Softball Tournament in Calgary

This weekend saw the first league tournament of the season. Frankly, I couldn’t quite figure out why we had a tournament so early in the year (we’ve had TWO regular season games so far, both on the same day). But I wasn’t about to turn down the ability to go out and get some more practice.

Goodness knows I need it.

Our first game was Friday evening up in the Northeast at Lester B. Pearson High School (a bare hop-skip-and-jump from my Aunt and Uncle’s), against a team called the Screwballs. Oddly enough, of the three games we played this weekend, theirs is the only one whose name I remember.

We almost had to forfeit due to lack of players. It wasn’t a problem of not enough women, we didn’t have enough guys. Luckily, the rest showed up just as we started the game. It was a chilly evening, so I was quite happy to play right field, where I would be at least somewhat mobile.

The first inning went more-or-less uneventful — no major screwups on our part, no major offensive on their part. The second inning brought my first at bat. Memories of our first two games hung heavily with me. I was dreading another strike out. I hadn’t had the chance to get to a batting cage (and so I’ve found out since then, they ain’t cheap, so I’ll be going sparingly when I actually get around to going). I was, shall we say, apprehensive.

Looking at the selection of bats, I noticed that there was a new bat. I’d tried all the previous three bats, all without success. I figured that I couldn’t possibly do any worse with the new bat.

The first pitch looked good. Figuring that I was going to miss it anyway, I swung. A peculiar feeling vibrated through the bat handle a fraction of a moment later, and I found myself wondering what just happened. I looked up to see a small off-white sphere sailing away from where the bat had just been. The now-familiar “plack!” sound the ball usually made when it landed on the mat was not to be heard. Using my powerful deductive reasoning, I came to the (rather surprising) conclusion that I’d actually hit the ball.

Who ‘da thunk it?

That’s when I heard the voices. “Run!” It wasn’t my team yelling at me — it was the ones in my head. (Relax, I haven’t gone insane. I’ll explain in a moment.) I bolted to first as fast as my legs, which clearly weren’t ready for the sudden motion, could take me. There was no way I was going to make it to second, so I held tight.

Needless to say, I was rather amazed with myself. Not so much that it was a good hit (it passed over the shortstop’s outstretched (with a good jump) glove by mere inches), but that I hit it at all. Little did I know what was happening to me.

(I would hit every single time at bat for the rest of the weekend — only once would I not make it to base. Every time, it was with that bat — a Louisville Slugger. I love that bat.)

The inning ended, sadly, with me stranded on second. Well, I was on my way to third, but the batter was caught out.

Returning to right field, I began to sit back into waiting. Right field, especially in this league, is quiet. Not much happens out there. (Now that I’ve said that, I’ll be inundated with pop flies for the rest of the season.)

The first batter up collided with the ball sort of like a Howitzer … into right field. (He was a lefty, it was half-expected.) Last year, I missed a lot of these shots. For some reason, I was always too short. (Short as in I wasn’t far enough out in the field.) I could see the ball arcing towards me, and all I kept thinking was: “I’m gonna miss this.”

Then I heard the voices.

“Take a couple steps back.”

So I did. Suddenly, I realized that I was under it. I adjusted my footing so that I was right under it. Next thing I knew, the ball was in my glove. I paused a brief moment until the shock wore off. I threw the ball to the second baser, but there was no rush — there were no other runners.

While I waited for the next batter, I stood there trying to figure out what the heck had just happened. I was puzzled beyond belief.

You see, I’d heard the voices before. On last Monday’s games, I kept hearing things like “Run”, “Hold up”, “Bend and scoop”, and “Stab at the ball”. Yet no-one on my team was telling me these things.

At first, I thought it was just me. But standing out there in right field, one gets a fair bit of time to think, reflect, self search, and wonder. In that inning, I had an epiphany. Like being broad-sided with a battleship, I abruptly realized what was happening. I didn’t have (and still don’t have) a mentor on the team. But I don’t need one — I’ve got my mentors from last year. Every word of advice they ever told me is coming back.

