Thinking Man's Softball by Michael Vaughn - Some funny softball moments
By Michael Vaughn
Softball is rife with opportunities for wackiness - especially the frenetic offensive pinball machine of slow-pitch. With this in mind, I recently canvassed my network for funny stories.
My favorite came from shortstop Doug Nishijima, who plays for the Bell Plaza Bums in Sunnyvale, California. The setup sounds like something from a movie: bottom of the seventh, two runs down, runners on second and third, no outs. Doug at the plate and_they intentionally walk him. Good baseball move; bad softball move (you're putting the winning run on base!).
So up comes "Hothead" Andy, notorious for hitting either 300-foot drives or weak popups to the pitcher. Manager Tom is begging for an easy single (me, I'd be thinking smooth and airborne to the outfield, move up those runners).
"So what does Andy do?" says Doug. "He swings out of his shoes, and the ball barely tips the endcap on his bat and drops straight down, right in front of the batter's box. He just acts like it's a foul ball, and stands in the box. The catcher picks up the ball, steps on home, throws to third base, and the third baseman throws to first. Triple play, game over."
My second entry comes from Lisa Lee, finest female outfielder in the world, also from Sunnyvale. Lisa's coed team, All About Me, headed to Dallas for a "worlds" tournament. Thanks to six inches of rain, they didn't get started till 8 p.m. Saturday, and then, in a double-elimination tournament, they lost their first game. Determined to cram everything into a 24-hour window, the tournament directors instructed Lisa's team to play at midnight, 2 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m., 6 a.m., and on until their final game, at 6:30 Sunday night. They won 13 games in a row - and the tournament.
"125 teams, 14 games in less than 24 hours," said Lisa. "We were running on adrenaline only! I will never forget it."
My old men's team, the Dukes, stayed together for ten years, and when first baseman David Booker got my email in Albany, New York, there could be only one response: the ill-fated chase of Rici Hernandez.
It was a playoff game, and Rici was playing right field when a southpaw powered one far over his head. Determined to track it down, Rici turned and ran, flat-out, seeming to forget that we were playing on a field with fences.
But the fence didn't forget. Rici slammed into a wooden advertising panel at full speed. He seemed to dangle there for a moment, like a bug on a windshield, before dropping to the warning track.
The story wouldn't be half so funny if it weren't for two important factors: 1) Rici managed to escape with only a fat lip, and 2) someone caught the whole thing on video. Much to Rici's chagrin, we spent most of our team parties in front of the TV, watching and re-watching his desperate run for glory.
Got some funny stories of your own? Send them to email@example.com and I'll pop them into the next column.
The Big Catch
Humor is one good reason to play softball. Another is the pursuit of peak moments, when your mind, your instincts and your body get together to perform alarming feats.
When I play outfield, I have two touchstones for these kinds of plays: the 1954 World Series, when Willie Mays ran deep into the Polo Grounds centerfield to catch Vic Wertz's drive over his shoulder; and the 1972 World Series, when the A's Joe Rudi leapt to an incredible height along the left field fence to pick off a fly ball.
I manage to get maybe one of these divine moments each year - but this year, I was having my doubts. After a year's layoff, I was missing the old "edge," the confidence and courage you need to make exceptional plays. And I was down to the last two games of summer.
Then a leadoff hitter surprised me by pulling a fly over my head. I turned and ran, spotted the ball coming in, and stretched my arms for a Willie-style nab. A couple innings later, I was playing at a more legitimate depth when the cleanup hitter really cranked one, and I made the same catch.
Okay, I thought. This is getting good. Not quite to the level of divinity, but I was beginning to "feel it."
The next week was the last game, and I felt possessed - limbs crackling with energy. In the third, a guy came up and cranked one down the left field line. I turned and ran, but kept an eye over my left shoulder. It was a long way, but the ball had some loft, so I knew I could get to it.
At the last second, I realized the ball had drifted, and I was on the wrong shoulder. My body seemed to take in the info and adjust all on its own. I leapt up and extended, my left (glove) arm stretching at an extreme angle to reach back and pocket the ball.
What followed was a beautiful, reckless chaos. Thrown out of balance, I landed on one foot and fell, rolling into a somersault and back up to my knees to turn and show the ball to the umpire. My team let out a roar. The other team grudgingly applauded (one of the sweeter phenomena of the softball experience). The approval was nice, but the best feeling was inside that moment, where I had hit the outer limits and come back with the ball. And I could finish my season in peace.
Michael J. Vaughn is the author of the softball novel The Legendary Barons (deadendstreet.com). See baseball and softball stories by Michael J. Vaughn and other authors at slowtrains.com.