Expressway: The irresistible and dangerous lure of softball
I'd missed playing softball ever since I gave it up more than 14 years ago, at age 48. Back then, persistent injuries got to me -- a pinched nerve in my back, an injured metatarsal bone in my right foot. Every time I got hurt, I would always say I was coming back, but healing took longer and longer.
At age 52, four years after a championship season, I decided to play in a pickup game with co-workers. I played first base, instead of my usual outfield position. I dropped two pop-ups in foul territory, kicking the second one twice. It seemed to be the highlight of the game for some, and drew a few laughs from my daughter and her friends. No one noticed that I went five for five as a hitter in that game. No one gave me credit for that.
Fast-forward to 2012 and age 62. At work, I suggested that maybe we should get a team together and play another department for fun. In the garage, I dug out my bat, which had so many hits left in it.
Practice day came and I took some swings -- to show teammates I still had it. Boy did I stink. I didn't hit a ball out of the infield. I swung and missed twice. That can't be me at the plate, I thought.
OK, I guessed I'd impress them with my skills shagging fly balls in the outfield. The glove was all oiled up, and the old cleats still fit. The first fly hit to me bounced. I turned quickly to grab it and POP, my right hamstring tore.
I hobbled off in pain, humiliated and embarrassed. Not again! Why me? As I looked around, I realized I was the oldest one on the field, even if only by one or two years. Well, practice was over.
Three weeks later, we had a game. My hamstring was about 60 percent healed. I rubbed it with liniment, wrapped it tight with an Ace bandage, took two Advils and stretched carefully. It was about 90 degrees. My Gatorade was cold, and I put a fresh piece of bubble gum in my mouth.
Nursing my hamstring, I decided to play catcher to minimize running. I was asked if I would like a replacement runner if I got a hit. My ego took over and I said no, I'd just take it easy on the bases.
Three at-bats and three hits later, I was doing better than anyone in the game. On my last hit, I ended up on second base. The next batter hit a ball past third. It was a tie game, and I rounded third, going for home plate, nice and easy.
Suddenly, the throw was coming home. I was halfway there when the third base coach yelled, "Get back! Get back!"
I stopped short to turn back, but the throw home was wild. The catcher couldn't find the ball. My instinct kicked in. With the score tied, I turned back toward home, slipped, then I felt a POP. My almost-healed hamstring had failed me.
I got up. Only about nine feet to go. I tried to run, then another POP. It was my left hamstring.
I began to crawl, my fingers scratching the dirt. This can't be happening to me, I thought. I couldn't get up. The pain was too much.
Someone yelled, "Tag him! Tag him!"
I felt like a turtle on its back, helpless. They tagged me out.
We lost by one run. Two ice bags later, seated on the bench, I couldn't believe what had just happened. Both hammys -- the humiliation, my disappointment, my ego!
Do I dare say once more, "I'm coming back"? Or have I come of age, meaning my mind should catch up to my body and call it quits?
I really haven't decided, but, you know, golf lessons couldn't be so bad. At least I wouldn't have to run. What could go wrong? That shoulder and hip pain I've been feeling aren't too bad. A few Advil, Gatorade and maybe a piece of bubble gum. Yeah, I'm coming back to softball.
Reader Peter Koutsoukos lives in Malverne.