Why I Like Baseball

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Archive for the ‘On Playing the Game’

24 Hour Game Diary Pt 8

May 12, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Monday, October 20, 2003
12:48 pm
Arizona time (Pacific)

Well, my flight leaves in about an hour, and here I am sitting in the Tucson airport with sore legs, but happy.

The Red-Eyed Nites mounted a comeback in the morning hours, cutting the lead of the African Gray Birds, which had been around 40 runs at one point, to 20 runs. In the final inning, which was the 65th, I think, we put up four more, but the final score was 127-111 Grays.

Ultimately the difference between the two teams was pitching. Their pitching turned out to be slightly better (and slightly younger) over the course of the game. Both teams had to rely on some non-pitchers to take the mound to fill up innings, and theirs turned out to be sharper overall.

But really, no one was too concerned about the final score. Yes, our competitive spirit was stoked at times, but generally speaking no one was upset by the “loss.” For most of us, just playing in the game made us winners in the first place. (more…)

24 Hour Game Diary Pt 7

May 11, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Sunday, October 19, 2003
4:20 am
Arizona time (Pacific)

Since I last wrote I’ve had the best catch of my life. I don’t mean a caught ball in the outfield, I mean best game of catch. Chiba, one of the Japanese players, and I went down to the batting tunnel after we woke up from a brief one hour nap.

I’ll get back to that story later. I’m going to take over announcing for a bit now… I’m in the press box where there are plugs and desks for laptops typing this. Rob is fading and needs relief so I am going to take over announcing duties from him.

Okay, I’m back. I just spent the past hour being the play by play announcer for the Apple webcast. They are webcasting live video to the Apple site. They have three cameras set up here, and it looks really good. I spoke with corwin earlier and he said he was able to watch my first at bat.

Speaking of at bats, here’s what happened in my third and final shift. (more…)

24 Hour Game Diary Pt 6

May 10, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Saturday, October 18, 2003
11:08 pm
Arizona time (Pacific)

I have just had my first major league shower.

And damn it felt good. It is patently clear that this is the locker room of the team with the tallest player in the majors, because the showerheads are set so high it’s hard to reach them when you’re 5’4″ like me.

We just had a phone call from Dontrelle Willis, who pitched two-something scoreless innings tonight in Yankee Stadium. (The Marlins won 3-2–the turning point being when Pudge picked Nick Johnson off third. Ouch.) Dontrelle, just last year, was in the minors in Kane County, Illinois, and the host family he stayed with have a daughter named Stacey who plays baseball. She is one of the pitchers on my squad in this game, and she’s great–so outgoing and friendly to everyone. Kind of like Dontrelle, I guess! He has stayed close with the family and there was a piece in USA Today about them last week when Dontrelle was pitching in Chicago in the NLCS. Anyway, through Stace we got Dontrelle on the phone and put him over the PA system and onto the game broadcast. Dontrelle’s message to all of us playing: “Enjoy it!”

I finally got a hit, and scored a run. (more…)

24 Hour Game Diary Pt 5

May 09, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Saturday, October 18, 2003
8:30 am
Arizona time (Pacific)

Ow. Ow. Ow. Well, if I thought I might be less tired and less sore today… I was wrong. If I felt yesterday like I had been hit by a car, today I feel like I was run over by a monster truck. Repeatedly. My feet are very sore, worse than they get for a trade show. My head hurts, and my stomach is a bit queasy. My roomie from Colorado thinks that might be a touch of altitude sickness. I don’t have many individual muscles sore so much as I feel just like my entire body is gassed. It’s very odd, because I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way before. I feel sort of like I spent the day moving thousands of fifty pound rocks–except that I didn’t.

Oh well, time to try some more hot water and ibuprofen. Or maybe I should switch to Tylenol.

I’m going to hobble downstairs and grab some breakfast. Then it will be time to pack up and head to the field. (more…)

24 Hour Game Diary Pt 4

May 08, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Friday, October 17, 2003
3:18 pm
Arizona time (Pacific)

Oh my god I’m sore. My legs, my back, my butt, my feet. I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been in a car wreck. (Actually, I didn’t feel anywhere near this bad after my motorcycle accident!) Given how much ibuprofen i am taking to keep the arm swelling down, it’s scary to think how achy I would be if I weren’t.

And we didn’t even work out that hard yesterday! I think the combination of the altitude (3000 feet?), dehydration, and the lack of sleep have combined to give me lactic acid buildup in every muscle fiber I have.

The result of the soreness was that today I was pretty much a mess in clinic. I couldn’t get down on ground balls, couldn’t swing, and could barely throw. Throwing actually was not too bad in the catch portion of things. Jen Rado, who also plays for the Slaterettes, was my partner, just like yesterday, and we were both pretty accurate. But when we were taking grounders at second, I could not get the ball to the catcher on the fly.

And what is up with my swing? Yesterday I hit so well. Today I couldn’t even get the ball off the tee straight, and in the cage I was hitting these Baltimore chops, and even swinging and missing. I hope the soreness is less tomorrow or it’s going to be brutal at the plate. Hopefully I get a nice hot soak tonight and work out some of this.


So I never finished writing about yesterday’s clinic. John Denny, Cy Young Award Winner, came and addresses the group, and his son is one of our instructors, too. He talked about pitching, and also took questions. In answer to being asked who the most interesting player he played with was, Denny told the following story about Mike Schmidt. I’m paraphrasing here:

“Back when I played in Philadelphia there was this one guy, you know how there is always this one leather-lunged guy in the stands? We were always trying to pick him out, he must have been forty rows up behind third base but no matter where he sat you could always hear him. He would rag on anybody but he especially liked to get on Schmitty. Well one day, I’m on the mound, and I’m getting ready to pitch (Denny takes his stance) and suddenly the umpire calls Time! Time! The catcher hasn’t moved, the batter hasn’t moved, and I’m wondering what’s up? I look over to the first base side and nothing’s going on. I look over to the third base side, and there’s Schmitty, walking toward me. (Imitates a slow shuffle.) He eventually reaches the mound, picks up the rosin bag, dabs some on his arms and on his hands, puts it down. Looks at me. I ask him, what’s up? He kind of shakes his head, looks at his shoes, and then he says, ‘That guys been riding me all day. I just wanted to get away from it for a while.’”


Several former players from the AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the women’s league from the World War II era that the movie A League of Their Own was based on) are here to help coach. They even participated in some drills with us and shagged flies during BP.

Overheard during a barehand drill from one of these fine ladies: “Wow, this is hard with bifocals!”


For those of you who are not familiar with girl talk, it mixes uniquely with locker room talk in women’s baseball. Especially when you mix female baseball players with good-looking minor league players as coaches. While we were waiting for the shuttle bus back to the hotel yesterday several women were sitting on the curb comparing notes. All the coaches were well-liked and each taught us a ton. But as we were chatting we realized that we had each remembered the names of all the “hot” guys, but not all of the other guys. Are we really that shallow? Yup, can’t help it. The cuter a guy is, the easier it is to remember his name–just a fact of life. We then got considerably off the topic of hitting tips…

Overheard today during throwing drills. One woman was paired up with one of the aforementioned hot guys. At one point she threw the ball over his head and he went to chase it. The woman in line next to her: “You just did that to get a look at his ass, didn’t you.” (This was followed by more wild throws.)


Today we had a tour of the facilities at Tucson Electric Park, including the press box, underground batting cages, and the Diamondbacks clubhouse–which is now our clubhouse. Unfortunately the couches and the ping pong table have been packed into storage for the off-season, but it’s still pretty cushy. The card table with the dominoes set is still there.


Tonight we meet the founder of US Doctors for Africa, Ted Alemahyu, and we may also find out our teams and squad shifts for the game. Last night Rob unveiled the nice uniform shirts they made for us, and tonight they will be passing them out. Are we excited about this? Yes.


After the meeting: well, the batting order is not yet done. As Rob put it, “It’s taking me a while. I’m putting together the most complicated batting order ever compiled. And I challenge anyone to refute that statement.” We did have a speech from Ted Alemahyu and the medical director of US Doctors for Africa, a Dr. Fleming. Or as he put it, “Leave off the doctor just call me Fleming it’s shorter.” We’re sleepy now and going to turn in. I soaked my legs in hot water and hopefully I’ll feel less sore soon… more tomorrow.