It’s sort of like when you make a stew or chili. If you try and eat it right away, it’s okay, but not great. You have to let it sit and let all the flavours blend. During the six-plus months off, all the advice I got starting sinking in. Like someone turning a light on in a dark room, I knew where the voices were coming from.

As you can guess, I was quite happy to figure this out … I was beginning to worry for a while.

Now this hasn’t turned me into Sammy Sosa — but I’ve noticed that I’m playing significantly better than last year. Either that, or the team (and the league) is significantly worse than last year’s…

Despite my apparent improvement, we were unable to defeat our opposing team. However, we lost by only a couple of runs. This, believe it or not, is a very positive thing. It showed that despite only one practice (which I missed) and two games (one of which we one), we weren’t doing too badly.

That didn’t stop us from engaging in another practice. Those of us who weren’t in a rush to take off stuck around for an impromptu ball-catching session. The voices kept telling me what to do (“Dive”, “Step Back”, “Run In”, “LOOK OUT!!”), and I kept catching the balls. It was almost like someone had me on remote control. It was actually kinda creepy.

My alarm went off at 6:00 the following morning. I ignored it until the second alarm went off at 6:30. Because we’d lost the previous night, our first game was at 8:00 at the Deerfoot Athletic Park at Deerfoot and 16th Ave NW.

One look out the window told me what it wasn’t going to be a warm day. It looked cold. There was no reason for me to think that, but it looked cold. Sure enough, a check of the thermometer (on TV) told me that it was cold — it was definitely a morning for sweats.

I arrived at the field not long after Ken, our coach. We found our field, and started to wait for the rest of the team. They slowly started accumulating after a little while, the rest of us shivering in the cold. When the equipment finally arrived, several of us immediately began warming up.

The sun poked into the field about 20 minutes after we started, and as the right fielder, I was in a prime position to take its full warmth. Even then, I was still cold. It wasn’t until after a couple of innings that I was warm enough to even unzip the collar on my sweatshirt.

The game was tough and tight — we were about evenly matched. Except that we were one player short. We need 10 people on a team (the tenth person is a “rover”, someone who can run throughout the outfield, supporting the other fielders). We had only nine. This meant we had to take an automatic out every rotation of the batting order. It was a shortage that would cost us dearly.

Tight as the game was, we came up two runs short. And no, the final score wasn’t 2-0. It was 10-8. That’s how well we played. Hearing voices in my head was becoming a handy thing to have.

Our next game wasn’t until 12:30, so I opted to head downtown and do some work. Not real work, of course, but something for fun. I’m developing a website for a good friend of mine, who has a very cool product. It gets launched next Monday — maybe I’ll let you know! I was a little behind on my work on that, so I figured I’d make use of the downtime and start plugging away.

As I wrote HTML and tweaked images, I could see the bright sunshine outside. I figured our next game would be nice, and I could finally strip down to my shorts. I should know better than that…

When I got back to Deerfoot Athletic Park, the sky was cloudy, the wind blowing harder, and it seemed even colder than in the morning. I was the first to arrive, and I watched as two teams battled for the chance to play again later in the day.

Our team assembled, even with a couple of spares for a change, and prepared to take the field. I took right field, as usual, and started freezing to death. It wasn’t much above zero (as was fully shown when it snowed in the fourth inning).

In fact, it was so cold the voices shivered. Luckily, I was still able to play reasonably well. But even if we had all played in top-notch form, we could not have held back the onslaught. We were outmatched, and it wasn’t by a small margin. Final score: 22-8.

Losing by that much when you play poorly isn’t such a bad loss — you kind of expect it. Losing by that much when you put everything you have into the game is just downright demoralizing.

Tonight, we’re back at the game for another doubleheader. (All our play dates this year are doubleheaders, for some stupid reason.) My shin is still a little stiff from Saturday, but with luck I’ll be able to play.

Just so long as I have the voices to keep me company in right field.