Saturday Special: Athletics and the Elderly

I love people like Dara Torres and that gymnast in her 30's (I forget her name) who's representing Germany as the oldest gymnast.

They inspire me.

Especially when I'm back out on the softball field at the ripe old age of 30-something playing against girls 10 years younger than me, all strapping and virile and flexible.

Oh, it's been a while since I've played. The last time, actually, was when I lived in New York about 5 years ago (I was still happily in my 20's) and I coaxed my husband-then-boyfriend who was visiting me for the weekend into going to watch my game (which was really game(s) plural -- a quadruple header in fact -- but he wouldn't have gone if I sad that! And yes he still gives me business about that.)

But when I'm standing out there in my hitting slump because let's face it, I haven't picked up a bat in 5 years, and I picture these amazing women who have had children and still can find the inner Olympian in them, I am inspired. And I think I don't want to ever "sit it out" because I'm ancient. Not that they're ancient. You know what I mean.

OK, I'm older than that gymnast, but I'm not older than Dara Torres. I'm not even to mid-life yet. (Hopefully.)

So I am standing there playing 2nd base (also for the first time in 5 years) having realizations. Picking up the clay in my right hand because I like to do that to keep my hands nice and dry for whence the ball comes in my direction and I might have to throw it, plus I love the feel of the clay, and the smell of it, because it takes me back to my youth. It all comes rushing back. Like riding a bicycle. Though I haven't done that in years either. But softball makes me feel young; like after the game I'm going to head back into the locker room to change, then drive my '87 white Escort Pony home to my messy room at my parents and talk on the phone until my parents yell at me to finish my homework. I'll be off in a second!!!! Gawd!

The field has been my sanctuary most of my life. My uncle taught me how to throw when I was ten and I obsessed over the New York Mets for.ever. Watching them win the '86 world series and jumping up and down with my dad in the living room and prancing around the house after Bill Buckner let that little dribble to first go right through his legs. As boring as this wonderful game is to some people, to me, it's fascinating. The strategy. The skill. The whole experience of it. Right down to the smell of the clay, especially after rain. Ooh, yes. Baseball feeds all my senses.

I was that only girl on the baseball team for many years. I wasn't shy about it either. I loved it. And my teammates respected me. Because I didn't suck. But then when I got to high school and there were breasts involved, it seemed that Junior Varsity baseball didn't really have a place for a girl, especially back in the 80's when girls doing boy things was still a little bit fresh. And yes, I likely could have taken that whole thing further (in fact, after I was cut from the team, the baseball coach sent me passes to get out of class to come to his to grade papers -- because I suspect that is what he thought girls were really good for) but I let it go.

I really just wanted to play ball without making a stink about anything. I even had a boyfriend break up with me over the fact that I had the audacity to be a girl and try out for boy's high school baseball. (And by the way, is it bad that I have the mildest bit of satisfaction over the fact that I've seen him recently and well, let's just say, he didn't age well? I know. That's mean. I'm only sayin...) Anyway, I walked onto the girl's Varsity softball team my freshman year as a catcher but my softball dreams died a little as they often do when I blew out my knee playing a benefit Powder Puff football game during Homecoming week and I finished my high school softball career as a right fielder in my very last game. Bah. Outfield.

I've been wondering what softball post-children would be like. There've been plenty of times recently, where I've tried to come to terms with this whole "aging" thing. It just seems like life has changed so much. That children for me was like swallowing a "grown-up pill". Yes, you've witnessed me trying to relive my youth. You'd think I'd stop by now. But no. I won't. Because I don't feel 30 something. And I don't know when I became 30 something. (I suspect it was about 3 years ago but sheesh, it snuck up on me as if out of nowhere!) I'm pretty much thinking I'm not really 30 something. I'm 20 something. Again and again and again and again and again.

So when I think about people like Dara Torres and that 104-year-old marathon runner on the Today Show (yowza!), I think about the fact that thankfully, people age, but dreams don't. I may be a little too late for that whole "becoming an olympian" thing, (sadly, I will never be Mary Lou Retton as I had aspired to once), but it's not too late for me to play the sport I love and for me to be good at it again. Or to go out dancing with the girlfriends. Maybe try another run on the slip-and-slide...

So after I thought about all that (which seemed like a long thought process but really it all went quite quickly -- from the time I arrived at my 2nd base post to the time the other team's batter walked up) I whispered to myself, "Defender. Defend your base." (Yes I'm a little weird. Did I mention that baseball-slash-softball is a tremendous head sport? As in...think you'll strike out and you will?) Anyway, I defended my post that game. And I hit myself out of that slump too. (And thank God for that! I could just feel my teammates starting to hate me!)

The truth is, I am softball at my very core.

Oh, yes, I rush home after the game to make it before bedtime so I can nurse my 9 month old before he goes to sleep. And I forego beers afterward to make a stop at Walgreens for some ThermaCare heating pads to soothe away that old and rickety sore quad and pulled ligament. So things are a little different these days. But I do still love the game. That hasn't changed any. And I wear that strawberry I got from sliding into home (and scoring) with pride. Oh yes, that one I'm proud of.
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  1. Go get 'em girl!! Don't let age stop you from pursuing things you love. Great post.

  2. We are so much more alike than I thought!!! I too had an Escort Pony (stick shift, white hatch back with scooby and shaggy stickers I put on that I just loved!!!)And I have played my shared of softball. I played in high school for two years but I just didn't feel like I was working hard if you can understand that so I switched to track were I ran the mile, two mile, and threw shot put and disc!! However, I did sign up for a co-ed team post college and loved it! I made my husband join the team with me but forgot to mention to him that we would be playing in the getto.. needless to say he wasn't so happy about that but ended up having a good time anyway! You go girl!!!
    I just recently gave up coaching high school girls varsity basketball and feel like I have so much free time even with the new baby... I just might have to look into join a team.. any kind of team... Have a great weekend!

  3. I didn't play, but I did the stats for the varsity baseball team. It helped me understand the game in a way I never would have otherwise.

  4. Yay for you! I grew up loving baseball and enjoying it as a spectator because it's the only sport I really understand. Ditto for softball. I also played as a kid, if you can call it that, but I was not at all athletic, was afraid of the ball, hoped to be walked, begged to sit out and generally just, um, sucked. I'd totally watch you play a quadruple header, though.


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