When you're 76 years old and you're out in the sun on a softball field with a bunch of guys who are simply there to have fun, you really feel lucky.
It was that way today at the South Strand Recreation Center softball fields just south of Myrtle Beach, SC, my adopted home. By game time at 10 a.m. it was a sunny 60 degrees, with a soft wind blowing and the infield chatter sounding like my kind of symphony.
But for me today, the weather and the camaraderie of my teammates were about the only highlights as I was once again reminded how frustrating it is when your skills, limited as they always were, seem to literally have disappeared.
Slow pitch softball should not be difficult to hit. After all, the ball comes in nice and easy, and all you need to do is time it and swing. Yea, right.
While one new guy who was wearing a Yankees (the hated Yankees) cap, belted a ball nearly into a pond beyond the left-center field fence with a nice, easy swing that was a thing of beauty, my first at bat resulted in a soft flare just beyond the shortstop and I was lucky to get on base.
And that would be as good as it would get. Up three more times: grounder to short for a fielder's choice out at second; popup to the second baseman; foul ball strike out to end the game -- which we won 23-18, through no fault of my own.
I was thrilled when the game began that I was slotted to play second base, which I really enjoy, but rarely get to play. Usually, my position is in the outfield. But, my effort at second today wasn't much better than in the batter's box.
Easy grounder, snapped up and tossed to second for a sure double play. Just one minor problem: there was nobody on first to get out at second, and the guy on second made it to third, where I should have thrown the ball.
Sharply hit liner that bit the ground, caromed off the heel of my glove and whacked me in "the boys." Yes, "the boys." I went down. Took me a couple of minutes to shake it off, while the rest of the infield enjoyed the moment. "You OK?" the third baseman hollered over with a grin.
"Yea, I'll survive," I grimaced.
"Got hit in the boys, did you," one player said afterwards on the bench. "That hurts."
Next inning, I snapped up another easy grounder ever so gracefully and tossed to the shortstop to start a double play. This time there actually was a guy on first, but by the time the relay made it to first, the batter was safe. Still, I thought, "I got the lead guy, so that's good."
"Yea, but if you would have gotten that ball to the shortstop faster we would have had a double play, you idiot," I told myself.
Later in the game I got another chance on a sharply hit grounder to my right. Gracefully, ever so gracefully, I raced over to field it. The ball caromed off my bare wrist into the dirt and by the time I recovered, the batter was safe at first. You can see the stitch marks on my wrist as I write this.
After that inning, I saw my pal, Jet, standing near the dugout with big dark sunglasses on his face.
"Hey Jet, how ya doin'?" I asked.
"Getting a bit better," he said.
He removed his glasses to reveal a swollen black eye with a nasty gash that had been stitched near the eyebrow. "Got hit the other day," he said. "Really got blasted. Had six stitches at the emergency room."
Jet's my age. But he plays much more frequently and it shows.
That eye was nasty, but Jet's one tough Republican.
Nevertheless, it was a great day. "After all," I told one of my friends as we were walking to our cars, "we're out here playing ball and having fun. At our age, it could be a hell of a lot worse."
"You got that right," he said.
Now, it's time for a hot shower to soothe my sore legs. Sure hope "the boys" are OK.