What I learned this week:
Getting kicked in the face hurts.
Yes, I am still playing softball.
It may not be the glory days of high school, when my fastball would touch the mid fifties and have opposing hitters wavering in their cleats with excitement over mashing my latest offering into the parking lot, but I still like to pretend I have a little bit of athletic prowess.
I do not.
Even in a co-ed league where the pitchers throw underhand, I am at best a singles hitter, slapping balls over the second baseman’s head on the rare occasions I don’t ground out.
I played half an inning at shortstop earlier this year and was faced with the brutal reality that while my brain knew to lunge left and make a diving stop of a grounder up the middle, my feet, ankles, calves, knees and thighs had already decided it was time for a glass of aged scotch and that no physical exertion to catch a little white ball would make the spirits taste any better.
Of course, finding out you are a statue when you used to pride yourself on at least being quick is nothing compared to the indignity of getting kicked in the face.
Like most of my finer moments in life, it was a situation of circumstance more than my own initiative. As the rules of co-ed softball go, you put your least-experienced girl behind the plate and tell her to get out of the way as soon as any actual game action commences. As such, it was my responsibility to cover home in the case of any plays at the plate.
This being a beer league, plays at the plate are rare. Generally, we try to get the ball back to the infield and allow as few runs as possible, knowing that pitching a shutout in softball is less likely than Dubya correctly pronouncing the name of any country in Eastern Europe.
Sometimes, though, our intentions get the best of us.
In this case, a single to left field prompted a lanky guy from some ad agency I’d never heard of to attempt a daring score from second base. He was not very fast and our left fielder was one of those ringer types that you pick up in order to field a team as the summer drags on and you can’t get your fellow employees to drive down to the ghetto softball fields on a hot August night (Neil Diamond; check it out).
The dude in left had a hell of an arm and decided to unleash a bullet towards home in order to show the lanky guy he had no right to assume we’d let him score without a fight.
At this point, I didn’t so much decide to cover home plate as I felt obligated to do so. The poor intern we’d made play catcher looked like she might faint at the very thought of trying to snag that throw from left field in the pink mitt she’d picked up in some toy store earlier in the day.
So, I ambled over to home plate and prepared to catch the errant throw. Only, it wasn’t that errant. We actually had a shot at this lanky guy.
Adreniline rushed through my body as I realized the throw would be off the plate, but a quick catch and swipe might nail the base runner.
The ball popped into my glove with a satisfying snap sound and I quickly turned to make the play and humiliate the opposing player and all of his friends. He must have been surprised by the close play because what he did next made absolutely no sense what so ever.
Not some poetic slow-motion beauty, twisting in the air to avoid my glove. He just sort of lifted off the ground and flailed his arms and legs a bit. I’m assuming he flailed his arms. I didn’t really see that. I just saw a cleat coming at my left cheek. Then I saw black and then I saw the orange dirt they sprinkle around the batters box to make sure nobody gets away with clean socks.
I lay on the ground for a few moments while my teammates all rushed over to see the damage. It wasn’t as bad as it felt, thank God. Just a scratch under my eye and a little bit of blood. Ever the sportsman, I showed the umpire my glove with the ball still in it.
The man in blue surveyed the scene and made his decision quickly.
Now, that really hurt.