Thursday, July 30, 2009

Weeks Three and Four: Let the Players Play/Not-Play

What is constant? People barfing on the Real World comes to mind. But let's go bigger.

What is constant in human history, first and foremost, is folly. Hubris. Questionable fashion choices. Some better things. For instance: Softball on Sundays and VIP treatment at Buttermilk (see left for an in-action shot from Week Four) (How my hair look?). What is not constant: the way that softball works or doesn't work.

And so it is that we arrive where we are now, a generally satisfying month into the softball season, but with a strangely spotty record behind us. There was a massive, all-hands-on-deck turnout for Week Three's game -- probably the last game of the season for busy Buttermilk All-Stars Seth and Erika, and the first game of the season for lyme disease-stricken Legend of the Game Scott Snelling -- and yet... something was missing. Was it an even distribution of talent? There were other things missing, but yes that kind of jumps out. This is the hazard of counting off by 1's and 2's -- there are no other downsides and this policy will not change by decree of your Dear Leader. Or rather it's the hazard of doing the 1, 2 thing and then not properly balancing the scales. Things were further unbalanced in Week Three by the (luck-dictated) way that the randoms got distributed. My team wound up with the good-natured and apparently very-good-at-softball Stefan, who authored what will likely go down as the single greatest one-game performance in Buttermilk Softball history -- two homers, five RBIs, somehow no one alienated by said dominance. The other team got a pair of Slacker Softball League players named Kenneth and Gatorade. Meet me in the next paragraph and we'll talk about what that meant.

Playing-wise, not too much. They weren't terrible, weren't great. But their attitude was strictly :('s 4 days -- innings off for reasons both faintly reasonable (have to sit with my (literal actual canine) dogs) and not so much (Gatorade, breaking north for a few innings to go get some Gatorade). Apparently their Friday games turn out dozens upon dozens of people -- everyone fired-up, multiple fields in use, presumably with frequent time off for long energy-drink walks and such. And more power to them in that, but they didn't necessarily rep their set to the fullest that Sunday.

What did they do instead? Did they openly disparage the female players on their own team? Yes, they did. Did they kind of bum out the people on their (already maybe a little outfield-defense-deficient) team? Yes, they did that as well. Were they essentially human warnings against getting successful in probably graphic design or whatever and forgetting that coolness and personal worth is a thing performed and earned and repeated, rather than gifted irrevocably and then used as a dorky bludgeon on random people? I don't know. I don't know them. I just know the ladies on their team fucking hated them.

Those aforementioned ladies (and also dudes) also probably hated not-winning, honestly, and that was something that was also happening to them. Stephen Patnode, I think, homered in this one, for the losing team. Stefan homered twice for the winners, and I'm pretty sure Jordan had a roundtripper of his own. I pitched a complete game, I think, which is much less impressive than it sounds. Everyone was kind of bored and bummed, despite the great turnout, etc. Kate and I spent dinner going over what was wrong with the game (see above) and talking about ways to improve her defense. Suffice to say that fungo bat never got purchased. We do a lot of visualization exercises. I watch a lot of Travel Channel and am apparently trying to get fat (I think you can gain weight watching Man Vs. Food, maybe?). But no fungo. Where do you store a fungo? I don't trust the turtles with it. Would you? Look at these fucking guys.


Anyway, so that was Week Three. Decent softball, but no one really all that happy. So is that why Week Four only had 12 people at it? No, probably not. Probably a weather report that predicted -- with erroneous 70% certainty -- a biblical-grade hailstorm had something to do with that. But probably Week Three's lopsided, bad-vibe outcome didn't help. Which kind of makes it odd that Week Four was definitely a better time.

Not to say it wasn't odd -- it was. The entire modern dance bloc was MIA, which meant that it was Jeff, Colleen, Alex, Kenny, SJ Patnode, Forrest, Jordan, Scott, Scott's Friend Eric, Myself and No One Else when I got there (late). And yet, during an hour-plus of Extended Spring Training -- batting practice, fielding practice, video art, the usual -- and a brief, modified 6-on-6 game once we picked up randoms Luis/"Matsui" and Matt, things went pretty fine. The quality of softball was generally pretty good. I hit terribly, but played better in the field than at any time since I completed puberty (that's 2002). Jeff Ciprioni killed the ball. Eric, Forrest (especially Forrest), Scott Snelling all hit the ball hard. Kenny and Alex had banner days in the field, occasionally at my expense. And despite the inevitable drag of the fact that we basically didn't have an official game -- which means Jeff Ciprioni's four triples will not count towards his season OPS+, sadly -- it was enough to at least get me fired up for this week.