24 Hour Game Diary Pt 3

May 07, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Friday, October 17, 2003
4:22 am
Arizona time (Pacific)

Can’t sleep. I’m so tired, my muscles are burning, but some part of me is so keyed up I can’t get back to sleep even though I’m exhausted.

Yesterday (today?) was probably one of the best baseball days of my life. It would have been anyway, even if the Yankees had not pulled off an unbelievable, improbable 11th inning win on a walk off homer from Aaron Boone. That was just the cherry on the sundae as far as I’m concerned.

Pro camp was amazing and great. Kevan Burns and his wife? partner? Clarissa Marquez run this baseball instruction business called Live The Dream. For us they pulled in a dozen ballplayers and coaches, from guys who have been in the minor leagues for a couple of years to some current college coaches who have already been through their pro time. Some even had a cup of coffee in the majors. They’re all incredibly nice and, damn, but there is so much to know about this game, even five minutes spent with any of them would already expand anyone’s knowledge of the sport. We got to spend all day with them.

I think I’m feeling the altitude as well as the heat and dryness, because yesterday I felt out of breath pretty much no matter what we did. I’m out of shape, but not THAT out of shape.

We did all kinds of things that are like what major leaguers go through in spring training. (more…)

24 Hour Game Diary Pt 2

May 06, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

October 16, 2003
9:10 am
Arizona time (Pacific)

Just got back from breakfast with my roomie, Theresa MacGregor. We’re here at the Amerisuites by the Tucson airport, along with a couple dozen other women baseball players. If you’re just tuning in, we’re here as part of a fundraiser/awareness-raiser called “24 Hours for Africa.” It’s like the AIDS Ride or the Breast Cancer marathon–each participant has to raise a certain amount of money in order to participate. In this case our “marathon” is a 24 hour baseball game played by women players from all around the USA, plus we have some players from Japan and Australia.

The whole thing was the brainchild of Rob Novotny, the vice president of American Women’s Baseball. Rob has been touring the country for the past six months, recruiting players, drumming up sponsorship, arranging details, so that the event will happen. He’s been living off his credit cards all this time, but he believes in the cause, which is to save lives in Africa. US Doctors for Africa is on a mission to provide adequate drugs therapy and training for medical personnal so that mothers with HIV can go through childbirth without passing the virus on to their infant.

Steven Seagal is our honorary spokesperson. The whole thing is being broadcast live from the Apple Computer web site (http://ali.apple.com/24hours/). The game records are going to be archived in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It’s a pretty big deal.

But the action doesn’t start for a couple of days. First we have two days of pro baseball camp, hosted by Live The Dream. I arrived last night just in time to see the Cubs go down in flames on hotel TV. Ah, heavy sigh. Wait til next year. (more…)

24 Hour Game Diary 1

May 05, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Originally posted on October 15, 2003.

October 15, 2003
5:20 pm
(not sure what time zone)

I am flying on a plane as I write this, on my way to Tucson for the “24 Hours for Africa” women’s baseball marathon. I shouldn’t even be typing this because my elbow hurts, typing aggravates it, and I should be saving my arm for the game. But dammit I’m bored and the pilot just announced that the Yankees have lost Game 6 of the ALCS to Boston by a score of 9-6.


Women’s Baseball Player Diary Part 6

May 04, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Originally appeared on October 14, 2003.

Okay folks, get ready for a really personal one this time.

This entry isn’t about how the Yankees have executed three strike-em-out-throw-em-out double plays, or how they had four men reach base by base on balls and scored none, whereas they gave up only one walk and that was the winning run. This isn’t about ninth inning heroics being too little too late. This isn’t about Soriano swinging at everything off the plate, or about Jason Giambi and Aaron Boone both taking Wakefield deep–but foul.

Or maybe it is. I’ve just come home from the Coolidge Corner Clubhouse, a nice upscale sports bar in Brookline, Mass., where I witnessed the Yankees lose 3-2 to the Red Sox.

I have the urge to break things right now. I have the urge to take some large instrument of destruction like an axe (or a baseball bat?) and smash something into tiny pieces and then lie in a heap sobbing. There are three reasons for this feeling.

1) The aforementioned frustrating Yankees loss.

2) I didn’t take batting practice today, as I have just about every day for the past week.

3) I went to therapy with my boyfriend this morning and I’ve got a lot of frustration to let out there, too.

The Yankees losing normally wouldn’t cause such a mood swing in me. But it is October, and everything seems to mean more at this time of year, not just because of baseball but because of the echoes of September 11th. I’ve written before that for me baseball is my natural Prozac. Even a loss often injects some kind of lift into me. But not this one, not tonight.

The reason I have been taking batting practice all week is that I am getting ready to play in the Women’s Baseball Marathon, a.k.a. 24 Hours For Africa, a twenty four hour long baseball game being arranged by American Women’s Baseball as a charity event for US Doctors for Africa. It’s this weekend at the Chicago White Sox spring training complex in Tucson, Arizona. I’m going there along with 60+ women from around the USA, including some of the top players in the country. (more…)

Women’s Baseball Player Diary Part 5

May 03, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Originally posted on August 16, 2003.

July 26 2003

I had to miss Wednesday’s game because of the writing class I’m teaching, but I heard we won. That made the team’s record 6-2 (with two rainouts and one game cancelled for lack of umpires) before today’s game. The only two losses were both to the same team: Carter & Carter. We played them today.

We beat them by so much that they abdicated after four innings. (more…)

Women’s Baseball Player Diary, Part 4

May 02, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Originally posted on July 24, 2003.

July 1 2003

Narragansett Electric (that’s my team) beat ISL tonight. The final score was 9-4, I think, though it could have been 9-6. I know we were leading 6-4 in the fourth, having scored all six runs in the first inning when the ISL pitcher/coach, Darry, just didn’t have it. The first three runs came in on walks and hit batters, two more on ground outs. I batted third tonight and walked my first time up, moved to second and third both on walks, and scored on a ground out. My second time at the plate–which was still in the first inning–I faced another pitcher, a woman named Paula who threw such a soft ball that she induced five or six soft comebackers to her in the game. I grounded to first and was tagged out in the baseline, but I think a run scored on that, as well… we lost track after a while. (That’s why they keep a scorebook on the bench!)

In the field I played second for the first few innings. I made one put out at second but had no chance for a double play. (more…)

2003 Women’s Baseball Diary Part 3

May 01, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Baseball Player Diary 2003, Part 3
Originally posted on June 30, 2003.

June 5

Tonight I volunteered at the ABCD Field of Dreams tournament at Fenway Park. ABCD is Action for Boston Community Development, and the Field of Dreams is a tournament where large corporations who donate a heap o’ money get to play in a six inning game on the field at Fenway Park. The game was a cross between baseball and softball, with regular length basepaths, but a softball in use pitched by a pitching machine. The rules were simple: eleven batters per inning, no matter how many outs, two pitches per batter, no exceptions.

The festivities started in the morning, but my shift was 5pm to 10pm. I arrived right at 5pm and collected my “staff” t-shirt and redeemable food coupon, then went down to the Red Sox dugout to change into my spikes and stow my bag. (more…)

2003 Women’s Baseball Diary, Part 2

April 30, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Originally posted on June 7 2003: Baseball Diary 2003, Part 2.

Photo of ctan in uniform here.

May 15

My arm hurt all weekend. Then again, so did my back, my knee, my neck… it has gotten cold and damp again, if you can believe that, and every part of me that has any nagging injury is aching. And the Yankees are on a losing streak, which makes me feel down, which makes me ache more. This is all very annoying, but doesn’t keep me from doing my morning routine no matter how creaky I get. I’ve added some things to the rehab exercises I did over the winter, and here’s what I’m doing pretty much every day: 100-200 crunch sit-ups, 50 leg lifts with the 5 pound ankle weight–each leg, 10-20 “superman” lifts for my back–lying on my stomach, 10-20 “crawl” lifts (lifting left leg and right arm off the ground, then vice versa), 3 sets of ten wrist curls with the blue Theraband for my elbow/wrist, 3 sets of 10 the other direction, both arms of course, and then sets of 10 lifts with a 3-lb. dumbell for my arms, butterflies, etc… I don’t have names for them all. It all takes about 20 minutes with backstretches thrown in. I’ve been doing this routine, gradually adding to it, for several weeks now.

All the light lifting must be helping. I know because tonight we had batting practice in Pawtucket. (more…)

May 7 2003 : Out Standing In The Field

April 29, 2010 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball, Women's Baseball Marathon

Cecilia’s Baseball Diary 2003
May 7 2003 : Out Standing In The Field

Here I am again, trying to play baseball. For those who are new to my endeavors, here’s a quick recap.

