06 June 2008

Take Me Out Of The Ballgame

I am sore.

We have a softball team, the church that is. I cannot speak with perfect knowledge but this may be our first team. And I am on the team. Mostly symbolically, of course, but this week I went out to root them on and got put into the game.

A little background now. We are in a league, playing other organizations. It is coed and low key and not the stuff of Kevin Costner or Dennis Quaid by a long shot. But I have not played for a decade, and even then not extensively. My glove and bat days are boyhood memories. The last time I played worth a lick was in 1978 when I was a student minister in Massachusetts and I truly saved the day with a long shot late in the game between the ‘saints’ and ‘sinners.’

But that was thirty years ago, and yesterday morning, after my brief stint on the field, where I did manage two hits at three at bats, I felt really sore. Today is no better.

Of course, I am 55. Only the umpires were even close to my age on the field. Even during the game I realized my agility was not what I remembered. As the ball came toward me in the outfield its shape and speed were perceptibly less acute. Running toward first, even eventually around the bases to score a run, I felt more like the Scarecrow than the Lion, and for the last two days have felt more like the Tin Man (oil can… oil can…)

Just last month I had my physical and told the doctor that I was more stiff and sore than I liked around my hips and glutes. He checked me for arthritis and pronounced me merely old, saying that ligaments and tendons age and as they do they get shorter and less pliable. And yet, there are men who run and jump and do better than I. There must be a way, but I resist, knowing that it means I am older. Just like having to wear my glasses more, and probably needing two pair soon.

The good news is that I had no pains in my shoulders or arms, a testimony to my years of exercise there, nor in my feet or knees. Those are common injury points for us decaying types. And if I were to play more often chances are I would adapt and even improve. But gone are the days when I could play without stint and savor the joy of bodily life, when simply to move was a poetry of sensation and the forces of life coursed through me like electricity and every breath was a draught of aliveness.

I still have those moments, but more rarely. No wonder old men love to watch baseball. We see some kid snag a fly in the air and our muscles remember what it felt like: the leap, the grab, the smack of the ball into the mitt, the sting of the hands. Or the wild crack of the bat and the sleek run toward first and beyond, a ballet of explosive energy our thighs remember, and our shoulders as we slide into second just under the tag. Oh, the unutterable pleasure of that flesh symphony.

Like the fire horse that cannot resist when the bell is rung, few men do not feel a twitch of longing somewhere when the umpire says ‘batter up.’ I guess I’ll be back next week. After all, we came so close, losing only 18-12.

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