The “Season of Sports” continues…
By Donna Biddle
As a kid, I mainly played games: Tag, mother may I, red rover, cowboys and indians, made model planes, and of course board games on hot Indiana afternoons when we were not allowed to run around. Usually after lunch as it got hot and sultry, we had to play quiet games until it cooled down. This meant making model air planes and playing board games like Monopoly and Calling All Cars. Often the radio would be on and we would tune in the baseball game. These afternoons are probably where I began to love baseball.
Some of our tag games were played in the street in front of my house. We always watched for cars, but one day when I was about nine, one of the little girls in the neighborhood got hit by a car. She wasn’t really hurt, but our parents began to keep us out of the street. That was the summer the bachelor stepped in. Mr Connor was a manager at the glass factory at the end of the street and lived in a room in a house owned by an older couple. He was from North Carolina and had only one hand. He lost the other one at a saw mill in Asheville.
He rented a field at the end of our street and each year had a big garden that kept the neighborhood in fresh vegetables. We watched with interest as he took one end of his field and cleaned in up. He made odd paths that formed a diamond and us kids weren’t sure what it was for. Then one day he knocked on our door and when we answered he was standing there with three bats and three softballs. He gave my mother a softball and I thought “Oh boy I get a neat ball.” But it wasn’t for me, it was my mother’s. She was only to let me have it, if I took it to his garden where he had made a small baseball diamond with a back board. If I played in the street, I could not have the ball, in fact he would come and take it back.
He proceeded through the neighborhood stopping at different houses giving each mother either a bat or a ball with the same message he gave my mother. Thus started our summer of softball. We would go there every afternoon to play softball starting with our own idea of the rules. On weekends when Mr Conner was off work, he would teach us more about how the game was really played. These games continued several years before we grew older and had different interests and the balls had no covers and the bats had begun to crack.
I played a little softball in junior high school, but after that I went on to high school, college and then on to Wisconsin to graduate school. As my career moved on and I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, sports were really not part of my life other than watching a few games on TV and cheering for the Badgers. That is until I was 44, then I became a jock.
It all started with a call from my friend Jane. “Room of One’s Own (the feminist bookstore) is starting a city league softball team. Do you want to play?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t played since Junior High. Let me think about it.”
“It’ll be fun. We’re all going to be older. No pressure.”
After talking and talking some more, I decided to give it a chance. At the organizational meeting there were about twenty people. We decided we would all play so each person would get a half a game, but we would all bat the whole game. Given my skill, I was put in right field. Gives you an idea of the confidence the team had in me. Right field is where you go to die. We were not good. We did not win at first. Luckily we were in a low level slow pitch league. But we did have fans. Our friends came out in droves to see us. I always thought they came for the entertainment value not our skill level.
The average age of our team was 54, our second baser was 70. We played bravely, if not well, and we had fun. We practiced once a week and played on Tuesday evening at the various city diamonds although the field on Fish Hatchery Road was where we usually played. After the game we always went out for a burger and a recap of the game. We had three rules for our team: Have fun, everybody plays, and don’t collapse on the field it’s bad form.
I played on the team from 1983 until 1999 when I ruptured my quad on my right leg, not in a game but on the ice in the winter. The longer we played, the better we got, I moved to catcher and we even won our league a couple of times. I enjoyed softball so much, I helped organize a Room of One’s Own volleyball team and basketball team. I had become a middle-aged jock.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my jock days is that women miss out so much by not playing team sports. We tend to play individual sports like tennis and golf. Men play team sports and it shows at work. While they are competitive, they also understand team work. When I taught a leadership class for women, I always recommended that they join a team. Learn the hard way that you can’t do it all. If you’re in right field no matter how much you want to get the ball in left, you can’t. You also may have to take one for the team. You may want to swing for the fences, but you have to make a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner. You are part of a team and there is no better feeling.
And though I can no longer play, there is never a spring that I don’t pass a diamond and long to play again. To smell the grass, slap my glove and make that impossible catch.
Donna Biddle is an occasional writer who knows she has a memoir or novel to be told and hopes to finally write it.
Essays welcome for the “Season of Sports”! Your writing prompt:
You didn’t play or you did play or you took the middle ground. You were male, or female, or transitioning between one and the other. What was the role of sports in your life as a young person? What has the impact of that been on your life since?
See guidelines for submissions here. Play along and send your sports story for publication on True Stories Well Told?