March 23, 2000 — While surfing the Internet, I discover the existence of “organized” women’s baseball in the US. While there’s no “major league” per se, there are several organizing bodies, including the AAU and the loose confederation of leagues that form the “feeder” system for Team USA for the annual Women’s World Series and such. I wrote in my journal that day: “Does every fan long to be in the game, somewhere deep in his or her heart? Or is it just me?” A dream is born.

April 10, 2001 — I decide that sitting around dreaming is not enough. (more…)

October 29, 2008: Fading Days

October 29, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball

The World Series is not yet over, but snow fell in parts of Pennsylvania yesterday, and I woke up this morning with my skin feeling dry. So dry that several calluses on my left hand were peeling.

I stared at them for a while after I got out of the shower, trying to figure out what they were from. What could I have been doing that built up a callus there, on my left hand, on the pads between the second and third knuckle of my grip?

I think these are my batting calluses, finally wearing off, nearly 14 months after I played my final game of hardball.

I used to go to the batting cage at least once a week. It was bit the way other people must make surreptitious stops at bars and whorehouses. Sometimes I’d make a special trip and plan to go to the cage, but more often than not, in my busy life, trying to fit baseball in around two jobs, community volunteering, writing, editing, and socializing, I’d have to sneak in a trip on my way to or from somewhere else.

I’d go to the Home Depot near the cage instead of the hardware store closer to my house, to justify the trip. I’d meet friends at the movie theater near there, but leave an hour early so I could get some hitting in, first.

I’d bring batting gloves with me on vacation. I’ve hit in batting cages in Aruba, Florida, the Jersey Shore. (Never did find one in Mexico, though.)

My car still has a pile of Iron Mike tokens in the ashtray.

But my last two years playing, I hardly went to the cage at all. I was too busy. My work life has gotten more and more pressing (which is good, it means I’m earning more through writing and editing). Just making time to get to the games I was supposed to play in was getting harder and harder.

And it showed on the field. After the season where I batted nearly .500 for fifteen games (and dropped to just under .400 after a slump in the last few – it’s only a 20 game season), my hitting dropped off the following year. The time not spent in the cage was part of it.

My fading eyesight is the other. No, it’s nothing so dramatic as Kirby Puckett—I’m just over 40 now and dusk light is the hardest to see in. The baseball that was bright and white and whose seams I could see spinning easily in the first inning would be dirty and sunset-colored in the fifth, melding into the dying day like a ghost. We play(ed) on a field without lights.

I’s funny, because one would think I’d miss playing baseball the most during the summer, which is when I played, but here it is, more than a full season since I retired and it’s only really hitting me, today. I worked hard for those calluses. I’ll miss them.

Of course, there’s nothing to say I can’t still go to the batting cage…

April 1, 2008: Being There

April 01, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Baseball Musings, On Playing the Game, Yankee Fan Memories

This is going to be a kind of personal piece today, about life and baseball. Or perhaps about baseball and life.

I cried a lot yesterday. There are a lot of reasons why, and they all come back to baseball.

I drove to New York City Sunday night, had a lovely dinner with my good friend Lori in the Bronx, who shares the same birthday with me. We have a tradition of going to Opening Day at Yankee Stadium together, since the home opener often falls on or next to our birthday, and then having dinner at a steakhouse in Yonkers that we like (and that gives birthday discounts).

I thought I was going to miss the opener for sure last year, since I had a trip to China and Japan planned for early April, but as it turned out I was able to go to the game, then head home and leave pretty much the next day for the Far East. This year would have been my ninth Opening Day in a row.

And of course, as the media has trumpeted repeatedly, the last home opener ever in The Old Ballpark.

I wanted to be there. Sure, it’s just a game. Sure, I’ll have plenty more chances to attend games this season. I’ll very likely be there for the last game of the season. So you’d think it wouldn’t have been such a Big Deal that yesterday’s game was rained out, postponed to tonight, and that I decided to drive back home instead of trying to stay another day.

But it wasn’t until I was partway home that the tears hit. That the disappointment came on me like a wave.

I’ve often said one of the most amazing things about baseball is how it can reduce a mature adult to being ten years old again. I didn’t quite feel the disappointment as keenly as I would have at ten. But the more I thought about it on the way home, the more I realized I wasn’t just upset over one game or one rainy day.

The two-hundred mile drive back to my house from the Stadium is never longer than after a loss, and I associate it with nights like the time my friend Rich and I drove down to see Game 2 of the ALDS in 2001, with our hearts still raw from 9/11 and the game felt like attending a wake. Coming home after various other playoff losses, too. That drive is joyous and wonderful after clinching–one can get WFAN late at night through over half of Connecticut and there was one night after they clinched a round we did the drive and listened to happy fans calling in until well past New Haven. We also listened as long as we could the last night of Joe Torre’s tenure, too, the night Suzyn Waldman cried from the clubhouse while trying to report on the radio about how all of Joe Torre’s coaches were in tears.

Yes, there’s crying in baseball. Because people care. Because it’s a huge thing in the fabric of our lives, as huge as the things we associate it with, like family, and religion, and triumph and defeat.

They’re going to tear down my stadium! MY stadium, I say, like it belongs to me. I’ve been resigned to the destruction of the place since an Old Timer’s Day in 2002. I was sitting in the stands before the game, just looking around, and the realization hit me then that even if they did tear it down and rebuild on the same spot–it would never be the same. At the time we didn’t know what the plans for a new building were going to be. But preservation was pretty much out of the question.

As a historian, I hate to see real, actual things disappear from the world. The reason some of the things one sees in Cooperstown at the Hall of Fame are so striking is because these are the actual objects that were involved in the history. It’s one thing to know the story of how Jack Chesbro’s one wild pitch at the worst possible time cost the Yankees the pennant, handing it to the Red Sox in 1904. It’s another thing entirely to see the actual ball that got away sitting there behind Plexiglas.

I talked to Reggie Jackson this spring about the Stadium. And here’s what he had to say. “I don’t think I am as caught up yet, because I’m not there now. When the end comes, I’ll probably get teary-eyed.”

He went on to explain all the good and valid reasons why we’re going to enjoy the new stadium. And I have no doubt that I will. I believe that the fans that will cheer and root and pour their hearts out there are what will give that new building life, and the feats that the team that plays there accomplishes are what will make it precious to us eventually. I have no doubt about that.

But he went on to say, “I’m just not that sentimental yet. Maybe when it gets closer. I really wouldn’t want to be around to see them tear it down.”

No, I don’t think I could stand that. At the time I was nodding my head right along with him, excited about the new stadium, and the new season, too. It was a spring full of optimism in Yankee camp, after all. But he was right, I think, about not feeling as sentimental because he wasn’t there. I think Reggie will be feeling it as much as I am when the end actually comes.

“[The new one] won’t have its history,” he said. “And I don’t think you’ll lose the history. It’s just like I don’t play anymore, and I’m nothing in baseball except an old name, but I have my memories. They’re always with me. So if you wouldn’t let me in the ballpark, or you took my uniform away from me, I would be sad, but you wouldn’t take my memories away. I don’t think I’m explaining it well. But the memories that I have in my mind and in my head, whether it’s old cars or old homes or things like that, things change, things get better, and so I try to understand what they’re doing. You know, I remember when Mickey Mantle walked in front of me in Yankee Stadium and I looked down at his shoes, and he had the tongue turned over and it said number 7. Players don’t even have tongues on their shoes now. They’re not marked the way they were before, you know. And the 407 foot sign in right center, the 344 in right center… those are all numbers for me that I’ll always remember, forever. The field was sloped, it was sloped down toward left field. The old fence, the low fence was a Cyclone fence like that (points). The new fence hasn’t taken away my memory of the old one. So it’s not going to be gone for me. I was lucky to see it. And to have lived in it for a while. I’m not sad about it.”

He’s right, in that nothing will take our memories away. But I can’t deny that real things have power. Artifacts have power.

And for all my rationalization about how great the new place is going to be, that doesn’t negate the hurt that the ten-year-old in me feels about losing the old place.

When I was ten years old, my family moved from one place to another. We’d left New York City a few years before, and this was a move from one New Jersey suburb to another. I had a terrible time adjusting to my new school. I regularly came home crying and miserable.

