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July 15 2001: I Got Called Up Today (!)

100x50blitzI picked the wrong morning to sleep through my alarm.

The reason I slept through it today is because after corwin got into bed, at around 6 AM, he snored. Elbowing him and rolling him over didn’t solve the problem, so I moved to the bed in the guest room for the duration of the night–and didn’t hear the alarm when it went off in the morning.

My plan had been to be up by ten, eat a little breakfast and then head out to Lynn, Mass. for today’s New England Women’s Baseball League game (Cougars versus Blitz). Most of the season I’ve been working out with the Cougars, going to their practices, often keeping their score book during games, and drinking their beer. I figured for a noon start time, the team would probably assemble at eleven or so.

But given that I didn’t hear the clock, and that I woke up with a fairly severe allergy attack, and that corwin and I ended up talking for a while after I did go back into the bedroom to turn the radio off, it wasn’t until 11:15 am that I went down to the kitchen and saw that my cell phone had voice mail.

As I opened the refrigerator, wondering idly what I should eat, I pressed the mail button on the phone.

The message was from one of the league organizers and was about two hours old. It said: The Blitz have only eight players and will forfeit the game if they can’t get another one. Bring your cleats.

My cleats live in the trunk of my car as it is. I grabbed my glove and bag, hopped into my Saturn and started the 40 minute drive to the field. Luckily, the car didn’t need gas, and I already knew how to get to the field–I’d been lost for an hour the previous time driving there.

The entire way there, I kept thinking: I might play in a game today. I might actually play in an actual game.

Then: Nah, they probably found someone else by now, since I didn’t answer the message. That was two hours ago.

Then: What if I do play? What position will I play? What number will I wear?

I figured it would all be sorted out one way or the other. If I didn’t play, that was fine, I’d keep the book or just have fun like usual. And if I did?

Well, it would be what I’ve been waiting for.

I arrived at the field five minutes before game time and saw all the uniformed players walking toward their cars. Was I too late? Had the umps called off the game? I saw two members of the Blitz jump in the air when they saw my car.

Turns out we were moving to another field. And they did need me. And I had brought my cleats.

At Alice O’Neil Baseball Field in Lynn, there is no field house, just a back stop, two benches, and an infield with its basepaths partly overgrown with weeds. I had to tromp up the hill into the woods to find a secluded spot to change into my jersey. Purple under shirt, black mesh jersey–I would be wearing number 18 and playing right field. When I went out of the house that morning I had grabbed a black baseball hat just in case, and wore black sweat pants. (After the first inning, a pair of gray Mizuno baseball pants arrived for me, and I had to make another trip to the woods to add them as well.)

I would bat ninth, so hitting was not what was on my mind when we took the field in the first. Mostly I was worrying about the fact that I just don’t know how to catch a fly ball. I’ve never done it and the couple of times I’ve had random chances in practice, I’ve muffed them. I’m an infielder. My glove is a dinky little thing, I know–I probably ought to get a better, or at least larger, one. But there was nothing I could do about that. Likewise there was nothing I could do about my sore ankle (still hurts from where I turned it jogging a few weeks ago), my sore knee, my inexperience, or the fact that I can only throw the ball about seventy feet.

And well, my policy in life when there is nothing more you can do has always been: don’t worry. I managed to be nervous for about half of the first inning, and then it faded. I was out there to try to do my best, even if my best isn’t as good as it hopefully will be in the future. Besides, it was hard to stay nervous when the weather was perfect, the sound of an ice cream truck was tinkling on the breeze, and all the Cougars are lefty pull hitters anyway.

It was odd sitting on the other bench, when I’m used to the Cougars bench, but it wasn’t hard at all to root for my new teammates. And unlike many of the other games we’ve seen this season, it was a close, competitive game, with few errors, few walks, good pitching, and some timely hitting. When I came up in the second, we were down 3-0.

The Cougars pitcher, Jess Nardone, is nineteen years old, roly-poly as a teddy bear, and tough as nails. I’ve seen her pitch her way out of bases-loaded jams, go 3-0 on a batter, spit, and then come back to strike them out. Now suddenly I was seeing her from inside the batters box. There was only one ump and he chose to stand behind the pitcher to make his calls. The result was, in my first at bat, I took a strike call on a ball that bounced in the dirt (excuse me?!), swung at one and missed, and then looked at another strike out the outside corner that I never could have reached with the short little aluminum bats we use and my short little arms. I remembered something someone had tried to teach me in batting practice a few weeks ago, though, one night when I practiced with the team called Express, about stepping in and taking the outside pitch to the opposite field. Hmm, perhaps that’s what I should have done. Too late though, back to the bench for me.