This week, Week Five. Week Five when we'll turn out a full complement, with some new players and returning legends of the game and maybe a new softball or two and hopefully an on-time arrival from your humpy commish and the whole freaking works. Another constant for us, for everyone -- for the wraithlike Luis Matsui's, for the grumpy shit-attitude n00bs and all of the saints and all the rest of us -- is the belief that things will be better next time. When this is applied to colonialism, to crude political positivisms or backdated self-justifications or whatever your poison is, it is one thing, and not necessarily a good thing. When it is applied to softball, it is something else. When it applies to softball, it is very often true. That is: it will be better, this week and next week and after. We wouldn't play otherwise. We wouldn't keep playing otherwise, but we keep playing because it is always -- in some way, always -- very good.

The system still works. I'll say 1, you can say 2, and we'll all say Sunday, maybe 4 o'clockish? Trust me: it works. It still works.

Monday, July 27, 2009

See Week Four Through Stephen Patnode's Eyes

Or, rather, through the eyes of his digital recording device. This is the upside of a week that was spent primarily in a sort of extended-Spring-Training batting practice mode. Nice editing work by SJP, as well, although maybe a little unfair to Jordan Watkowski, who actually successfully fields many more balls than you'd think from watching this. (Forrest, for his part, actually did hit that well yesterday) Also, the fact that I say "I got it" during my brief appearance and then actually GET the ball I was trying to get is probably the highlight of my season so far. Baby steps.

More on Week Three and Weak Four coming later this week.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Old Mushball: Weeks 1 and 2 Power Recap

Activate the powertron! I am going to attempt to push my old, soft brain -- depicted at left, actual size -- to remember something from our three weeks of softball-related activities. Things have definitely happened, I'm sure of that. There are pictures, and there's no way the softballs in the equipment bag could've gotten quite so oblong (again, consult the pic -- that is what happens when Scott Snelling gets aholt of one) if they hadn't been struck by bats. But it's hazy.

But this is what happens when you wait like 20 days to write what should -- and would be, in more competent and less helplessly prolix hands -- be something along the lines of "everyone had a good time at softball and then got beers, so that was cool." But I had to get all SABR on everything, try to calculate my own VORP and break down Jeff Ciprioni's OPS+ (to be fair, he asked me to do this, because he thinks it'll help him in arbitration). And I didn't even learn anything from all this -- I learned that I procrastinate a lot, and that apparently per Baseball Reference's formulae, the most similar player to me through age 31 are Wally Whitehurst and Pat Meares, which was disappointing. And now it's kind of near the end of July, and we started playing on July 5 and okay, fine. Fine. Because you know what? I'm not going to let the fact that I only vaguely remember things that happened earlier this week stop me from attempting to discuss what went down several weeks ago.

Week One:

It was sunny, that's for sure! Or I think it was sunny! Anyway!

It really was sunny, and beautiful in Week One, which was July 5. I remember this one pretty well -- I expected something like an extended spring training/simulated game, being as it was the day after a fairly major holiday (Purim). I'd like to tell you that was why I showed up as hungover as I did, but that had more to do with the fact that I'd worked all day on July 4 and then went to dinner with some people at a sake bar right next to Buttermilk Softball official sponsor the Hawaiian Tropic Zone. As the fireworks boomed behind me and sarong-clad Hawaiian Tropic Cleavage Technicians rushed out to watch, I descended into a basement for fried weird seafood and drink. I knew that I'd have a hard time reaching my Whitehurstian/Mearesian norm by the time I scaled those stairs again.

But the whole experience was a surprise, as it turned out. Thanks to a few good-natured pickups -- Artie, Jason and...Heriberto? I don't remember, it was in like May that all this happened -- and a surprisingly strong turnout, we actually got an excellent game in on Week One. Good enough, in fact, that I didn't even feel badly about rousting the full game of very good-natured lesbians who were playing on the field when we arrived.

