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May 20 2001: Another Baseball Day

So I have what is probably one of the stupidest baseball-related injuries one can get.

This whole week has been cold and rainy and having us wonder if summer is ever really going to arrive in New England. But Saturday was sunny and warm, and I got together with some friends who have been bitten by the baseball bug, just as I have. Two Mets fans, a Red Sox fan, and a Yankee fan, with one undecided. We went to a softball diamond in Somerville to throw the ball around.

It had been a tough week. One of the instructors at the tae kwon do school where I work was in a serious bicycle accident and I’ve been filling in for him by teaching the morning classes, then going to my office, and then coming back to the school at night to teach again. I’m leaving for a long road trip, with a conference and a trade show, next week, and am going crazy getting everything ready for that. I had a deadline on an article. corwin and I barely saw each other the entire week, and I only managed to squeeze in about six hours of sleep a night.

So you’d think maybe I would have slept the day away Saturday. But it was sunny, and there was a big empty field of green grass waiting for me. Maybe last year, or any year before, when I needed to escape from the pressures of life, I would have read a book or gone to a movie. But what a simple and effective therapy it is to stand out in the grass, under the breezy sun, to Go Out And Play. When I pulled up at the field the four of them were already there, tossing the ball back and forth across the small diamond. I switched to my cleats at my car and ran out to join them.

Rich, the Red Sox fan, is playing this year in the 35-and-up men’s league for the first time, and loving it. He’s a catcher, which is good, because he’s built like one. His girlfriend Alex has gotten dragged into the baseball thing somewhat, but she’s learning to catch and throw. Then there were the Met fans, Derek and Jude, who I’ll associate forever with the 2000 World Series, since we watched two games of it at their house. Like me and most women who never got to play baseball, Jude’s just learning to throw the right way, too.

We threw the ball around and then decided to try hitting fungoes. it looks so easy when baseball coaches do it, but it’s trickier than you may think. Toss the ball in the air with one hand while you hold the bat with the other, then grab the bat with the now-empty hand, then hit the ball before it hits the ground, or before you have a chance to take your eye off of it. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that the best hits happen when your eyes stay on the ball, just as they do in the batting cages, and when taking pitches.

About half of the dirt between first and second was Mudville, an area about the size of a parking space of thick, deep mud, which we kept running into when whoever the fungo-hitter was couldn’t quite get the ball to go exactly where he or she wanted it. Yuck. The other strange element of the field was the way the infield was level and flat, but sat like a mesa above the outfield, which sloped steadily downwards away from home plate, so if you ran from the infield onto the grass while tracking a fly ball, you “fell off” the dirt and found yourself running downhill.

When it was my turn to hit fungoes, I managed to injure myself and I still am not sure how. My bat is aluminum, 34 inches long, 28 ounces. corwin gave it to me for my birthday last year and this was actually the first time I used it. The rubber grip, unlike the ones at the batting cage, was still intact, and so I didn’t even think to put my batting gloves on. I’m not sure they would have made a difference, but here’s what I did. Somehow, after a bunch of good swings, I swung and missed, and a whole section of my left middle finger instantaneously swelled up. It felt like I had pinched or twisted the flesh of the finger somehow, and popped a blood vessel. It inflated like a little balloon. I stuck it in my mouth to squeeze it back down to size, and then kept hitting, but after a few more minutes I had to relent and admit that I needed ice.

Fortunately, Trum Field is right across the street from a convenience store, and I got myself a Sno-Cone out of the freezer case. For ninety nine cents it makes a perfectly good ice pack, and a re-hydrating snack. I held it with my swollen finger while I ate it, and we sat in the meager shade of a light tower and the chain link fence and rested.

Jude and Derek had gone the night before to see a new musical being staged at a small theater in Boston: “The Curse of the Bambino.” Somehow the conversation ranged from that to clubhouse practical jokes to what team the Washington Senators became (we were pretty sure it was the Texas Rangers). How it seemed strange that as old-school a baseball town as Boston is, there’s no National League team here (though there used to be). Speculation on whether David Cone is really done, or has one more miracle in his arm.

On the baseball diamond at the other end of the park, a game was beginning. I knew they were some kind of serious thing because the team taking batting practice actually changed their jerseys from BP jerseys to game jerseys. Rich said they were Yawkey League. We pondered watching them for a while, but the afternoon was moving on, and I remembered I had a Yankees/Mariners game to listen to when I got home.

For the record, what a game, a 2-1 extra innings pitching duel that the Yankees came out on top of. Phew!

When the game was over, I finally got to spend some time with corwin, whom I had barely seen in several days. We had some bedroom “quality time” then decided to get take out Chinese and watch a movie. The baseball theme never stops. We went to the video store to get one of the true classic baseball films: The Bad News Bears. Need I say more?

Ice, ibuprofen and tape have restored my finger to almost normal (though it is a very chic purple color). I’m not worried about it. If every trip to the diamond is as healthy for my psyche as it is hazardous to my flesh, it will be worth it.

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