Several quick innings went by and none of the Cougars batters did what I had thought to do, which is hit to right field. I had been told by someone some months before that on plays to first I should run down there to back up the play, but I didn’t feel confident I knew what to do, so on grounders to short or third, I would half-heartedly run toward first. I wasn’t needed. Kim Boyd was over there scooping up everything that came near her. There was one bloop hit over the second baseman’s head that I charged in and got, holding the batter (Jess) to a single.

Otherwise it was a beautiful afternoon out there in right, while Tomomi Yamamoto on the mound kept the Cougars mostly quiet after the first inning, getting strikeouts, ground balls, a few pop ups, a fly to left.

When I came up next, we were still down 3-0. Kelly led off the inning and got on, and then it was my turn. I would have liked to get a hit, but didn’t want to try to do too much, especially given my earlier strikeout. My plan was to take that outside pitch the other way, hit the ball to the right side to advance the runner.

First pitch was in the dirt and this time it was a ball. Second pitch, fouled off to the right. Closer. Third pitch, here it comes, same outside pitch. I stepped and swung. The ball hit the bat, and flew right down the first base line, skipping a bit on the grass, a bit on the dirt, but clearly fair from my vantage point of digging down the line right after it. Megan scooped the ball and thought about trying to start a 3-6-3 double play, but the ball took longer to get to her than she would have liked, slowed by the grass. She ended up taking the ball to the bag, and I was out, but Kelly was on second.

I went back to the bench and was complimented by my teammates for getting the runner over. “It was probably luck,” I said, “but that had been my plan.” As Kelly said later, “It wasn’t luck, you had a plan, focused, and executed it.” I guess so. The Blitz pushed across a run, and it was 3-1.

We got two more in another inning, and now I can’t remember if I batted in that inning or a different one. Sounds weird I know, but right now as I worry about each individual thing I’m supposed to do as a player, it’s sometimes difficult to remember exactly how and where it fit into the larger fabric of the game. Now I know why big league outfielders can forget how many outs there are and toss the ball into the stands accidentally after out two. But the Blitz tied the score, and I had another battle at the plate with Jess, which I lost.

My hands are a little sore from how many balls I fouled off. Were the bases loaded? I think they were at that point, but I wasn’t the batter who got the runs in. She got me in a hole, then it went to 2-2, but I kept fouling them off, popping behind the backstop, hitting them into the street (oops, that’s where my car was parked) and so on. Then came a pitch, I still don’t know what it was–it was in the strike zone but it had movement on it, I swung, and missed. If I hadn’t’ve swung, I’m sure it would have been a called strike, but WHOOSH. Whiffer. I should have asked her after the game what it was–I wonder if she’d tell me?

I’m sorry to report that my one outfield chance came in the bottom of the second to last inning, with no one on, the leadoff batter hit a nice fly ball my direction. It looked like it was coming right to me. In fact, it looked like it was going to fall in front of me, so I ran in a few steps. But then, when it was about twenty feet above me, it was suddenly also four feet behind me. I leaped back and stretched but I was still two feet short of the ball. Damn! I don’t know if it counts as an error in the box score, since I never touched it, but I definitely misplayed it. How do outfielders tell where the ball is going to come down? I just didn’t judge it well and haven’t learned to yet. That runner reached first, and was eventually erased on a grounder, but the Cougars managed to push across a run with two outs. Argh. That inning would have been over if there had been a better right fielder out there. The Blitz were unable to come back in the top of the next inning (partly because of a really super play by Ann-Margaret Charron, the Cougar’s shortstop, who stole at least two hits that game with her D…) meaning we lost the game 4-3, at least in part because of my inability to make the play. Ouch.

I’m trying not to feel TOO guilty about it, because, after all, there were many factors that contributed to that final score, and I know if I put my mind to it, I can learn to field fly balls. In fact, I’m getting together with my baseball nut friends tomorrow night and I’m sure they can be convinced to help me out with it. The teams lined up to shake/slap hands at the end of the game, and lots of the Cougars told me “good game.” Yes, but it will get better.

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