The game itself... rust was in evidence. Linda Moucha not expecting to play in her nice pants and Fashion Keds was in evidence. What are certain to be season-long issues with muscle soreness and uncooperative ligaments made themselves known. The long-awaited return of Buttermilk legend Alex -- you may remember him from his avant-garde bloody mary work during his long-ago stint as a Buttermilk bartender -- was marred by injury, although (spoiler alert) he made a triumphant, be-braced return in Week Three. This week also marked the Buttermilk debuts of newbies-turned-regulars Kenny and Colleen, and what may be the final league appearances for awhile for Benny Maniere and Dave Batt. Those two players, who rode to renown as B-Milk rookies in 2008 thanks to their unique combination of competence and good-natured patience with others' non-competence, have signed on with another Sunday softball league, and will only be making it to games when their schedule permits. Which is to say when they don't have a 2pm game on 145th Street in Manhattan. It apparently happens sometimes.

Also, I yelled a profanity at Benny while he was trying -- unsuccessfully! -- to stretch a double into a homer. I don't know if that Hasidic toddler had never heard someone loudly be called a "fucking idiot" before, but he certainly acted as if he hadn't. Which I guess is his prerogative, but I'm just trying to play softball, you know?

Anyway, I don't remember who won. I remember a good-natured pop-up-hitting contest between Joel, Jeff and myself (although I did record a season-high three (actual) hits, despite trailing a clammy, headachey rice-winey wake). I remember solid showings from Stephen J. Patnode, Jordan Watkowski and reliably be-cigged slugger Forrest. But this was a long time ago. I only remember that it was on July 5 because I kept telling everyone about the Hawaiian Tropic ladies running out of their sad boob-staurant to see the fireworks and describing them as "hoes." No one acted offended, which I really appreciated. After the game, Forrest -- a towheaded terror who has been one of the breakout offensive stars of the young season -- told us about his early career as a child star in cartoons. Here's a taste:

Feel the synthesized sax!

Week Two:

Something of a step back, in part due to what might've been a faulty commissioner executive decision on my part. I decreed that everyone who played must pass a basic written exam on the history of softball history, which I thought would be fun but wound up excluding a bunch of people who didn't even know who Francisco Dinosaurio is/was. They seemed more confused than embarrassed, but I'm sure that has changed.

In actuality, we just didn't get that many people this week. My idea of breaking into three teams of five so that there would always be enough people in the field sounded good at the time (to me, and apparently only to me), but everyone was all pissy about how they had to keep leaving the field and changing positions and oh what the fuck ever, you know? You appoint a commissioner and you do what the commissioner wants to do. Even when it's stupid and doesn't help that much.

I paid the price for my decision by committing errors at seemingly every position. But Carlton and Jodi and Jeremy and Abby made their season debuts, and I think more people had fun than not, so that was at least pretty good. The final score was like 8-5-2. It basically looks like a denotation of an impossible baseball double play that gets started by an outfielder, involves an infielder, and then gets the catcher into the mix. Doesn't happen in the real world, but that's how softball works. We've already had two of those this season.

Okay, this is already 2,500 words long or thereabouts, so I'm going to stop here. Week Three recap to come. I actually remember what happened in that one. There are even villains in that recap.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bush League! Bush League!

No, there's no recap here. But while I realize I am currently slipping -- my status has officially been downgraded from "game tight" to "get it on time, son" -- I promise that I will soon no longer be slipping. I just finished a writing project I spent longer working on than I'd thought I would, and thus totally whiffed on the recap of our very excellent Week 1 game and am currently behind shed-yool on Week 2's unconventional but enjoyable contest.

But I promise you that there will be a recap. Sometime this week, and hopefully on Wednesday. It will involve polite lesbians, me badly misplaying a ball at almost every position on the field, a three-part final score, and a picture of one of our weirdly mushed-up softballs. People, we need to stop hitting these things so hard. We are playing, and it is fresh. Players old and new, plays good and bad. Me occasionally not embarrassing myself but more often embarrassing myself. I should be writing about all this, and I will. Dat's my word, America.