Is that some of what I’m feeling, when I look at this move? I fixated a little on our old house. But it wasn’t the house itself that I missed–it was my old life, my old friends. But the house seems like such a tangible thing.

The House That Ruth Built. The outraged ten-year-old in me cannot believe they’re going to tear it down.

Meanwhile, I may as well take this opportunity to announce that I’m retiring from the playing field. I’m forty. The Slaterettes are happy to have me so long as I can haul my ass down to Pawtucket to get in uniform. But it’s not fun in the late season when the light gets real dim and you know the ball’s coming because you saw the pitcher wind up, but it seems to disappear into the sepia-tone of the world.

I actually had a decent season last season. My team was fun and my bad knees even held up pretty well. But I don’t think I’m ever hitting .400 again, and I don’t ever want to feel like I’m the 15th player on the 15-woman roster.

Of course, then comes the question… if you quit playing, what are you going to do with yourself?

I don’t know. I’m going to miss it terribly. I don’t want to find some 40+ softball league near my house that plays on a well-lit field and allows courtesy runners. Just so I can smell the dirt and touch the grass?

I’ve thought about learning to umpire. But, I don’t know. Maybe someday.

The truth of the matter is that baseball isn’t fun when you miss your pitch all the time. I played my last season at forty years old and that seems like a good time to call it quits. Playing more years won’t make up for the fact that I wish I had started much younger and that the opportunity to play didn’t come along until I was in my thirties.

corwin says he won’t believe I’m really retired until I actually sit out the season, though. He’s right. There’s always a possibility that I won’t be able to stand it and I’ll show up on when Slaterettes season opens with a bat and glove. But as of right now, no. The hill is getting too steep to climb. Which is a depressing prospect, but there you have it. Maybe I’ll have to look into vintage baseball…

The next logical step for me, actually, is starting a women’s and girls league in Cambridge, MA. But honestly right now I don’t have the time. Perhaps that is something for some years down the road, too.

Meanwhile, in this year, it’s been a very long winter. And they’ve been teasing us with the start of “baseball season” with several false starts, too. The Red Sox played an opening series in Japan over a week ago. The Nationals opened their new ballpark a night earlier than everyone else because… I’m not sure why. I guess because ESPN wanted them to. And yesterday, things were supposed to finally be underway.

But they weren’t. It rained. And then it rained some more. And I drove 200 miles in the rain to get home after the game was called, crying. I’m definitely depressed and I should be old enough by now to recognize the symptoms. But the best treatment I’ve found is baseball itself, so go figure.

Meanwhile, tonight, they will play the first home opener at Yankee Stadium that I have not been at in almost a decade, and the fact that it will be the last home opener in the building really does make a difference. Because as a historian and as a fan, I know that Being There is a meaningful thing. Real events happen in real places and are witnessed by real people. “Reality TV” is such an oxymoron. The compelling thing about sports on TV or radio is that they are live, the next best thing to being there, but nothing beats being there.

Now that my retirement is upon me, it is starting to sink in how significant being on the field really was. This thing happens when you play, I think, where your mind focuses so much on the game and on the mindset necessary to play, that you forget a lot of the other stuff around the game. Playing itself, the act of playing, fielding, baserunning, keeping your head in the game, and so on is so all-absorbing at the time it is going on that you develop a mindset for playing that is quite different from the one you have as a spectator, or fan, or historian.

This is why I was surprised today when I finally started going through the stack of baseball books that have accumulated on my desk over the past 12 months and discovered my name so prominently featured in one of them. I’ve gotten a lot of good books. Some I bought, some were sent to me by publishers or authors hoping for a review, others I got as gifts. I’ve been meaning to read them all, but I haven’t had time.

One of the largest in the stack is the “Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball,” edited by Leslie Heaphy Mel May. Leslie gave me a copy of the book at last summer’s SABR convention in St. Louis. I’ve been a member of the women and baseball committee of SABR for a couple of years now, and we’ve corresponded a lot in email about it. I recalled sending her some photos of the New England Women’s Baseball League and such.

I didn’t realize, though, what a lynchpin in the system I apparently was, as a bridge between the historians and the current players. But I am the very first person thanked in the Acknowledgments. “There are many individuals who deserve special thanks for their help in gathering materials, starting with Cecilia Tan,” it says, “who is herself a player. Cecilia provided information not only about her own experienced but also about the 24-hour benefit game in Arizona. Most importantly, she provided contacts with a couple of hundred other ball players.”

Yeah, I guess I did! It was only then that it occurred to me that… holy crap… am I actually IN this encyclopedia? Yes. There I am on page 282. 162 words encapsulating my sporting and athletic achievements.

In other words, I was there.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like much. What did I do really, but drive around like a nut searching for the right out of the way ballfield in Lynn where the North Shore Cougars were due to take on the Lowell Robins? But put on cleats and tear up the grass two nights a week in Slater Park in Pawtucket, RI? Maybe I’m the Joe Garagiola of the women’s leagues. I was never the best player, but I’ve told the most stories about it.

I can tell the stories differently because I was there. You can look it up.

And so, yes. It would have mattered to be there for this home opener. But I’m not going to be there. I will pin my hopes instead on being there for Game Seven of the World Series, which would be the only truly fitting occasion to say goodbye to the old ballpark with. We’ll see if it happens. A lot depends on the weather, and the Yankees, and things beyond my control.

July 2, 2007: Mechanical Failure

July 02, 2007 By: ctan Category: On Playing the Game

The other day in a game against the Yankees, Shannon Stewart of the Oakland A’s made a weak throw from left field, allowing a run to score and a runner on second base to move to third. The game’s broadcasters mentioned that Stewart’s shoulder is injured, and has been “for years.” How, one might think, could a guy still be playing with such a weakness and why hasn’t he done anything about it?

Well, I don’t know about Stewart’s arm, but I know about mine. And over the past seven years playing in the women’s leagues, my arm has only gotten weaker, not stronger, every year. Stewart probably could hire the best doctors, personal trainers, and kinesiologists to diagnose and treat his problem. He can not only afford all the experts, he can afford to spend hours a day working on his baseball skills. I can’t. I’ve got an acupuncturist, and if I even exercise twice a week right now I’m doing well.

The truth of the matter is that as I age, and as the repetitive strain of daily computer use takes its toll, my throwing actually has been getting weaker. What I found out yesterday in practice, though, was that strictly speaking my arm isn’t weak right now. But my mechanics are all out of whack from years of favoring the elbow pain. And it turns out it’s not just my throwing, but my hitting, too.

Wow. I’ll explain.

I arrived at practice a bit late. Bob told me to take a run around the field for that. Check it out though–I can run all the way around the field (outside the fences) and not die. Last year I don’t think I could have done that. I really am in better shape than last year where I re-injured the elbow in early April and literally didn’t do ANYTHING from then until June 20th when Slaterettes season started. At my age, two and a half months of sitting on your ass definitely puts you out of shape completely.

But we were talking about my arm. One of my tae kwon do instructors pointed out to me recently that I seem to be having trouble extending my arm fully. Even when I reach out, my elbow is staying slightly bent, as if I’m afraid I’ll hyperextend it and hurt it again. I think the rehab exercises I’ve been doing non-stop actually have built up my bicep such that my arm just doesn’t want to straighten. It’s probably been this way for three years at least, but especially since I re-injured it last spring.

Bob took a look at a single throw of mine and said, hmmm. He sent me and another player off to the side to warm up my arm better. We played catch for about 5 minutes, I went back to the infield, took another grounder, sailed another one nowhere near its target, and he did something no coach has done in all my years in the league. He turned the grounder-hitting duties over to Bridget and then he worked with me one-on-one.

We played catch. After only a few throws he came over to show me what my arm looks like when I throw. First of all, it’s bent when it shouldn’t be. I’m not getting full extension. To make up for the shortness of my arm, I’m pushing harder with my shoulder. He asked me, “when you throw a lot where does it hurt?” In my shoulder, of course. I didn’t tell him that last year’s strategy was not to throw at all, and to save the few good throws I had in me for game situations. I made a good throw in the game the other night, too, hitting my cutoff man (by which I mean woman).

We worked on it. I threw a lot, trying to come over the top and extend my arm all the way.

Now, one of the most annoying symptoms of an RSI is that your fingers start to go numb. Funny thing is, I haven’t had much numbness or tingling over the years, but I woke up the other day with two fingers on my right hand partly ‘asleep.’ Which is troubling, but not dire. I hope.

