Monday, June 30, 1997

Meekly Speaking

It's been a newsletter tradition to devote one column a year to the exploits of my softball teams. This has usually been done by writing about the values and benefits of good teamwork and using the concept that those who work well together usually succeed while those who don't lose more often than not, a lesson that applies to our business as well.

I play twice a week for two different teams. The success of both teams has been rather limited this year. My Wednesday night team, the Roundheads play in the Shoreview Parks and Recreation Men's Class "D" League. Our win/loss record up to this point is 3-6. Last year we dropped down to the "E" league after years in the "D" league due in part to some of our declining physical abilities that are associated with advancing age. Many of the players on the team are either in their late forties or early fifties. We did well last year, finishing in a tie for first place. Thus when it came to signing up again this year, there was discussion that the team didn't face enough challenge in the drop to the lower league thus we should move back up to where we belonged.

At one point, the Roundheads were undoubtedly a very good team. Many played high school ball and can hit the ball a long way. Our fielding is usually pretty solid, we make few errors on balls we can get to. But they say the legs are one of the first things to go and I'm afraid for many on the team this has been true. We now must play station to station softball thus it takes several hits strung together to produce much offense. Those that can still run fast enough to turn a single into a double don't hit it far enough for that to happen and those that can hit it the necessary distance can't leg out the extra base.

I play second base for the team. My game has always relied on my above average speed and my ability to hit it harder than my rather skimpy wimpy form would indicate. Last week I dinked two little ground balls in my first two at bats and heard one of the opposition tell its outfielders to move in prior to my third at bat. I thus hit a solid line drive double which prompted them to play a bit deeper my next at bat.

On Thursday nights I play on Joan's Jetts in the State's Co-ed League. Our record thus far is 3-5. Unlike my Wednesday night team, the Jetts should have a better record than we do. The key to this co-ed league is to have better women players than the other teams. The men tend to be closer in ability but the women range from those who have a hard time making contact, and who will not get to any ball that isn't hit directly to them, to those who can outhit a lot of the men and are reliable fielders. Our female players are as good as any in the league and yet we have struggled playing consistently throughout an entire game. In many ways it has been our most frustrating season because we should be doing much better than we are. And it was a little disappointing when my favorite sports babe decided to sit this season out. Oh well, we only want those who have a desire to play, damn it.

Every week we suffer through one bad inning where mistakes pile upon each other and we allow the other team to get a lot of preventable runs. I play third base for the Jetts and have been pretty rock solid, not flashy but steady making few errors. It is a league that is more tailored for my hitting skills, playing on fields that don't have fences thus anything that gets behind the outfielders usually results in a home run. I'm not much for hitting a ball a great distance but I can usually hit it hard enough to get it behind an outfielder at some point during the game.

I have made concessions to the effects of the years on my body. I am using a heavier bat this year. I used to use as light a bat as I could find figuring it was most important for me to be able to place the ball where I wanted rather than hit it far. With a heavier bat and a harder swing I have been more successful at hitting the ball solidly while still utilizing my legs to beat out ground balls. The difficulty I'm running into is the vast difference between the two leagues. On Wednesday night any ball hit in the air that isn't a line drive will be caught. The outfielders are fast enough and skilled enough to catch just about anything catchable. On Thursday night it is more tempting to try and make the outfielders make the play because many of them won't and then it's off to the races. In many ways it has been my best year individually even as my teams struggle. This is due in part to improved self confidence in knowing that when I play within and up to my capabilities I can be a decent player.

This season's lesson? The reason my Wednesday night team is doing just as well as my Thursday night's team despite diminishing skills is that the same players come back to play every year. Joan's Jetts on the other hand has had a rapid turnover of its roster so any continuity from year to year is lost. A team takes time to develop as you learn from each other's strengths and how to integrate them in the most effective way while at the same time minimizing the weaknesses. Without that continuity building a team is a difficult task. Especially without the sports babe.

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