First-person columns about softball or baseball often begin with a bold, onomatopoeic word like “THWACK” or “CLANG” to invite the reader into the writer’s world of dynamic ball playing. So, what would be the opening salvo when the writer regularly misses the ball entirely? Is it “WHIFF” or “LIGHT BREEZE” or maybe just “(Noticeable Lack of Sound)”?
In April, my cousin Patrick approached me about joining the Lancaster Recreation Commission’s co-ed softball league. Despite being a relatively able-bodied lad, I have not held a baseball bat since high school. My personal claim to excellence in the field came in first grade, when, instead of hitting the ball on the tee, I hit the tee itself, causing it to fly between second and third base. The ball shrugged off and limply fell to the dirt.
This all being said, it seemed at the time to be a constructive way to keep from watching endless shows on Netflix and films on the Criterion Collection app on Wednesday nights throughout the summer, so I agreed to join. For a person like me, for whom the language of pop culture is better understood than the foreign tongue of sports, it was hard not to dream up a comparison to classic baseball films.
Could my experience be like Robert Redford’s in “The Natural,” where, with the help of a bat whittled down from a lightning-struck tree, I take the MLB by storm with my natural talents and charisma? Maybe, with my celestial pals Danny Glover and Christopher Lloyd by my side, I could instead overcome tough odds and pull off an “Angels in the Outfield”-style situation.
With just two games left as of this writing, it’s turned out to be something akin to the original 1976 “Bad News Bears,” but if the movie finished before the happy ending and was generally as enjoyable as the 2005 Billy Bob Thornton remake.
This is not to say the team hasn’t had fun. On the contrary, it’s possible that our team is the only team having fun among a league of softball and baseball lifers, each clad in matching striped pants and pearly-white batting gloves.
While we laugh and psych each other up, other teams respond in kind by hitting balls seemingly miles over our heads and notch at least 10 runs in the first inning. Our games usually end with a team huddle and a rallying cry of “No mercy!” which serves as an abbreviated way of saying “Hopefully next time our game won’t end in the calling of a fifth inning mercy rule!”
In reading all of this, it might surprise you that I am not only the RBI leader on the team, but that I had to search online to discover what an “RBI” is. The editor who loaned me his glove for the season is probably gritting his teeth reading this column.
When I walk up to bat, I desperately wish for walk-up music, whether it’s coming from booming stadium speakers or, more realistically for our playing situation, someone’s dinky, half-charged Bluetooth speaker.
In my mind, walk-up music ideally serves to either pump up the batter or to strike fear in the hearts of the team playing defense. For the former, recent tracks “Ordinary Pleasure” by Toro Y Moi and “Crime Pays” by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib are usually on the brain as I absentmindedly hit my bat against my cleats because I saw ballplayers do it in a movie once. For the latter, my picks are a little more esoteric. For example, if I had a few tracks from the score of the recent film “Midsommar” blared to the outfield, there’s a chance the opposing players would be too disturbed to catch my ground-double.
There’s no telling where the team will be when the season ends, aside from last place. You know what, though? That’s OK, because we had some genuine summer fun.
Sure, there are elements of the 1993 classic “Sandlot” in my team’s softball story, in that we’re a lovable ragtag group that sometimes loses balls to a snarling dog on the other side of a large fence. However, I’d concede that I often feel more like the titular star of 2002’s “Air Bud 4: Seventh Inning Fetch” — an anomaly on the field that has his moments but is probably better served with another hobby.
Kevin Stairiker is a staff writer. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.