As an avid softball player, each year when the weather turns cold, a bit of me dies inside until the spring comes back around. In the winter, the days become shorter, the sun hides for days at a time, and the landscape becomes a tundra with almost no life to speak of -- and since snow covers the ground, there is no more softball for all those Minnesota ball players. Sure there is plenty else to do in the winter, but since I'm not really an outdoorsmen (fishing, hunting, camping), my options are a bit limited -- playing poker and bowling will just have to suffice.
I'm the type of guy who loves to be outside throwing around a football, shooting hoops at the park, venturing to a golf course to lose two sleeves of balls, or lacing up my cleats to play softball. My favorite of all of those is softball -- I can't get enough of it -- I'd even venture to say I'm a touch obsessed (hence the lament). But once the weather becomes unseasonable, all those outdoor activities need to be moved inside -- and to be frank, indoor softball leagues are a joke, barely even resembling the actual sport itself. So once the season ends in fall, I'm stuck without the sport I love for six months.
I think part of my love for softball stems from the Minnesota summer season, a stretch of months that when not too hot, are the best in the state.
But really, who are we kidding? I love to hit the ball and run the bases -- even more, I love to smash towering shots over the fence, walking right back to the dugout after rocketing a ball into the night (in most leagues players don't run the bases after a home run). This past summer, I hit 46 home runs, four shy of my goal of 50 -- the long winter seems even longer waiting for the euphoria of connecting the sweet spot of the bat to the ball. I eagerly await this upcoming summer for the challenge of trying to best my home run total from the summer/fall of 2013.
I love all the ball fields scattered across the metro -- from my stomping grounds, Russell Memorial Fields at Walton Park to The Stadium off Highway 61. Beginning as a boy playing tee ball, I have always loved the ball field -- the chalked lines, the green grass, the manicured infield, the chain link fence enclosing the game, and the towering bright lights illuminating the sky above for miles, these are the things I love about a ball field.
I love the sounds of the game -- the sounds I cannot escape are the ball ricocheting off the composite bats, the ball smacking into the mitt of a leather glove, the clanging of bats in the batter's box, the velcro of batting gloves, and most of all, the chatter in the dugout and the fans getting into the mix with their cheers and boos.
Aside from playing the sport, my favorite thing about playing softball is the camaraderie I have with teammates. I played in quite a few leagues this summer and fall and I was privileged to see most of my teammates on a weekly basis -- but now they become people I only run into on occasion.
On the more competitive teams I played on, these are the guys you've fought back with, from down eight in the bottom of the last inning of the championship game to winning the contest without recording a single out. Those triumphs, the teamwork and the collectivism is no longer thriving on Minnesota ball fields come January. It's easy to miss sitting on the bench in the dugout, enjoying a game with friends.
I also miss the after game beer drinking (in moderation of course). One of the best things about being on a team is going to celebrate wins or commiserate losses with those who fought through it all with you. It's a blast to enjoy some barley pops with teammates and relive the highlights and razz on the mistakes.
The weekly post game engagement that I'll miss the most is drinking a few beers with the Rogues' biggest fan (my Wednesday night league), a 90 year-old woman -- we'll just call her Aggie. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, Aggie always comes to watch the Rogues -- and post game, she is always at the bar playing pull tabs and talking about the highlights of our games. The Rogues won their first ever league championship on that miraculous last inning eight run comeback in the bitterly cold fall weather. The only Rogues fan in the stands rooting us on? Yes, the 90 year-old grandmother of our team's manager. Those are the moments I will miss come February, winning a championship in walk-off fashion and celebrating with our biggest fan. "It's happening grandma!"
I manage a couple teams throughout the summer, one of them a "family-type team," with myself, my wife, my sister, my brother, my brother-in-law, two of my cousins, and two of my very best friends. Seeing them on a weekly basis is hard to replace. I miss playing on the team with my wife (who is no scrub herself) and spending the night competing in a ball game I love with people I love. The two of us are both very competitive people (something that attracted me to her -- she loves to play and can hit a ball farther than some guys) and not only do we love playing, but we cherish standing in the same outfield together (though she says I hog the fly balls sometimes). We have a lot of fun batting one after another in the batting order. Though our Co-Ed team is pretty good (we also have two ringers on our roster), and I do enjoy winning, the best part about that team is the people I play with.
And of course, all sports need their off seasons -- but unfortunately for Minnesota, the offseason is very long, a stretch of months comprised of awful weather and bone chilling temperatures. Those days and nights are the ones where I miss the softball field the most. I miss blasting that large yellow ball into the evening sky.
I love so much about softball -- the sport, the weather, the field, the friends and family, the post game shenanigans, and the winter chill bites just a touch more by taking all those things away from me.
Until next spring.
Photos via: Love Beer Hate Cancer
, Bob Poferol, and Joe Thompson