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June 18 2005: Brand New Shoes (Buying spikes)

I splurged today on a new pair of spikes. Sorry to break your heart, Jeter dear, but I am leaving your sponsor Nike behind, and jumping ship to Adidas.

My actual preferred brand would be Reebok. My every day sneakers are Reeboks, after all, and have been since–gulp–1983 or so. Yes, I’ve been wearing the same style of plain black high tops since before some guys in the majors now were born.

When I first got into playing women’s baseball, I was a “reserve player” in the New England Women’s Baseball League. To get that position (or lack of one) I went first to three tryout sessions at an indoor sports facility north of Boston.[1] The first pair of spikes I wore I bought at a sports superstore on the way there. I left the house two and a half hours early so I’d have time to look for the place and buy some shoes on the way.

The first pair I tried on were the Reebok Cooperstown Mid, “mid” being a designation that they were a high top, but not as high as some. They were so comfortable that I didn’t even realize that they were a men’s size 6, not a 6.5, until I got home later… after the tryout. I realized I would have to return them. I carefully scrubbed out the small bits of clay that had stuck in the soles and they appeared as good as new.

So before the next tryout, I had to go back to the superstore, return them, and look for something else. They had none in the correct size like the ones I returned. I ended up trying on a pair of black low-top Nike cleats, the bottom of the line, and found them acceptable. I really didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. I had to get to the tryout, and I knew from previous experience that without spikes, I would fall on my ass on the clay. These would do. The fact that Jeter was a Nike spokesman didn’t hurt, either.

Now, what I would have really liked is some ones like the Nike shoe Jeter actually WEARS. It’s a black suede spike with a mid or 3/4 top and I don’t think you actually can buy them. I think they make them Only For Him. The shoe is called the AJ (for Air Jeter) I, II, III, etc…. Right now they are up to number VII. [2] if they made a model like that with soft (rubber) spikes instead of hard (metal) spikes, I’m sure I would have talked myself into buying them at any price. It’s not because they are a Jeter thing. It’s because they are exactly what would suit me well.

But you can’t buy them. I’ve searched the Internet and have never found them This year they sell a “Jumpman DJ 2” sneaker, which is a grey molded UFO-looking shoe–a street shoe, not for playing baseball in. if you’ve paid close attention to the funky-ass shoes that Manny Ramirez plays baseball in, actually, you know the look I’m talking about. Manny has some serious footwear. They look more like they are made by Porsche than whoever his actual shoe sponsor is.

Anyway, I ended up with a pair of cheap black Nikes.

I can’t remember when they started to hurt my feet. To be more specific, the big joint of my big toe on my right foot would often get sore when I wore them. And I wore them a lot. I wore them when I practiced with NEWBL and when I finally got a chance to play in a game for them. I wore them in the winter indoor softball league I joined, and I wore them for Sunday pick up Wiffleball games. [4]

And I have worn them for every game I have played the past two seasons with the Pawtucket Slaterettes [5], the women’s hardball league I joined in 2003. I’m not sure if the pain got worse over time, or if my tolerance of it waned. Or both.

Last night I went to my first Slaterettes practice of the season.

I should pause here to share some news. I’m no longer with my old team, Narragansett Electric, the 2003 Slaterettes league champions, and the 2004 … what’s the word for a team that doesn’t win a single game? Doormats? Well, the league went through expansion this year, from 4 to 5 teams, and I have been … traded? Drafted in the expansion is more like it. I’m now going to be playing for Shove Insurance.

I’m happy to say that after not picking up a bat or a glove since last September, not even a single trip to the batting cage this offseason while I rehabbed my elbow completely, I can still hit the ball pretty solidly. I still can’t throw for beans, but at least my arm does not hurt when I do it this year. So yeah, practice went well. And how’s this? Today I’m not even sore.

The only thing that hurt was my toe. I sat in my car in my “athletic sandals” (cheap knock off of the blue & white Adidas manly-man flip-flops that became popular a couple of years ago — I bought them in a drugstore in Seattle, actually, back in 2001 when I was there to see the Mariners play…) staring at the vile Nikes sitting in the footwell of the passenger seat. I decided it was my last night in those spikes. I’m too old to create extra pain for myself. I’ll have enough other nagging pains by two weeks into the season.

So I drove right from there to a sporting goods store, and checked out the selection. And it wasn’t very good. Nike, Nike, and more Nike. No Reebok. I tried on an Adidas shoe, on sale but still twice the price of what I paid for the old ones. They had some Mizuno, too. But nothing that was right. I then drove to another store, and didn’t find anything there, either. By then it was getting late, stores were starting to close, and so I swung by the Wal-Mart for a bag of beef jerky and drove home.

Today, after a lovely meeting at McCoy Stadium of the Pawtucket chapter of SABR [6], I tried another place. In fact, this time I tried the same store brand as where I had found those Reeboks I liked, just a different location. (I don’t know why I’m being cagey about where it was: The Sports Authority. They have by far the biggest and most extensive selection of cleats of any store I have ever been in, beating out Dick’s Sporting Goods, the old MVP Sports, CitySports, and the like.)

