I did a photo shoot the other day at tryouts for a men’s baseball league. Now this is ain’t your Daddy’s softball league: these guys play The Game.
For two and a half hours I watched dozens of men giving it their all. Unfortunately, for some their “all” was… not so much. Time had taken its toll on the little leaguers of an era long gone. Ground balls were fumbled. Throws were wild and stupid. Bats didn’t so much crack as they thudded.
Even so: no one complained, mocked, or jeered. No one cursed at themselves under their breath. Baseball was King. The ego: benched.
Towards the end of the evening, after the fielders and hitters left for the night, the pitchers stayed behind and took the mound one by one. Some were (way) better than others, but for me, the man holding the bat in this picture was the gem of the night. I don’t know who he is so I can’t show his face, but I’ve told his story more than any others from that night so I knew I needed to write it down.
I am guessing he is in his 60’s and in no shape, yet, for the rigors of nine innings. He wore shapeless grey sweatpants: cotton blend + elastic ONLY. I doubt he had practiced much, if at all, for the big night.
“Heads up!” said the catcher, reaching and and lunging for pitches that would have knocked batters in the head/in the nuts/whizzed behind their back.
Pitch after pitch, the ball seemed desperate to avoid the catcher’s mitt, but the guy on the mound didn’t seem too bothered by his unlovely form. He was just happy to be in the muscle memory of an earlier time.
Afterwards I asked him: “How did that feel?”
He smiled. “Great. Just great.”
“How long has it been since you’ve pitched?” I asked.
“Thirty years. I was the Babe Ruth of my day.”
I saw no regret. No shame. It wasn’t about him – it was about the game.
“Now I’m looking for the bat I brought here. My lucky bat. Had it forever. I found my grandkids hitting rocks with it the other day. Can you believe that?”
“Is that it over there?” I pointed to a lone wooden bat leaning against a wall as if it was watching from a distance.
“Yeah, that’s it.” He brought it to me and showed me the marks from the rocks.
“Can you believe they would hit rocks with this beauty?” I wondered if it was actually a kid’s bat. It looked short to me.
“What were they thinking?” I asked.
Then I took a picture of him holding the bat. He instinctively snapped into that classic pose seen in millions of cardboard ovals just above the team photo in millions of flimsy cardboard frames.
That’s my piece, and that’s my peace. Thanks so much for taking the time read my silly words. It truly means the world to me. Carry on…