Monday, September 21, 2009

The Bad News Bears Grow Up

On Saturday, the NYC Carpenters held their annual picnic and softball competition and CRI fielded a team for the first time. With our snazzy, logo-emblazoned, red-and-white shirts, the Crushers looked like we were ready to challenge the rest of the teams for the championship. Well, until the game started, anyway.

Perhaps the first sign of trouble was when we realized that the only bat we had was a Little League one belonging to one of the team members' kids. Fortunately, we were able to borrow one from our opponents. Unfortunately, our opponents were the top-seeded team in the competition; since we were the newest team, this was not surprising.
We were quickly retired in the top of the first inning, with one batter striking out after swinging at balls that bounced two feet in front of home plate. Our opponents quickly proved why they were the top seed, racking up a dozen runs before we recorded the first out, then adding eight more before the inning ended. Oh, they were good hitters, but it didn't help that we had an outfielder who apparently thought he was supposed to let the ball drop in front of him before fielding it and an infielder who played ground balls by allowing them to first bounce off his chest. (To be fair, we had a couple of guys on the team who have never played softball or baseball in their lives.)

Because of the ten-run "mercy rule," we had to score eleven runs in the top of the second inning in order to continue the game. Needless to say, we fell eleven runs short of that and so the "CRI Crushed" were eliminated in the first round.

Watching all this brought back memories of the early days of the DC Bullets, the DC Comics softball team that I captained for a number of years. Like the Crushers, the Bullets had a number of players who had never played before and had no understanding of the rules. I used to ask if we could please hire some people who knew something about baseball and was reminded that comic book fans generally spent their time reading comic books, not participating in competitive sports. (We did eventually get some guys who could play; they worked in our accounting department!)

The Bullets, unlike the Crushers, did manage to practice a few times before our first game. (We even had a couple of bats!) In the first few years, we only played one game per season, against Marvel Comics. Luckily for us, their team was also made up of comics-fans-turned-pros, so we were pretty evenly matched. In fact, the Bullets won the first two years, but the games were not without bizarre plays.
In one game, we had runners on first and second with no one out. The batter hit a pop fly to the second baseman. Without a thought, both runners took off. I was coaching at third base, yelling, "Go back! Go back!" to the runner coming towards me. Rather than doing so, he just stopped and said, "Why?" Meantime, the second baseman -- reminiscing about it last week at Ithacon, Jim Shooter and I agreed it was probably Marvel production man Danny Crespi -- caught the ball (one out), stepped on second base (two outs) and then tagged the runner from first as he triumphantly arrived at the base (three outs).

Nothing so exciting happened in the Crushers game, possibly because we didn't play long enough. But as our opponents were piling on the runs thanks to one misplay after another, I thought of Casey Stengel, just as I had that afternoon thirty-some-odd years ago. "The Old Perfessor," after watching his hapless 1962 New York Mets lose yet again in their own unique fashion, sighed and asked, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

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