Then he looked at the way I grip the ball. Turns out, to make up for the weakness and numbness in my fingers, I’ve been letting the ball get deeper in my hand than usual so that I don’t lose my grip. If you know anything about pitching, you know that a fastball turns into a changeup when the one thing you change is how deep in your palm the ball is.

It all goes back to that same injury. Shannon Stewart can’t throw? Just goes to show fixing it isn’t that simple. The elbow affects the shoulder affects the fingers affects everything.

We had a fun practice, I worked in the outfield where I’ve been playing mostly the past few years. Thing is, no one has ever told me how to play the outfield. Right field, where I play, is mostly about backing up first base on grounders hit to the left side and on pickoff throws from the catcher. I know that from reading books about positioning. And cutting off line drives in the gap and getting them back to the cutoff man. Not a lot of actual fly balls go that way because the whole league is stacked with pull hitters.

But I still would like to be able to catch a ball if it were coming to me. Thing is, the “instructional” years I worked out with the New England Women’s Baseball League (now the NE division of the North American Women’s Baseball League), I wanted to play second base and they obliged me. I learned all kinds of things about playing the position, and how to field ground balls, turn the double play, et cetera. No one ever taught me to catch a fly ball.

So three of us were standing out there with Bob, and he is hitting us pop flies and liners. And Sam and I were not having an easy time judging where they are going. Bob is another one of those coaches who can’t really place his fungoes–a rare skill–so that means running around all over the place, and sometimes giving up on balls that are going to land twenty yards from you no matter how fast you run.

Finally Bob comes over and says to Sam, “which direction should your first step be when a fly ball is coming toward you?” I’m thinking… toward the ball. She’s thinking it’s a trick question and she says “I don’t know.” Well, the answer isn’t toward the ball. It’s “take a step back.” We all know that when the ball’s to the side of us, it’s easier to catch, because you can gauge the arc much more easily. But when it’s more or less toward you? Bob demonstrated the laziest looking little step back. “Just like Manny’s,” he explained. “If you fall back that little step, if the ball looks like it’s still going up as you go back, you know you gotta run back. If it looks like it’s not still going up, you come in. If you don’t take the step back, you can’t judge the top of the arc just by standing there.”

This is clearly one of the most basic things about fielding one should know, and it’s funny that I didn’t. But hey, like I said, I was supposed to be an infielder. Frank Crosetti’s book on infield play didn’t mention this.

Now, here’s one to add to the list of Weird Baseball Injuries. Not as weird as Paxton Crawford cutting himself by falling out of bed in his hotel, nor that guy who burned his face with the iron while watching ESPN. I scooped up a ball from the grass with my glove, and an insect bit me on the finger. The one finger that sticks out from the glove, you know? Somehow a bug got between the finger and the leather and the sucker bit me! It started to swell up and now as I’m typing this two days later it’s got a hard lump. Like, ouch.

It was about 1:15 by the time we were done in the outfield and we’d all been running around in the midday sun for over an hour. Bob’s next step was to make a run to Dunkin Donuts and buy us all frozen drinks. But that’s not why he’s currently my favorite coach. It’s because he takes the time to explain things and he sees it as worth his time to do so to help individual players improve their skills.

This makes me think we have a good shot to win the league this year. If the pitching holds up. The team is pretty strong defensively overall, and clearly getting better, and we’re hitterish enough that we can always put some runs up.

Once we were sufficiently cooled down and sugared up, we went to the batting cages.

Here, my shoulder/elbow reared its head again. I won’t go into a complicated breakdown of my swing, but two major things have changed. The first one you could guess. I’m not extending my arms enough. Still trying to protect that elbow. Bob suggested I get a brace for it to take the worry out. And two, to try to make up for the shortness of my arms, I’ve opened my stance too much. My feet are starting out far apart and then my stride is nonexistent. It was like I had somehow forgotten everything about my natural swing over the course of last season when I was hitting so terribly. Guess what? I did forget everything about my natural swing. All Bob had to do was point it out.

And now I just have to keep it all together in the game. It’s funny how things you do in practice can go out the window when people are watching. Here we are, a group of 7-8 women, mostly between 20 and 25, clustered around the cage watching each other hit. We were using the slower cage as most of the pitchers in our league are not getting the ball above say 55 mph. Along comes this strapping young hunk. Six-two, college age jock. He gets into the faster cage like he knows what he’s doing.

We weren’t really watching him, not really. We were minding our own business. But we couldn’t help but notice when he swung and missed on the first pitch. When the fast pitching machine wings the ball that quick, and you miss, it hits the pad on the backstop with a loud “boom.”

Boom, boom, boom. He didn’t even foul tip a single one of his first 16 balls. I couldn’t help but notice his face was red as he came out to feed another token into the machine. He jumped right back in there.

Boom, boom.

I said to Robin, “I think we’re making that guy nervous.”

Pretty soon we were all stealing glances over there to see if he was getting any better. I was hoping he’d finally connect with one so we could say “nice hit,” but he didn’t. He ended up leaving without really having gotten much in the way of “batting” practice in at all.

Poor guy. He probably had a game to play that night in his league and had just wanted to get some extra swings in. But it could have been worse. We could have actually been giggling.

No games for me this coming week. I’m off to San Francisco for a wedding and will miss our two scheduled matchups. But I think I may pack my batting gloves. Just in case.

June 28, 2007: Out Standing In a Field (again)

June 28, 2007 By: ctan Category: On Playing the Game

Oh, I ache everywhere, but especially in my forty-year-old legs. Slaterettes Baseball season has begun and I feel like I put the “senior” in the “Senior Division.” I played right field two days in a row. (Who the heck put two games in a row on the schedule? Oh, my aching muscles.)

I’m on a new team this year–the team that was Palagi’s and wore lime green. We don’t know who our sponsor is or what color our uniforms will be this year because… we don’t have them yet. If you have the impression my league is not as organized as it could be, well, that’s because it isn’t. What are you expecting, the St. Louis Cardinals, here? It’s all volunteers who run the league; everyone’s in it for the love of the game. So it’s hard to get angry about stuff like that. As long as we get on the field and play, I could care less if we wore burlap sacks.

Still, it was funny as our team assembled for our first game and I walked up to the dugout actually not sure which of the two teams there that day was mine. Like I said… a little disorganized. “Anyone know what team I’m on?” I shouted as I neared the third base bench, dragging my equipment bag from my car.

“This one,” Lori answered. She’s the one who, when we were in the field would later yell, “Here we go Green! And red, purple, gray, blue… (mutter mutter)”

There’s no point getting worked up about it. I complained to corwin the night before the game, trying to do the drama queen thing. “Damn it,” I said as we were eating dinner, “I better like my team this year. If I don’t, or the coach is mean to me, I’m quitting!”

His answer, “You will not either!”

Which made us both break out into hysterical laughter. “You’re right,” I said. “I obviously just can’t pull off the drama queen act.” Yet another lack of similarity between me and Ken Griffey, Jr. And besides, the first thing our coach did when he saw me was give me a big hug and a big smile.

Anyway, I can hardly criticize. If the league got a late jump on this season’s preparations, I’ve been even worse. I didn’t visit the batting cage even ONCE during the offseason, haven’t looked at the glove or even moved my equipment bag since the last game of last season (though I did take the dirty laundry out). Haven’t even played softee-ball toss with corwin in the hallway or hit the Wiffle ball in the park.

On the other hand, I’m in better cardio-vascular shape than last season. Last year, some of you may recall, I hurt my arm in early April and had to quit working taking class at my tae kwon do school. I was too demoralized about this to pick up some other activity like, oh, riding the exercise bike in my office more than once a month.

Then Christmas came and corwin got dance pads and a game system for Dance Dance Revolution.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, “DDR” is a video game of Japanese origin, in which one steps on specially marked places on the pad (north, south, east, west) as directed on the screen to accompanying hit pop songs from around the world. It’s like aerobics class for geeks, basically, only better, because it’s competitive. Yes, there’s the magic word. No one hands you a score or a grade at the end of an aerobics class, but the game keeps track of your high score and all that.

Am I competitive? P-shaw. Of course not!

Hopefully you all detected the heavy sarcasm coming through the Internet in that last paragraph. I’m so competitive that if I had to chose between playing every inning myself and having my team lose, I’d chose to sit on the bench. The reality of course is that what I ought to do with that competitive fire is make myself into a contributor to the team winning. Now if only I had a little more time to practice, I might be able to do that.

