We all know that Pavlov’s dog drooled when he heard a bell ring. A much sadder equivalent is that you’ll occasionally see a dog that cowers in fear when someone makes a sudden movement, because that’s usually a sign of abuse by a previous owner. I think for a few years now, I’m going to be cringing in a similar manner at the distinctive sound of a softball being launched off the end of an aluminum bat.
I work for a software company, and the IT industry is accurately characterized as not having a high percentage of females in the workforce. There’s also not a lot of star athletes to be found writing software for a living. Still, joining a co-ed softball team sounded like something fun when someone sent out an office-wide email looking for players, and I had been looking for something to do for exercise other than yet another trip to the gym. I hadn’t played any form of baseball in 20 years, but I figured that still gave me a leg up on coworkers that had never played at all.
The initial signups garnered interest from about 35 people. Some of them changed their mind realizing they wouldn’t play every game, some when they realized the costs involved, and others when it was announced that the team was only open to employees; no spouses, friends, or children. Practices started with 15-20 people. It was rough at first, I literally taught our female MVP how to put on a glove (she has lots of natural athleticism). Still, I think we all had these grand visions of finding hidden talents amongst our coworkers and rubbing elbows with office teams from certain other companies. There are some big names just down the road from us who have a softball field in their office complex. Turns out, we aren’t invited to that league, and we can’t use that field for practice either.
Instead, we were in a city recreation league full of people that have been playing together for 5-10 years, depending on the team. 95% of them are legitimately athletic, and they all really wanted to be out there. I can’t help but feel that most of these teams were trying to be big fish in a small pond, as their level of play appeared to be above and beyond the “casual” designation our league carried. Our season started with 20+ of our coworkers coming to watch us in a dismal 16-2 loss, and most haven’t been any better. By mid-season, we might have had 11 players show up for any given game, and maybe 1 or 2 dedicated family members watching in the stands.
Our closest score all season was an 11-5 loss against a previously winless team. The games have a 1 hour time limit, and in an intentional attempt to get off the field and bat one more inning before time was called we gave up a couple of runs by putting every pitch right over the plate to try to get faster outs. So that one was closer than the score really reflected, but still a loss. I wasn’t really joking when I suggested that we should form our own league starting with just their team and ours.
In the next game, we took a 27-4 beating in two and a half innings (we batted first). Our opponents had a powerhouse team that could both target gaps, the foul line, and the back fence (and beyond it) equally well. It didn’t help that we had a home plate umpire with an extremely odd strike zone, and we walked more of their players than we sent to the plate. That’s the game that will have me cringing, because for every three batters we didn’t walk, I probably had to run down the hit for two of them in left field, and not a single one of those was a catchable fly ball. My cleats actually gave up on me in that game and split down the side in mid-run as I chased a ground ball rolling to the corner.
After that game we were 0-6, with 4 games left in the season. One team in the league we haven’t played yet (early season rain-out) but were scheduled to play twice, and they had a positive record, which meant they were as good or better than the others. The other two teams left had beaten us by 14 and 15 runs in our earlier matches. You would almost suspect that there would be no point in continuing, we were obviously way out of any playoff contention, we were outgunned by a significant margin by the competition, and the games were downright embarrassing at times. But we kept going.
We did forfeit one game due to attendance, but not from a lack of will; we had several players out of town and a couple who fell ill that week, and we just couldn’t muster enough players for that game. At the end of our season, the “mercy rule” has been invoked in all but the one close game described above. For those not familiar, the mercy rule is where the game is ended prematurely because one team is winning by an amount that is considered insurmountable at that point in the match, it’s a sliding scale that narrows by the inning.
So why did we keep playing? Pride, pure pride. Every run we scored, every unexpected base hit from a player, and every diving catch was validation that we can play here, that there’s potential in our group. Every inning that we postponed the mercy rule is a victory, and validation. Our opponents continued to win every game, but we “won” every time we held a runner from advancing, or beat out a tag. Every time I rounded third and headed for home felt like a triumphant roar in the face of adversity, and it meant more to me than any blowout win ever could. I’m proud of my coworkers for hanging in there. I’m proud of them for trying as hard as they can. And I’m proud of them for not giving up.
Scheduling issues prevented us from joining a co-ed league for the new fall season. But we recruited a few new men, and we entered a new league. Hopefully, the playing field will be a bit more even this time around. If it isn’t, we’ll still play for pride, starting tonight.
Want to support the cause? Then check out my bat on Amazon, I use an ASA-Approved Easton S300. Absolutely my favorite in our collective arsenal, and as the season rolled on, it became the go-to for the rest of the guys on the team too. No home runs with it yet outside of practice, but I can feel that it’s got a few of them saved up for this season.
— The Tabletop (and occasionally Outfield) General