Thinking Man's Softball by Michael Vaughn - The Old Switcheroo
By Softball West
Being a person who likes to put the funny first, I begin with the following tale of deceit and deviltry, sent in by alert reader Jim Poston of Virginia City, Nevada.
"I'm playing left field at a softball complex in Washington with back-to-back fields; that is, the left field fence on my field is the right field fence for another field. The batter hits a low liner to my left into the gap. Knowing my buddy in left center would be backing me up; I dove for the ball but missed. At the same time, somebody on the field in back of us went ‘yard' over the right field fence. Their ball happened to bounce past me as the ball I wanted flew past me the other way.
"I figured the ball I tried to play was going to the fence for at least a double and maybe a triple. So being a ‘Mr. Thinking Man' disciple before it was fashionable, I picked up the extra ball and fired it to second. The surprised runner hit the brakes and reversed to first, probably wondering how we got the ball in so fast_ Everybody on the field was laughing at my ‘stupidity.' I couldn't convince anyone that I did it on purpose. They figured the impact had given me short-term brain damage!"
Jim did manage to fool the umpires - until the complaints of the opposing team sent the batter/runner on to second or third (the details are a little fuzzy). Although we here at Softball West are shocked (shocked I tell you!) that someone would resort to trickery to gain advantage in a softball game, we commend Jim for creative thinking in the heat of the battle.
Awareness: The Slo-Mo Replay
In last month's issue, I discussed the loss of memory that sometimes comes with a rapid-fire play - the way the body sometimes takes over from the mind. Recently, I had the opposite experience, a play that was so vivid I can run it back and forth like a mental Tivo.
Our opponents were two runs down in the sixth, two outs, with runners on first and second. The batter sent a slow grounder up the middle. From short, I took two steps across and dove, snagging the ball with my glove hand as I hit the dirt, bracing the fall with my right arm as I slid along on my abdomen. As I came to a stop, ten feet behind second base, I arched my back, clearing my shoulders so I could exchange the ball to my right hand and make a backhand flip to the bag. I remember realizing that there was no one at the bag, but trusting that there would be. Sure enough, my second baseman, Tony, came flying into my field of vision, arriving at the bag the same time as the ball. I celebrated (as prone shortstops are_ prone to do) by pounding the dirt with my fist.
Viewed in context - like backing up from a Seurat painting to see what the intermingling dots have conjured - the tapestry is even richer:
1.Though the dive behind second/backhand flip is fairly common (you're apt to see it in the big leagues at least once a day), I myself hadn't performed it in four years, and frankly, at 43, was beginning to wonder if I'd lost the knack.
2.One reason I did make it was my off-season "Eliminate the Belly" program, hours and hours of crunchies that added a layer of muscle to my abdomen. Legs and arms are the much-ballyhooed anatomical stars of softball, but when it comes to a play like this (the landing on the dive, the flex backward for the backhand flip), those middle muscles come in pretty_ handy.
3.In bracing myself with my right arm, I suffered a series of small abrasions I like to call "shortstop's rash." Though the morning-after shower can be a little harrowing, the ant-size scabs that follow can serve as a pleasant reminder of the night's heroics. (You outfielders, with your cushy green carpeting, will never understand.)
4.The momentum shift was a truly delicious thing. Our opponents were in the middle of a promising comeback, and I essentially killed it. In their final at-bat, they seemed totally disheartened, and went 1-2-3 to give us the win. The Germans call this Schadenfreude - "glee at another's misfortune" - and I think even the kindest of players would have to admit, it's a buzz.
The Ultimate "Doh!"
Speaking of misfortune and pivotal plays, one of the rarest of creatures is the misplay that kills a whole season. Red Sox fans will immediately think of Bill Buckner (and thank God the poor guy can finally have some peace), but I always think of my brother-in-law, Randy.
Randy's an excellent singles hitter, speedy on the bases, and a reliable, if not spectacular, outfielder. His fielding mannerisms are typified by extreme anxiety, but he always seems to make the play, regardless.
My coed team, the WYSIWYGs (computer parlance for What You See Is What You Get) was in the first game of a four-team, single elimination playoff, situated in a classic big-play setup: bottom of the last inning, two outs, our opponents down by a run with men on second and third. The next batter laced a line drive to right center. You could feel the whole team gasp at the power of the hit, but then relax when they saw it was headed right at Randy.
Dead-on liners are not to be taken lightly, however, and this one had some unexpected lift. Randy stretched up at the last moment, but it was too late. The ball skimmed the top of his glove and fell to the grass behind him. We all watched helplessly as the tying and winning runs came in to score.
Believe me, I've screwed up plenty, but never on the horns of such a devilish toggle switch: make the play and win, miss the play and see ya next spring! (Okay, either that or memory suppression has kicked in).
So what about you? Has anyone out there experienced this ultimate tragedy of defeat? Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it. We're there for ya, man.
Michael J. Vaughn is the author of the softball novel The Legendary Barons. Read his latest novel, Double Blind, for free at freenovel.blogspot.com.