Wednesday, February 23, 2011


As the weather warms, my thoughts turn to softball....

I first saw my dad play softball when I was eight years old. He played on the church team against another regional church team one weekend. Dad played shortstop.

That evening after the game I gave my dad my Skippy Chunky Peanut Butter jar with whatever small change I had accumulated at the time along with two one-dollar bills that my grandmother had given me on her last two visits and asked him to buy me a softball glove. A couple weeks later Dad returned the jar to me with the coins still in it and gave me a Bobby Bonds fielder's glove. He told me it had cost a little more than I had given him, but not to worry about the difference. 

I would soon afterward give the same peanut butter jar filled with pennies to my grandmother and not see it again for 30 years. See related story.

I watched my dad play several more softball games over the next five years. He was the quintessential shortstop, played aggressively but encouragingly with his teammates and opponents alike, until he injured his ankle when I was 14 and he never played again. My dad played catch with me from time to time but we never actually played together because the team's coach was also the church pastor, who said I was too young to play. At least one of the pastor's sons was my age and under no such restriction. I never forgot that.

Until I was a young adult, my opportunities to play softball were limited to an afternoon  picnic when I was 12 at summer camp in Minnesota, and the occasional pick-up 20-minute game during lunch recess coached by Mrs. Rummel, Irwin Elementary School's 5th grade teacher. In the early 1980s, I played  two seasons with the Mr. G's Pizza softball team and by the second summer, I was the most senior employee and team coach by default.

Wednesday afternoon, November 10, 1982, I gathered 9 other people around my age and we went out to Messer Field to play softball and found the Tallahassee Community College baseball team practicing also. We challenged each other to a friendly game and they proceeded to slaughter us for the first 6 innings. The score was 12-5 against us in the top of the 7th inning as we came to bat. We scored 12 runs and then held them to only 3 runs in the bottom of the inning to secure the 17-15 victory. Later when the other team offered us celebratory beers from their keg, we had an idea as to how we had prevailed.

We were so excited by our underdog win that five of us piled into a Dodge Dart and drove to Cape Canaveral Beach to view the 5th Space Shuttle launch of Columbia the next day. It was the first post-R&D launch of the Space Shuttle program. Because of the crowds, we had to walk more than a mile to the beach from where we'd parked to watch the launch.

In my second job interview at my current place of employment, I asked about softball and they told me that the office used to have a team. My first summer at FSU I began coaching a newly re-formed team, and 2010 was our our 18th season. I'm the only player remaining from first season. Some of our toddler fans have grown up to become regular players and win sports scholarships to Florida and Georgia colleges. We're very family-oriented and I've never turned down an earnest request or imploring look to play from youngsters if their parents and I thought they could handle it. Several have been significantly younger than I was when I wanted to play on my dad's softball team.

I still have the glove my dad bought me when I was 8. As my fingers grew, they wore through the leather inside, so I had the glove rebuilt ten years ago and it's like new. It's on the small side for me now, but I occasionally let kids who don't have a glove use it. I have my dad's well-maintained, still supple glove, but it's 60 years old and more heirloom relic than sports equipment.

In 1994, a retiring team member named Paul gave me his new Wilson softball glove. At that time I was only a few years younger than my dad had been when he stopped playing ball for good and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to play long enough to break in the glove. Since then, I've been wearing braces on both ankles whenever I play and my glove is now broken in nicely. 

I'm exceedingly grateful for my unanticipated longevity. Last summer my granddaughter Alicia played on my team for the first time and we shared wins and losses in half our season's softball games. 

There is nothing quite like playing competitive softball in 100+ degree Florida weather with a grandchild and feeling 14 again.

1 comment:

  1. Love it Mitch! Great memories you've shared & brought back some great ones of our teams for me as well. :)