It’s clear to me that physically it’s an uphill battle against age. My fielding skills which were halfway adequate when I started in this league five years ago are now a joke. If I could hit like Jason Giambi, that might not matter so much, but… I hit more like Chuck Knoblauch.

The first game was fun, even if I only got one at bat. We had a lot of players on the bench, so I sat for three innings and played for three innings, but only got one at bat in that time. That’s because it was a low-scoring game without a ton of walks for either team, which made it all the more fun. Our new rival team is last year’s champions, the team in Light Blue. (I’ve no idea who their sponsor was last year, and not this year either.) They are a fun team, and the one that most of the older women in the league have gravitated to. A lot of my old teammates from that Narragansett Electric team of five years back (when we were considered the “old lady” team) like pitchers Brenda and Michelle, are there, and they’ve got one serious stud named Lisa who pitches hard and fast and can hit the ball a ton. If she’s fighting an uphill battle against age, she started out so much further up the hill from the rest of us, we can’t see it.

Bob, our coach, said as we gathered in the dugout before the first game, “Okay, so, this team beat us last year, they beat everyone last year, and that makes me really want to beat their butts.” Okay, he didn’t say butts, but technically there is a no cursing in the dugout rule in our league and I wouldn’t want to get him in trouble by telling you he actually said “ass.”

Well, we went out and beat their ass. How? Two out hits, some good defense, cashing in on some walks that Brenda made, and some calls in the final inning that went our way. They had scored two unearned runs in the first inning, one of them on an RBI triple that Lisa hit. Lisa pitched the first three innings for them, but we scratched two runs off her to make it 2-2. Brenda pitched the final three, and we went up 6-3, but they scored in the final inning and then had the tying runs on with one out.

Oh, so, FYI, we play a six inning game. At one point the league voted to change the rules to make it 7 innings, with strict rules about the need for darkness to end some games before the full seven could be played… but at some point they got overturned and we reverted back to six. With games starting at 5:30, by 7:30–when six innings are typically over–it’s starting to get dim enough that my eyes (and most of the umpires’…) are straining. We’ve got no lights on our field.

So for us “bottom of the sixth” is equal to “bottom of the ninth.” I don’t feel like the last three innings are missing. I feel like the middle three are. Like we play one-two-three, and then seven-eight-nine. For example, for us, by the time it is the fourth, the starting pitchers are starting to get tired, making it more like the seventh.

Anyway, the game ended on a wacky wacky play that I’m not even sure I can describe accurately. It left some players on our team wondering as we lined up to shake hands whether we had won or lost the game. No, I’m not making this up.

There was a ball hit in the infield, a force out was made for the second out but the batter reached, and then we tried to get the runner who was trying for home, but failed, so she was safe, making it 6-5, but meanwhile the batter rounded first thinking about trying to take second while the business at home was taking place… but Bridget, our catcher, gunned he ball to first, and the batter was tagged out while trying to get back to the bag. End of game.

May I say right now, Bridget is awesome. She was awarded MVP of the league in a recent year–it might have been last year or the year before, I can’t remember. She’s also the one who pegged me right in the chest on the day Rob Novotny came and ran the tryout-clinic for the 24 Hour Game. We were supposed to be practicing the flip-to-second on the double play. I used to play second base, remember? She was at short, got the ball, and instead of the soft flip, she sidearm winged the ball hard from ten feet away and hit me square in the sternum. Oof.

I think she was just nervous from us going first and everyone watching. Can you believe that was in 2003? Four years ago. She also used to pitch and I used to hit her pretty good.

She was a star in the league then, and is a star in the league now, and she’s also grown up a lot. I’m not sure when she converted to catching, but in our league the two most important things to winning are a strong catcher and a couple of pitchers who throw strikes.

Anyway, we won the game 6-5, which might be the first time a team I’m on won our first game. The year I played for Narragansett Electric we lost the first game and then pretty much didn’t lose another one. The next year Diane, our coach, quit or was run out of the league or whatever that drama was (I never did get all the details), and Paula took over but we lost all our previous pitchers to one thing or another, had no catcher, and had to pull a couple of teenagers out of the junior league to fill out our roster. We lost every game that year, as I recall. I hit and played well, and was voted an All Star, but I’d rather have the team win, and thanks to that experience I can say that with authority.

The next two years were with Shove Insurance, which Paula’s ex-husband Todd coached the first year (their daughter Megan was our catcher) and last year Todd seemed to split the coaching duties with Dave. But Megan’s off to the military now, and Dave’s daughters are off to other things, and so Shove was broken up and the players, like me, were scattered to other teams.

So the league is at four teams again, after a brief expansion to 6. The last time we were at four, the schedule was nice and neat. We each team played two nights a week, Monday-Wednesday on one week, Tuesday-Thursday the next, in rotation so everyone played everyone an even number of times.

This year, it’s a four team league, but although we played our first game on Tuesday, on Wednesday–which was yesterday–we played again.

Did I mention my legs hurt?

No one was in as good shape the second day. Still no uniforms, and so our players were still in the shirts and caps of past years, though the team we faced seemed to be all in yellow shirts. All except Kayla, another of Todd and Paula’s daughters, who arrived one minute before game time in Bridget’s car–Bridget who we were also waiting for as it’s hard to play without a catcher. They were on an all day trip to Six Flags; Bridget had the most amazing chlorine-frizz hair. Good thing the catcher’s equipment hides it.

It’s a nicely loose team, in large part because Lori, our resident True Jock, keeps everyone laughing. This is one of my old teammates from Narragansett Electric, and she plays hockey in the winter, plus a laundry list of other sports. She’s the best bench jockey I know. Now, in our league, we’re actually prevented by rule from shouting insults at the other team, though there is some good-natured banter going on across sides from time to time. Which means what it comes down to, if you’re going to make fun of the other team, you do it inside your own dugout without letting anyone but your teammates hear.

I’ve decided I ought not try to reproduce our bench talk. Because you might get the idea that we ladies of the diamond are an uncouth lot, or worse, that baseball is a detriment to our feminine comportment.

Did I mention we won this game, too? Shannon and Becky pitched in the first game, three innings each, and were great. Remember what I said about how any pitcher who can throw strikes can do well in this league? It helps tremendously that the team has overall good defense, too. Well, second game, Sarah pitched four and Nora two, and we won, I think, by a score of 5-2. It was 5-0 going into the ninth–I mean, the sixth–but they had their best hitters coming up, they did get a couple, but we stopped the bleeding in time. Again the game ended on a non-standard double play, in which a fly ball was caught and then the runner on first, who had taken off without waiting to see if it would be caught, was doubled off.

We are in first place.

Okay, so I was going to end the entry there, and then I realized I never said a word about what I did personally at the plate.

In the first game, I only had the one at bat. I haven’t seen live pitching since last August, and haven’t even been to the cage. Brenda was on the mound. The first pitch was a ball, the second one was so far inside I not only had to get out of the way but the catcher had to reach out for it–but it was called a strike. I then swung at the next one about an hour before the ball got to the plate. The one after that, I swung only a half hour before it got there. A little anxious, are we?

Before the second game I cadged Crystal, who was on Shove with me last year, to do a wee bit of soft toss for me, just like 10 balls, and I made contact with 9 out of ten. Okay, so my hand eye coordination is NOT 100% shot. The result? I made contact with the baseball in all three at bats.

The first at bat was the worst, in which I popped up between first and the catcher and got another one of my patented Bizarre Base Hits. The ball ended up dropping just fair and then got kicked by one of the opposing players into their dugout. So I got a hit and then was awarded second. I’m not sure if that counts as a ground rule double or an error. The runner on third was awarded home, the one on second got third, etc. I don’t know if I got an RBI for that or not. All I care about is we got a run. See? Good things can happen when you make contact.

The next time up I grounded an outside pitch up the first base line but right to the first baseman. (First basewoman?) Bob’s comment: “Good idea, but… well.” And the last time up I hit a pop fly into short left which sounded pretty solid off the bat, the best “ping!” I’ve gotten in a while, but it was caught. So that makes me 1-for-4 on the season, I think. Which puts me already way ahead of last year when I didn’t get a hit until our second-to-last game. That was one of those Bizarre Base Hits, where the ball went up the third base line, stayed fair, they waited for it to go foul, it hit the bag and then went into foul territory and eventually into the dugout on that side… meanwhile everyone was running, scoring, et cetera, except me who had overrun first and then went back and stood there waiting to find out what the heck happened. They say you should run until you hear the word “foul” and well, I never did since the ball never went foul!

