First, we take care of the necessary clean-up:
Game #6: Them 5, Us 2
Team Record: 3-3
Blow, Joe: Did Not Play (trip to St. Louis)
My on-base skills were sorely missed.
Game #7: Us 12, Them 4
Team Record: 4-3
Blow, Joe: 1-2 (walk, ground out to 3rd)
Season-to-Date Totals (through game 7):
Avg: .214 (3 for 14)
I was a late scratch from my original starting spot in left field, being replaced by He Who Cannot Play Outfield. I was fortunate, though, that the powers that be threw a few crumbs my way and allowed me to drag my lowly self to right. I caught the only ball hit to me, walked to load the bases my first time up, then broke up a double play, which allowed a run to score.
Naturally, it was time to take me out.
Continuing the streak of insane batting lineups and inane player substitutions, I started, played well, and took a seat on the bench after three innings. Needless to say, I was furious. In the last four games, I had been the Extra Hitter twice, switched positions during the game (without warning or need), batted in the last spot 3 times, and was taken out after 3 innings. Wouldn't want the room mothers' (managers) kids to have to sit out a whole game or anything like some of the other guys. No sir.
So, I handled it in my normal way – I sat on the bench and wouldn't talk to anyone. Honestly, I started wondering what I was doing, why I was there, and why it never seems to fail that no matter what sports venture I set out on, it always ends in bitterness and an acute sense of foolishness. As in, why do I delude myself into thinking I'll actually find a team that knows what the fuck they're doing and doesn't play favorites with all of their buddies that I have no interest in being? I didn't really give a shit what happened on the field, and I sure didn't want to talk to the ladies that run the team at that moment; they would have done well to stay clear of the dugout. I didn't want to be there at all.
While I was on the bench, I packed up all my stuff, put my keys in my back pocket, and prepared to make a mad dash out of there as soon as the game was over. And, after the obligatory handshake, I did just that. The main manager was handing something over the dugout to some of the guys. She started to offer whatever it was to me and remind me that the next game was the following night until she caught the look of disgust on my face and heard my abbreviated reply.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"I'm fine," I said, as I continued walking towards the gate.
"You sure? What's wrong, is something wrong?"
"See you at the game tomorrow?"
I nodded and continued on. It was obvious to her that I was very pissed off. I'm not one to make a scene most of the time, so that small (non) event above is usually about the extent of it. I thought on the way home of what I would say the next day if she brought anything up. Basically, it would have been along the lines of, "I come here to play, not to watch every other game from the bench. I've been through that bullshit enough, and I'm really not interested in going through it again. If there's no spot for me, then why did you pick me up?"
I was still mad the next day when I got up. Since I didn't get home until after midnight the night before and had to work all day, my uniform was still covered in dust and dried blood. I remembered having to peel my sock from my knee when I got home after the game, as it had dried to the large abrasion that, apparently, will never heal. Especially if I keep sliding on it (note to self: stop doing that.) I chugged home from work, scarfed down a sandwich, threw on the uniform, and prepared for the best.
Game #8: Us 14, Them 13
Team Record: 5-3
Blow, Joe: 0-2 (walk, intentional walk, reached on error, fly out (into double play))
Season-to-Date Totals (through game 8):
Avg: .188 (3 for 16)
What a terrible field. I think my favorite parts would have to include:
1) the permanently sealed restrooms (complete with "CLOSED" stencil)
2) the moat and drainage pipe behind 1st base
3) the tire tracks in front of 2nd base
4) Left-field Foul Territory Hill
Not to mention the precautions you had to take when sliding to make sure you didn't end up inside your own burial plot. The dirt was seriously about 4-5 inches thick, and not really dirt anyway. I found out the dangers early, after I walked to open the game and later tried to score from 3rd on a wild pitch. The footing? Not so good. Now, I told you a couple games ago that someone was going to get thrown out trying to score on a wild pitch. You knew it would be me. The poor footing, combined with the short distance to the backstop, was bad enough. The fact that the ball popped straight in the air and was basically waiting for the catcher when he got back there meant I was a dead duck. After a quick slide into home, I was left to once again stop the bleeding on my knee with my sock.
The sun, of course, was shining directly towards left field all game. The good news? I got to play the whole game. The bad news? Of course I was in left field! It was pretty rough, though all I did throughout the game was field grounders and line drive base-hits.
A suprising thing, though? After my elegant performance the night before, I moved from 11th in the batting order...to first. You wouldn't believe what a difference that makes. It's a completely different feeling. I imagined the other team to have an idea about me, and it wasn't, "Last batter! Easy out!" It was more like, "Dangerous batter. Lead-off guy. Be careful." And it worked. I never felt uncomfortable on any pitch, like I was ready for anything they could throw to me. I walked the first time up, hit a smash to 2nd (though it was right at the guy, which he misplayed), was intentionally walked the 3rd time (to load the bases, but still...give me something), and hit a fly ball right at the right fielder the 4th time.
The best part, though, was still to come.
It was an inordinately sloppy game on both sides. What was especially frustrating was that while the fielders on the left side were battling the sun on every pitch, the rest of the infielders played with their concentration obviously focused somewhere else. There were a sad number of easy, ground ball outs that went over, under, off of, and past the gloves of various infielders. The game should never have been that close.
My 2nd favorite part of the game happened when I was coaching third base one inning. Pregnant man, who is easily the fattest and slowest guy on the team, has an odd affection for bunting. He'll do it with two strikes, with a runner on 2nd with 2 outs – basically anytime when it's the stupidest. So, he tries to bunt once again in this game with two strikes, fouls it off, and gives away a ridiculous out. Two guys from the other team were sitting on the bench behind me, and this was their exchange:
Guy 1: Who bunts with two strikes? Why'd he do that?
Guy 2: Because he's a short, fat fuck that has nothing to look forward to in life.
I didn't want to start cracking up right on the field, so I just kind of turned around and smiled.
Flash forward to the bottom of the last inning. We were the visiting team, and took the field clinging to a 3-run lead. After a few extraordinarily ridiculous errors allowed runners to reach, everyone got to witness what will probably be my lone attempt at throwing someone out at the plate. It was a good one, too. I mean, I'm pretty sure the throw (from short left field) was going to reach the catcher on the fly. The base runner was still a couple steps away, and I stood there waiting to see it actually happen.
What I saw was the pitcher, who was standing on the infield grass on the side of the pitcher's mound, leap high into the air and tip the ball with his glove. So, not only was everybody safe, but I just stood there kind of dazed. How could he?
With 2 outs, runners on 2nd and 3rd, we clung desperately to a 1-run lead. The sun had thankfully set an inning ago, and I was remarkably calm. Which worked out well when the batter laced a line drive towards the left center-field gap. I'm not really sure why nerves didn't get to me, but it was a thing of beauty as I waltzed confidently and stood at the exact spot the ball was travelling, snagged it, and just like that the game was over. It was great – there was absolutely nothing in my mind while the ball was in the air. Almost zen-like.
I think it helped that I didn't realize it was the last inning.
Still, everyone was thrilled, high-fiving me left and right. "I was SURE that ball was in the gap when he hit it," was the concensus from everyone. "I was just thinking, don't hit it to me, don't hit it to me" was what another guy told me. And, just like that, I was the game's savior. Just by sheer force of being able to catch the ball. Isn't it funny how quickly things change?
For a day, anyway.