Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Not Mickey Mantle

The last time I touched a softball bat was March of 1995. I played slow-pitch softball with dire little-girl intensity for three seasons. By the time I was nine, I was on the All-Star team. The next season, I fell apart completely. I shivered in the batter's box, praying that every pitch would miss the strike zone and I would have the good fortune to walk. One defense, I went from being a reliable shortstop to a rank outfielder. I cried my way through game after game, while my parents watched from the bleachers and tried miserably to do nothing about it.

Halfway through the season, I quit the team. I don't know when in my life I've felt more like a complete failure. The motivational poster in my elementary school hallway, "The only way to fail is to quit," confirmed these self-effacing sentiments. A month later, on a family vacation to Santa Cruz, someone discovered that I'd gone horribly near-sighted, and I couldn't catch or hit the ball primarily because I couldn't see it. So my personal tragedy became, in hindsight at least, a morose little comedy.

When IJM's Joe Jordano, our resident bass-voiced, brillo-haired Italian, organized this year's softball team, I decided to join in hopes of redeeming my ignonimous past. We had our first game last night at the corner of 14th Street and Constitution Avenue in DC. We were soundly pummeled by another corporate team all dressed in orange, 9-3. But I don't know when I've ever enjoyed playing softball more. A quarter mile away, the Washington Monument glowed fleshly pink in the sunset, rising from the ground like a granite sword piercing a green scabbard. Canadian geese drummed the air with their wings, and airplanes, soundless and slow at this distance, wheeled toward their hangars at the National Airport like great metal cows coming home. In the middle of these pleasant reflections, an aluminum CRACK announced the oncoming grounder. I woke up long enough to chase it and throw it to the cutoff man. Then back to daydreaming in righfield.

As it turns out, I can still catch and hit. As long as the flyball's not too high, the grounder's not too gnarly, and the pitch is gently lobbed. I never said I was Mickey Mantle.

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