That wacko hit broke my oh-fer and the next day I went four-for-four. And that was the last day of the season.

Bob’s taking us all to the batting cages on Saturday. He says I have a hitch in my swing, which is something new for me. I know I’m still jumping at the ball and swinging too early, too. So maybe we work these things out, and I go on a hitting tear. I can hope.

May 27 2006: Now I Remember

May 27, 2006 By: ctan Category: On Playing the Game

Just in time for Memorial Day, summer is here with a vengeance. We had huge thunderstorms yesterday, the humidity went through the roof, and today it hit eighty degrees.

Just in time for my first baseball practice. I had forgotten what it was like to stand in the outfield, with not a hint of a breeze, the noon sun beating down, sweat sticking my hair to the back of my neck. Don’t get me wrong; I liked it. But I have a New Rule: do not drink Belle de Brillet brandy and Cointreau the night before baseball.

Dehydration sucks.

The upshot of today’s practice is threefold. One, yes, I can bunt, and our coaches’ decision that this year, when we’ve got a runner on third and a pitcher on the mound who throws strikes, we may just put down the suicide squeeze. My hands are itching in anticipation. Two, sitting around all winter without a single trip to the batting cage is not good for my swing. But it won’t take long to get it back. Three, I still cannot throw for beans.

The throwing thing is a pain because it’s simply embarrassing. I am not the worst thrower in the league. But the fact that I can throw less far than I could five years ago really irks me, and then there is the fact that my accuracy is for crap, too. I suppose by now I should just start accepting the fact that the torn tendon in my elbow is going to keep me like this. All winter it was great, no pain, good strength, no problems. Then, about a month ago, I tweaked it somehow (possibly pulling something out of the car) and kaboom, it swelled up and it is back to square one.

And of course throwing is one of those things that you have to do all the time. Chase a ball down in the outfield, hit the cutoff. Field a grounder, throw to first. Pick up balls in BP, throw them back to the pitcher. At this point, I can’t tell if my bad throws are because of my elbow or because of a mental block about whether the throw will be bad or not. Sometimes, I don’t think about it, and it’s fine. Sometimes, I don’t think about it, and I uncork these strange ones. Sometimes I think about it, and it’s fine. Sometimes, I think about it, and it makes no difference.

My fielding isn’t great but I want to convince the coaches that I can play second base at least as well as some of the other choices we have for the position, and I at least don’t have to be told when to cover the bag. Right field is nice but… well, no it isn’t. If we really have someone crack at second, I’ll be happy in the outfield because I want the team to win. But I don’t contribute much in the outfield. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a worse right fielder than I am second baseman. It’s just less obvious.

Sigh. I should just shut up now. Among other good news, we have Nikki, the lefty who was on my old team 4 years ago and who throws harder than anyone in the league, on our team again, which means that we have a good chance to beat our arch rivals, Carter & Carter.

And right field has the advantage that at least during BP I get to enjoy the local wildlife. Today I saw two pretty birds. No idea what kind, but they were mostly black with yellow and orange on their wings. There was a pair of them, and they flew off to the woodsy area beyond third base. There was also a large hawk of some kind, being harried by six small birds. The little birds just dive-bombed it over and over as it went around and around in a circle over me. Eventually it flew off and they left it alone.

Oh yeah, haven’t done any sprinting during the winter either. Before you start getting ideas that me and Sidney Ponson spent the winter on the beach (or in jail) in Aruba, I am actually in better shape for this season than I have been for any baseball season yet. Why? In September I started regular tae kwon do workouts again, and kept it up until last month when I tweaked the elbow. I weigh less, my pants fit soooo much better, and a lot of me is stronger. I hope it pays off in more hits and better speed.

And I once again wonder if I should try a larger bat than my 29″ (22 ounce) Little League stick. Maybe.

On the way home from practice I stopped at the grocery store to grab some lunch-makings. A Hispanic checkout boy saw my pants, socks, and jock flip-flops and asked “You just come from playing baseball? That’s what I’m going to do when I get out of here!” When I’d gone into the store it looked like it was threatening to pour, but by the time I got home the sky was blue and the afternoon looked fine. I hope he got his swings in.

August 18 2004: Sweet Swings

August 18, 2004 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball

It has been a hectic summer for this baseball-loving geek, with far too much going on and not enough time to write about it all. There was the SABR convention in Cincinnati. There was Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium. There was running into Byung-Hyun Kim in a restaurant by chance, the same weekend we were at Fenway to see Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek get into a brawl.

And there has been my season with the Slaterettes, my second full season playing hardball. I have some shocking news.

I am an All-Star.

I received this news last night, down at the Boathouse Field in Slater Park, where my team (Narragansett Electric) lost our 16th game in a row. That sounds bad–and it is. With rain-outs, our record is likely to end this season at 0-17.

This is a major reversal from last year’s team, when I think we lost only three or four games all season, and we played a longer season. I think last year’s record was 18-3, though I’m not 100% sure since we had some games half-played because of rain and other strangenesses of the schedule. Last year we had a dominant catcher, one dominating pitcher (Nikki), and three other good pitchers. Nikki is now with a different team, and none of the rest came back to the league.

In fact, of the 18 names we had on last year’s roster, only myself, Lori, and Kathy Roy (also a rookie last year), and Deb Hutton came back. Hut showed up for only two games last year and then disappeared–she did the same this year, so no one was surprised. But still, most of the denizens of the “old lady team,” as we were called, decided to call it quits.

Chief among them was Diane, our coach, mostly over what I heard were political reasons. The gossip around the league is that various people, mostly men, were upset that our team won so much last year, and they were upset that assertive (okay, loudmouthed and opinionated) Diane was critical of the way the league was being run. Talk is that they wanted to get rid of her, so they broke up her team to drive her away. I don’t know how much of that is true, given that a lot of the old players aren’t playing at all this year. But if they wanted to drive her out, it worked: she quit, and they stocked the roster with all new players. The team didn’t get a new coach until a few days before the season started. We went into that first game not only with no practice, we didn’t even know each other’s names.

We were awful that first game, and although the team has steadily improved, we have continued to be awful for two and a half months. When we hit, we don’t pitch. When we pitch, the defense is weak. When the defense is working, we don’t hit. And so it has gone all year. Some more players quit shortly after the season started, and we recruited a bunch of juniors (young teenagers) to come up and fill in for us, and they have been great. But they are still young (and short). It is exactly like the Seattle Mariners bringing up all their guys from Triple-A to play this year. How the mighty have fallen.

Are we having fun? Yes, though much of the fun is of our own making. I will give no names to protect the guilty and innocent alike, but whenever the home plate umpire goes to brush off the plate and we’re in the field, you’ll hear someone ask “what’s the count?” Regardless of the count, you’ll hear the answer is “two balls.” This kind of fun is necessary since all too often we are on the verge of being killed by the “mercy rule,” which says if one team is more than 15 runs ahead, it’s a lost cause. Thanks to the mercy rule, many of our games have been cut short after only four innings, which means that I have oftentimes been making a two hour drive through rush hour traffic just to get one at bat. Let me tell you, when you drive two hours fighting rush hour, just to get called out on a pitch that was in no way a strike by an umpire who… well, it simply sucks.

I can see you’re skeptical. No, really, we’ve lost every game. We’ve had a few good pitching performances, but they were always on nights when we got shut out. We have had the lead in exactly four games, and we have never led after the fourth inning. We have batted around in an inning, I think, three times. That was really fun when it happened, but we’ve never been able to make a lead stick.

I have been trying to adopt a zen attitude about the whole thing. It’s still better to be standing in the overgrown clover in right field while the sun sets behind the trees than in front of a computer, isn’t it? The team can’t seem to put together a win, so instead of looking at the end result, I look at all the pieces. Each play, each inning, each pitch–I count them all separately, just trying to live in the moment. It means I play hard all the time. I do not look at the score.

Right now we have one game left and then the All-Star game, our season’s finale. You knew I was going to get back to this All-Star thing, didn’t you?

My personal season has not been too bad. My elbow is sore as hell. I went through a few months of rehab but it has never really gotten better. As such, I can throw the ball about 80 feet and that is about it. I’ve played all the outfield positions and the closest I have actually come to catching a ball was once when I was in right I came all the way in trying to get a ball that ended up falling on the infield dirt, which our second baseman should have caught, but she just didn’t. (Did I mention the defense needs work?) As such, it’s hard to tell if my own defense has improved or not. I find it much easier to follow the game now from the outfield–I used to feel like I was so far away from the action that it was a struggle to remember the count or how many outs there were. Not anymore. It’s odd–now that I’ve decided to take things one pitch at a time, one play at a time, some other part of my brain took over keeping track of things like the number of outs and the count, and now I know it almost all the time.