It appears that mid-height and 3/4 height spikes are out of fashion. I found very few models that were not “low.” But there were a few. And at first I got all excited to see a sign on a shoe labeling it as Adidas’ “women’s baseball” shoe. I thought, “cool! Adidas is supporting women’s baseball!” It was next to a display shoe labeled “women’s softball,” but as it turns out, the actual BOXES of both shoes were labeled softball. The “women’s baseball” shoe though was a woman-sized version of one of the men’s baseball shoes, though, so perhaps they are just trying to play it both ways.

I tried on several things and ended up with Adidas–not the one labeled “women’s baseball” but the men’s shoe in a mid-height high top. men’s size 6.5, despite the fact that is was the most expensive baseball shoe they actually offered for sale ($75). The next ones down were only $50, because they were built-in soft spikes, and the ones I picked out have interchangeable soft, hard, or no spikes. They come with a little chuck, like a skate key, for undoing the screws and replacing the spikes.

I’ll probably never wear the metal ones since mine is a soft spike league, but who knows, if I retire from baseball after this season, I can put the non-spike replacement pads in and just have a really snazzy pair of street sneakers. After all, they’re black, with metallic highlights. If Manny’s cleats are a Porsche, mine are an Acura Integra two-door coupe.

This is the most obsessing I’ve ever done over a piece of equipment. I like my glove, my bat, but this is the most thought–and money–I’ve put into a piece of baseball equipment. Have I finally succumbed to years of high-priced advertising based on high-profile athletes about shoes? Nah. I just want my toe to stop hurting, and to feel good in the field.

Though come to think of it, I’m thinking about trying a different bat. The one I’ve been using is 29″ long. Last night I took batting practice with one that was 30″ and I felt like I could stand a little farther from the plate than usual, The result was I could turn on the inside pitch, and yet still inside-out the outside pitch to the opposite field. I’ve never been able to turn on the inside pitch before. I think I could even go another inch, to 31″, but that was one thing I didn’t find at The Sports Authority. Lots of 30″ and 32″ bats, but none that were 31″ (well, there was one, and it was $200, which is way too much, as far as I’m concerned… apparently my shopping trips are not over.)

I’ll stop now before the obsessing begins. Or am I already too late?

At least I didn’t write a song about it. Bill Monroe did:

I’m breaking in a brand new pair of shoes
Don’t look at me like you think I’ve got the blues
‘Cause I’m walking ’round and around and I’m seeing most of the town
I’m just breaking in a brand new pair of shoes

1 — Strike One, an indoor sports facility in Danvers, MA, up Route 1 from Rt. 128. Strike One is owned by Eric Wedge, the manager of the Cleveland Indians, They have batting cages (they take two to operate, one to feed the pitching machine, one to bat) and two indoor clay fields of 100 ft by 100 ft. Kinda neat. Web site: http://www.strikeone.com/strikeone/

2 — The exclusive shoe Nike created for Jeter can be seen, for now anyway, on the Nike web site. Go to http://www.nike.com/jumpman23/team_jordan/team.jsp, click on Derek Jeter from the menu at the left, and then choose “Exclusive Product.” If you have the latest Flash Player installed, you should see it.

3 — Manny’s actual shoe sponsor is… REEBOK! The funky shiny shoe he has been wearing is apparently a cleat called the “Visalia.” David Ortiz wears them, too. The one they sell to the public though, isn’t anywhere near as snazzy and futuristic-looking as what these guys wear. For one thing, the ones I’ve seen in stores and in catalogs are black, not white. Because who wants white baseball sneakers, unless you have a bevy of clubhouse attendants to wash and polish them for you before every game?

4 — My boyfriend, corwin, organizes Wiffle games for most Sunday afternoons in the summer. We run the bases but it is a very loose non-competitive game. If you are in the Cambridge/Somerville area and would like to try a fun but non-physically taxing baseball-like game, email me and we’ll add you to the announcement list.

5 — The Slaterettes are the only all-girls youth baseball league in the USA. Founded in 1973 when Alison “Pookie” Fortin was barred entry into the local Darlington American Little League, the Pawtucket Slaterettes were originally called the Darlington Pioneers, but changed their name to Slaterettes in honor of Pawtucket’s historic Slater Mill, as well as the historic name of the Powtucket Red Sox, who were previously known as the Slaters. The Slaterettes now have divisions from tee-ball and instructions up through adult, so all ages of girls and women, from 5 years old to 70 can play. For more info: http://www.slaterettes.org

6 — Technically, it’s the Lajoie-Start Chapter, also known as the Southern New England Chapter, in Pawtucket. If you aren’t already a member of SABR, and you enjoy reading ‘Why I Like Baseball,’ I can tell you right now you’d like it. When I found SABR, I found “my people!” There are chapters all over. For more info: http://www.sabr.org

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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