Wednesday, March 20, 2013

the thrill of victory (or was it the agony of defeat?)

I got my very first full-time professional job when I was 24, working as a technical editor at a research consortium. The company where I worked had about 50 employees, maybe 15 of us in our twenties, most of us married (Dean and I had been married for a little over a year). The building where we worked was located in one of those business parks, a small city created entirely out of corporate regional headquarters. So of course there was a softball league.

You know me well enough by now to know that softball was not my thing. Any sport is not my thing. I spent my childhood between the covers of a book, poking my head out as rarely as possible. I branched out into marching band in high school, spending hours sweating in the Texas sun learning half-time shows, but that was the closest I ever came to athletic achievement.

So when my co-workers came to beg and plead that I join the softball team, I looked at them as if they were swamp creatures come to ask me if I would join them for a wallow in the mud. Are you serious? NO, I will not join the softball team. Hell, no. For one thing, you wouldn’t want me, and for another, NO.

But they were persistent, mainly because you had to have a certain number of players on the roster to join the softball league. Finally I gave in. I would join the team on one condition: I would only actually play if they were going to have to forfeit the game otherwise—because if you didn’t have enough players, you couldn’t play.  That way they couldn't get mad at me for being a dud, because they would have lost anyway.

So I became the team scorekeeper, which (predictably) fascinated me—there was an entire language of softball to learn (ribbies and infield flies and errors), and a sheet of scorekeeping paper filled with rows of little diamonds where you recorded each play of the game. I loved scorekeeping.

Occasionally, dangit, two or three people would have some conflict preventing them from playing, and I would have to actually join the lineup. To everyone’s surprise—especially mine—I could hit anything in practice. They used me at bat during fielding practice because I could pop anything out into the field. I had zero control, but that was actually good for fielding practice, because you never know where the ball is going to go anyway.

But during a game, put me at bat with everyone looking at me and tensions high, and I struck out every single time. Every single time. I’m not sure I’m remembering all the details right, but I think that went on for an entire season and into the next. Usually, I was the scorekeeper. When I had to play, they put me at the bottom of the batting order to minimize my impact. They were all very kind and patient with me—they loved me and I loved them—but we all knew that I was never going to contribute much as a player.

So finally about halfway through the second season we were playing the forest service. (The women on our team loved playing the forest service because of all the cute guys.) It was one of the games that I had to play. It was hot, North Carolina hot, probably about 92 degrees and 95% humidity. We were all sweaty and sticky and we were getting whipped and we just wanted the game to be over. My turn at bat came up, and I got two strikes, or maybe I fouled off one or two, I don’t remember.

But somewhere about the third or fourth pitch, I managed to nick the edge of the ball and it dribbled out straight in front of me, maybe fifteen or twenty feet. OH MY GOD. Wayne, our best player who was the first base coach when he wasn’t on base, started yelling, “RUN! RUN, BARB!! RUN!” I took off for first base as fast as I could go, and my team erupted into frenzied shouting and cheers.

The other team, probably startled into mystified paralysis by our inexplicable reaction, took a moment to galvanize their forces, and I managed to make it to first base by a hair. Wayne grabbed me in a bear hug and swung me around while our entire team jumped and whooped and hollered. I must have been laughing like a loon.

When we managed to calm down a bit, the cute first baseman from the other team shook his head and said, “Geeze, what was that about?” I grinned at him, my face about splitting in half. “This is the first time I’ve ever been on base,” I told him. And he blinked and shrugged, probably embarrassed for me, and the game went on.

I wish I could say that my moment in the spotlight spurred us on to victory, but honestly, I have no memory of the rest of the game. That’s all I remember. So there you have it-- my greatest moment in sports: I made it to first base one time in a company softball game. This is mainly set up for another post, because when I tried to briefly type this story to make a point about something or other, it got so long it started taking over the other post (which I may or may not ever finish).

How about you? Are you a softball star? Do you have a favorite sport? What is your greatest sports moment?


  1. Holy crap that's a good story. I don't even care if you do the follow-up post. And that clip!!!! Oooooo, I got dizzy from the flashbacks.

    Wait, you had a question. No, I've never played softball. I did, however, play football in high school. Sadly, at that time it was called "Powder Puff" -a name we all refused to say outloud. I was on the line. Yes, right in the middle, as Center.

    We had six games, exhibition-type, at half-time during the "regular" season for the boys team. All three years (we didn't have 4 year high schools, but 3 in junior, 3 in senior). It was blast.

    The best part for me was later, because two-thirds of my offspring went on to play the sport as well. (J.D. [obviously] and Hanny, not Em.)

    1. I know, that youtube clip practically brought tears to my eyes, it was so familiar. I wonder why they don't still do something like that? AND, I am SO impressed that you played football! I vaguely remember something about powder puff football, but it never even occurred to me that I might do it. very cool.

  2. I don't sport. Just. No. I will hike as the day is long. I will happily swim and splash. I will joyfully kayak. I will dance like a lunatic in the privacy of my living room if no one is home. But I do none of these things well.

    Dang, you are a good writer. I mean, really, really good.

    1. Karen! What a nice thing to say! thanks. I feel exactly the same about exercise-- the non-competitive stuff is fine, but competitive sports leave me cold.