But I guess I am like Ted Williams in that what I love most about the game is hitting. I don’t think I’ll ever love playing in the outfield, if you know what I mean.

My season at the plate has been interesting. Last year I walked a lot, sometimes two or three times in a game (and because we turned the lineup over a lot, I was getting 3-4 at bats per 6-inning game). But this season, instead of “working the count,” I got into a mode of thinking that if I was only going to get one good pitch to hit, I didn’t want to let it go by. Each pitch is a new at bat.

This change in my way of thinking was partly prompted by some bad umpiring, where many, many of the pitches I would never have swung at–some that I couldn’t even REACH–were being called strikes. So I began to swing at anything close. By making every pitch into a new at bat, I could mentally keep myself from feeling like I was in a hole if I was down in the count. Given that even the best pitchers in our league don’t have pinpoint control, this philosphy works well. You really never know what you’re going to get. There is no hitter’s count or pitcher’s count because at any given time, the next pitch could fly over everything to the backstop, bounce in the dirt, hit you in the ribs, or be right down the middle.

Have I ever described what it is like to get hit by pitch? There are a bunch of different ways of getting hit and they are all different. The easiest one to avoid is the one that is coming at your lower legs. First of all, you can see it’s not going to be a strike–not a hittable one, anyway–and it is relatively easy to skip rope, backpedal, or move so that the ball misses you. I say relatively, because I have been hit on the leg more than once. I have been hit on the front leg, the back leg, the calf, the shin…. thankfully never in the knee though. When it’s coming at your calves, you at least FEEL like you can try to get out of the way.

Then there are the pitches bearing in on the meat of your body. By this I mean from the fat part of your thigh, your ass, your back, arm, and shoulder. You’ve seen how major leaguers tuck themselves into this defensive posture, protecting their hands, their face, and taking the bat with them. If the ball hits the bat, of course, it’s a strike, because it is a foul ball.

Lots of women in our league have never learned this. They see the ball coming for them. There are some pitches that don’t look immediately like they are going to hit you. Remember that you’ve dug your cleats into the thick dirt that surrounds the plate, and on top of that the previous batters before you have dug a trench that puts you two inches or more below “sea level.” So your mobility is a little bit limited. By the time you realize that the ball is not going to break over the plate, and that it is making a bee line for your body, it is too late to move your entire torso. Some women actually stick their hand out to deflect the ball–usually only once. Some duck, but they don’t pull the bat down with them and it may get hit with the pitch, foul.

Quite a few, myself included, though, have practiced that defensive tuck that the major leaguers do. You see the pitch coming, you realize you’re not going to have time to move out of the way, but no way are you letting it hit you on your front for all the obvious reasons. You tuck and try to get your buttocks or some other well-padded place in harm’s way.

I got drilled once this year, on the ass. The ball left a perfectly round, completely black bruise. The bruise went so deep, it was actually painful to run for about two weeks. But that was better than getting it on the hip bone.

The third kind of pitch is the one that is coming right at your head. This one you don’t even have time to think about. Some part of you sees the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, and something about the fact that the ball is coming straight toward your eye makes it almost disappear into a blind spot. You hit the deck before you even know you’ve done it. I had one like that in Arizona, that Kellie Manzie, the fast pitcher from Australia, threw. I don’t think it was intentional at all, but pitches do get away from pitchers sometimes. I felt the dirt hit me on the back before I was really aware that my reflexes had gotten my head out of the way as quickly as possible. At about the same time I was watching the catcher out of the corner of my eye jump up and lunge for it. Let’s just say it was a good thing I went down when I did. (And I hit the next pitch into right field, a pitch away, right where I like it, for a single.) I still haven’t been hit in the head and I never want to be.

So, to get back to hitting philosophy: each pitch was a new at bat. It made me more aggressive at the plate, which was unusual for me, but it worked. It made me feel happier about driving two hours for only one at bat, too.

Let me tell you, you can be having the worst day in the world, and it is all worth it if you get a hit. It sounds stupid, I know, but I can have a terrible day at work, be stuck in traffic for two straight hours on the way to the field, be losing 14-2, and have been called out on strikes on a bad call two innings ago… and it’s all worth it when the ball sails into right field and my foot hits first base.

Especially when it’s the last inning of the game and I’m either leading off the inning, or there are two out and I’m the last hope. I have a very odd streak going–I’m not even sure I should write about it because I might jinx myself. Starting in the middle of the 2003 season, whenever I came up in the last inning (sometimes, because of darkness, the umpires will declare the 4th or 5th the final inning), either needing to start a rally or with two out–I always got a hit. This year it has been either a hit or a walk. I am sure luck is a factor, but I think it also helps that I focus better when I feel the situation is more dire, and there is also the fact that I feel I get better as the game goes on–the more pitches I see, the better command I feel I have in the batter’s box. This is probably an illusion on my part, but it is just the kind of illusion and positive thinking that seems to lead to success in baseball. I think I hit better in the late innings, so I have more confidence when I go to the plate in the late innings, and the increased confidence helps me to hit better…

In the past two weeks, I have gone back to my more patient mode, waiting to zone a pitch and taking a walk if I don’t get the one I want. The end result is I think my batting average is around .300 and my on base percentage is between .400 and 500. (For about every four to five plate appearances I get one hit and one walk, and make out the other times.)

The other night was one of those last licks kind of situations. When I say our league is a family affair, I don’t just use that as an expression. Our coach Paula’s ex-husband Todd coaches one of the other teams in the league, and her daughter Meg catches for him. Todd decided to put Meg in to pitch the final two innings of the game, though, and as we came up to bat in the bottom of the inning (I think it was only the 5th, but we had a rain delay and it was really getting too dark to see by that point) I was due to bat third. Paula put herself into the lineup for the player who batted after me because she wanted to face her own daughter. But that meant one of the three of us had to get on base to bring her up. I had already made out twice and was feeling pretty low about it–I was called out on one strike that was so high and inside it almost hit me, and in the other at bat got into a hole on bad calls and tried to foul off a pitch, but popped up to the catcher in foul territory. I was doing the thing I try to avoid–which is beating myself up about it and deciding that I really suck at this game and should give it up… something every player should avoid since it’s a game of failure and we know that… but at the time when the minor emotional crisis of going oh-fer sneaks up on you, it takes a while to remember that.

Anyway, the first two struck out, so it was up to me. I don’t know if it was Paula in the on deck circle, or if it was just that meg really hasn’t pitched and was a little wild. I only saw four pitches from her, all balls. I walked, and my mood, which had been as dark as the storm clouds threatening, brightened immediately. Complete mood swing. Then I took second, on a pitch in the dirt–the first time I’ve done that all year. Paula worked a walk after telling Meg that if she got hit by pitch, she would charge the mound. She took a big lead off first and the catcher (lefthander Nikki, of all people, usually a late-inning pitcher) tried to nab her with a quick throw to the first baseman, but the ball went off her glove and I went to third. The next two batters walked–I guess Meg was wild–and I got to trot home. Maybe, I thought, I don’t completely suck at this game.

After the game, Paula announced the All Star selections that were voted by the players. I was fairly amazed to hear I was among those picked. Two innings earlier I was thinking I should hang it up, I can’t hit anymore, I’m too slow, etc. etc… and now my teammates were telling me they thought I deserved to be named among the league’s best. Wow. Mood swings, indeed.

Of course, one of my other great frustrations with the league has been how disorganized it is this year. (One of Diane’s criticisms…) The All-Star game, we were then told, is scheduled for Friday, August 20th. If I had known that a bit sooner, I wouldn’t have scheduled my vacation for then. Bummer…

So you go up, you go down. I had to decline the honor of playing in the game. corwin was willing to reschedule our travel plans–and I love him for that–so that I could play in the game, but… there are so many reasons why we shouldn’t change now. Hotel reservations, ticket bought, etc… And heck, with my elbow the way it is, I probably shouldn’t have even played this season… Like I said, up, down, up, down.

So now I’ve got one game left in my season, and then I can start another round of rehab. That way maybe next year, if I get that All-Star designation again, I will be able to live up to it.

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