Thursday, September 04, 2008

Season Seven, Week Nine: Jeremiah Holmes Not-Quite-Softball Adventure

You may know Jeremiah Holmes as Jeremy. That's because he usually goes by Jeremy. But he stood alone as Buttermilk Softball's Labor Day reps last Sunday; here's what happened to him, in his own words. Take it away, Jeremy:


Do you remember the fifth season of “The Dukes of Hazzard”, when, as a result of contract issues, Bo and Luke Duke were replaced by their look alike cousins Coy and Vance? No? Not as familiar with the Dukes of Hazzard as I am? You didn’t force your entire family to enter and exit their cars through the window for nearly a year of your childhood? Just me huh? I admit, if I was putting out the Spielberg/Lucas style revisionist history dvd of my life, I would use cgi technology to erase that objectionable “rebel yell” flag from the competition orange dodge charger of my memories. But I digress.

I bring up the “good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm” because like that season of the Dukes, last weekend’s softball game was an enjoyable facsimile of the original product. The game of course had its differences. These included lots of babies on the sidelines and some serious on-field tailgating, which I’ll come back to. But the Buttermilk spirit rang true.

But let me start from the start. It was 3:45pm and the day did not look promising. I arrived at Field Five to find about 30 teenagers playing on the diamond with such zeal that it any observer would assume they were watching the Prospect Park under 18 softball championship game. Not discouraged, I chose the better part of valor, and set up shop by myself on the empty adjacent diamond. I put out bases and stood on the mound, calling up friends to see if they were coming, in hopes that this would display my rightful ownership of the diamond. At about the same time, a stranger appeared out of the sunny haze of the day, and he could only be described as my doppelganger. Each of us was sporting sweaty, dirty clothes and a hat in the same color palette. His were gray/blue, mine blue/gray. Each of us was displaying a four-day scruff that if we were being honest with ourselves was never going to be a beard. Each was toting an equipment bag with some, but not all of the necessary tools with which to play a game. He had bats, I had bases. Was this a mirage? After several seconds of playing the mirror game, we finally cottoned to the fact that the other was more than a heat hallucination. Reeling from this idea, Chris introduced himself, and the story got even spookier.

Like me, Chris was expecting 18 people to play a friendly softball game, but realistically expected 6 to show. Unlike me, Chris’ cadre of softballers hailed primarily from the United Kingdom and South Africa. We decided to pool our collective resources. Soon a coalition of the willing was formed, and momentum was gaining.

Next on the agenda was for Chris and I to explain the intricacies of softball to our former colonial masters. In an attempt to bridge Oscar Wilde’s “common language” barrier with the foreigners, we made the requisite feeble comparisons to cricket, and went about the arduous task of providing a cogent description of the force play and tagging up. Results were as humbling as you might expect, but enthusiasm was high.

Soon after, teams were formed. This process unfolded in the awkward gym class kickball style of our youth, as opposed to Buttermilk’s egalitarian 1, 2 protocol. Rather than argue, I reminded myself that one must respect the cultural imperatives of others. Team Mets Fans claimed such heavy hitters as ace pitcher Alonso, Jasper-esque middle infielder Lucas, Cricketeer Darren, Brixton Bomber Sean, Flip flop sporting Tim, and Andy “willing body and open mind” Keshner, who brought along Broadway star Britt Shubow to cheer for him. Team Yankees Fans included such Americans as myself, Chris, his wife and middle-infield/on field smooch partner Heidi, proud papa Adam, Lanky Rick and hurler Michael. Our own South African Jasper clone/short stop, Jake and “British Brooks Robinson” Mark are also among those whose names I can remember. And so, battle lines were drawn, teams took the field, and a Buttermilk-ian game was played with an emphasis on fun and group participation that trumped overzealous competition.

To the naked eye, players seemed to choose their respective positions at random, but as is often the case, sociological patterns soon emerged. For example, it was an imperative that whomever took the mound must at least intermittently smoke and drink in the field, substituting a cold one for a rosin bag. Michael did so with cool calculation and cooler sunglasses. Alonso on the other hand, relished the opportunity to intimidate and cajole opposing hitters with both his words and his presence. For a batter, it is intimidating enough to stand at the plate and stare down someone who calls to mind a Latin Rod Beck, but to have this person deliver pitches with back spin through a beady eyed stare, teeth clenched menacingly around a lit cigarette...that dear readers is a once in a lifetime freak out. Drinking in the field was also compulsory for shortstop and third base, provided that they were of drinking age. Third baseman Mark displayed great confidence in his glove, as he rested his clear plastic cup of oat soda (why hide public alcohol consumption?) between his legs during live play. More than once, the collective over-confidence in the glove led to a spilled beer. Behind home plate, on the mound, on the bench, the suds did flow.

The game itself provided everyone with ample hitting and fielding opportunities, and it must be said that all parties involved flashed some great leather and swung a mighty bat. The middle infields of both squads made a strong argument for the return of Olympic softball, with their insistence that age, stature, sex, and nationality were not a hindrance to making the tough force plays. All suspicions that Brits could not get the hang of it were gone after each team had batted through the order once. Darren and Sean in particular made me run much harder out in left than my quads would have liked.

It could also be said that I lost at least three “can o corn” fly balls in left field to the blinding floodlight of the sun, but hey, who’s counting?

By the sixth inning, right field was devoid of defensive representation. I don’t exactly remember if players had dropped out, were taking a smoke break, or were nursing babies (all of which happened in the middle of live play, consequently). In any case, an opportunity presented itself for both sides. Soon everyone was aiming the ball to right field, and as often as not, popping up to the first baseman. A stroke of luck hit me, the likes of which I do not recently recall, in which I drove not one, but two consecutive balls deep down the right field line for the first homeruns I remember hitting since I was 18. I didn’t feel great about the first one, it just seemed a little cheap to slap the ball at a vulnerable area. I felt a little bit better about the second one since clearly no one felt obliged to engage in a Jim Thome shift. I’d brag more about hitting for the cycle, but I think I was one of three or four people to do so.

I must also apologize for the competitive monster coming out in me a couple of times late in the game. I believe my third base coaching to Michael included such rants as “RUN, stop looking at the ball and RUN. RUN like you intend on winning. Stop admiring the hit and RUN.” Finally Adam reminded me that he and wife Janna had brought a delicious watermelon to share. This was of course a subtle way of reminding me to check my blood sugar and cool it with the agro-Bobby Knight routine. The watermelon was delicious by the way.

It took nine innings of solid softballin’ before we called it a day. I say called it, because we as a group chose to leave the game a 16-16 tie, rather than push forward into extras. Die hards among us (see also the Americans), wanted to play until a winner was established, but restless babies, sore bodies and sound logic ruled the day.

Looking forward to next week, perhaps enough original cast members will return to Hazzard (start fighting now about who gets to be Cooter), or perhaps the sun of summer has truly set. If this must be how the season ends, so be it. I’ll deal with my withdrawl by awkwardly trying on catcher’s equipment at Modell’s until they ask me to leave, again. But that’s my problem, not yours. Take care.

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