last year however they were dethroned for the first time since I can remember, beaten in the tournament by the young upstarts from Hessel. This year they appeared to be mortal. They finished with an 8-6 record, still good enough for second place, but they had maybe lost six games in the previous ten years combined. They led the season series against us 2-1, but we were confident. We knew the giant could be slain. As like most of our games this year, this one was fought tooth and nail. We see-sawed back and forth until it came down to a 7-7 tie in the top of the seventh. We had a runner on second with two out, when our third basemen Bruce stepped to the plate. I don’t remember much about the at-bat, except that he delivered with a base hit to left field, scoring the man from second and giving us a one run lead. In the bottom of the inning Spring Hills had the heart of their order up. Make not mistake, though their lineup was not the tour de force it once was, their 2-3-4-5 batter can still mash. Our savvy pitcher, Dennis, did an outstanding job and managed to get the first two batters out quickly. The next batter was their #1 stud. I’ve seen this guy hit blasts that nearly went into orbit. I was in left field. He was right handed and a pull hitter. He took a mighty cut and sent the sphere in my direction, slicing ever so slightly to my right. As I ranged over to ice the game, a soccer ball from a girls soccer team that was practicing near our field came flying into my field of vision and into leftfield. Not to be distracted, I kept my eye in the ball and squeezed as it hit my glove. Game over. We’re playing for the championship.
We had expected to be playing our rivals, SRBC Red, for the championship as their semi-final was against a team that was only 5-9 on the season, but finished strong, including a win against us. But Red apparently couldn’t handle the heat of the postseason spotlight and were utterly murdered. We would be facing 1st Baptist. We were the home team so we took the field first. Their first two batters reached base. Their third batter then laced a basehit to right field, where it skipped through the legs of our fielder and rolled forever. Three runs scored. The rest of the game was a pitchers duel. That’s an embarrassing thing to write since this is slowpitch softball we are talking about. Yes, the one where they pitch underhand. I know it sounds ridiculous, but hitting in slowpitch is not quite as easy as it sounds. That being said, neither team has any excuse for hitting as poorly as we did. We were like a bunch of limp-wristed, fourth graders. By the time we reached the sixth inning we were losing 2-3. In the bottom of that inning we managed to get the bases loaded, but had two outs. Our young catcher, seventeen year old rookie named Johnny, was next at the bat. The tension was palpable. “Let’s go Johnny!” we shouted, coaxing him to success. Johnny put ’em in a body bag! He swung at the first pitch, placing it right up the middle just past second base, driving in the game tying run. I came up next, and promptly grounded out to second. We held them at bay in the top half of the seventh, and had the meat of our order coming up to try and win it. The first batter was retired, but the next two scorched base knocks, giving us runners on the corners with one out. My dad was the next batter. He’s a pretty good player, my dad. He’s been a little hobbled the last couple weeks with a bad calf, but he’s come through with some big hits for us. All we needed was a little ground ball through the infield, or a long fly ball. Instead we got a short fly ball, not nearly far enough to score the runner from third. Two outs, nerves on edge. The sunlight was leaving us, so if we didn’t do it now, we might end up with a coin flip to decide the champion. No one wants that. Our last best hope was our savvy veteran Rob. He took the first pitch, ball one. The next one came in a little bit flat. He took his short stride and his bat sliced through the air on a level plane, sending a sinking line drive up the middle. The center fielder came charging in, made a dive, and came up inches short. Our runner scored, giving us the victory.
After too many years, we finally brought the SRBC Competitive League crown back home where it belongs. Once again we can hold our heads high when we walk into a Sunday morning service. After the game we took the game ball and all autographed it and we’re going to give it to Jim who is still in the hospital. He’s doing very well, though he did have a stint put in yesterday, but the doctors are continuing to run tests to figure out exactly what happened. It would have been nice if he could have been there with us.
All in all, I’d call it a successful season. I always enjoy the winter, when I don’t have to commission, but I always look forward to if again once the spring rolls around. And next year, I have a title to defend.