Bases loaded. Bottom of the 9th. Two out. Tie game. You’re up at bat. It’s winning time, and an opportunity to be the hero has presented itself. If you deliver, you get carried off the field on your teammates’ shoulders. If you fail, well, you won’t. That’s not how the dream ends. All of a sudden, you wake up. You’re standing at the plate. There’s a runner on first base. Bottom of the 3rd. Two out. You’re down by ten and if you fail to score a run, the mercy rule kicks in, and you lose. I’m up at bat. I single up the middle to keep hope alive. The next batter hits a single to left. Bases loaded. A pop-up in the infield is out number three. The game is over. The season is over. The dream is over. Growling stomachs and loud whispers of “I’m hungry” prevail. Pulled pork sandwiches are the consolation prize. Welcome to the appetizing world of co-ed intramural slow pitch.
When I was a kid, I played softball for five years. Yeah, they throw underhand (windmill style), but the velocity at which some of the pitchers threw was pretty impressive. One time, I got hit in the back by a pitch and my teammates on the bench – who weren’t paying attention – thought the sound they heard was a car crash in the parking lot. Nope, it was just Paul taking one for the team. You’re welcome. The date was Thursday, August 4th, 2005, by the way. Don’t ask me how I remember that.
After five years, I won three championships, one Most Improved Player award, and became the best pitcher/leadoff hitter in the league – in my opinion. I’m happy with that resume, even though I think the Most Improved Player award is a bit of a backhanded compliment. Shouldn’t that award go to someone who wasn’t very good at the beginning of the season, and then progressed? Not to sound cocky, but I was one of the better players on the team. Oh well, who can say no to a trophy?
Nowadays, I am relegated to intramural sports. Well, sort of. Since I graduated in June, I can’t participate in intramurals at school as much I use to.
I started playing intramurals during my second year with people who lived on my floor in residence. We sucked, plain and simple. Most teams play to win the game. Not us. We would show up for indoor soccer with the mindset of – let’s score at least one goal and keep the other team under ten. We were awful.
Then there was third year. With new recruits, we improved. We were actually winning some games. We thought, for sure, that we would advance to the second round of the softball playoffs. We were facing an alumni team. How could we lose? These people were much older than us and had their kids cheering them on from the sidelines. Let me say that again, THEY HAD THEIR KIDS CHEERING THEM ON FROM THE SIDELINES.
Honestly, I didn’t want to do anything else, but send those kids home thinking their parents were failures. I know, that sounds terrible, especially coming from a former camp counsellor.
My team lost the game. I ended the game with a line out to the shortstop. I remember stopping halfway down the first base line after the shortstop caught the ball, and just looking skyward in disbelief. It’s been two years and I still have a bitter taste in my mouth.
Last year, my final year, was promising. Our team got t-shirts with our team name on the front and our name/nickname and number on the back. I wear #91. My team also made me Captain – a role I take seriously. I’m glad that we got team shirts. If we were going to lose, at least we were going to look good. We started a trend. This year, there were many teams with jerseys.
Last year’s softball season went well. During the season, we faced the best team in our division – they were scoring 15+ runs against everyone. We tied them 5-5. It was probably the best defensive game we’ve ever played. My pitching that day was one of the best performances of my life. It was cold and lightly raining. Perfect conditions to face a team full of power hitters! (Not really). We had no right being in that game, but we were, and we tied them. I’ll never forget it.
Then the playoffs came and we lost in the first round, again, to the eventual champions. I was horrible. It was the first week of November, freezing outside, and my hand was numb. I hate making excuses, but as I pitched the ball, I couldn’t feel it leave my hand. After walking a ton of batters, I pulled myself and played first base.
To make matters worse, for the second year in a row, I made the final out. This time, I made a mistake on the base paths that I have never made in my life.
I was on second base and there was a pop-up to short left field. The shortstop was the one trying to make the play. I didn’t think there was any chance that he would make the catch, so I went halfway to third base. He, miraculously, caught the ball over his shoulder.
My next thought was, “There is no way he can make the throw in time to get me at second. There is absolutely no way.” All of his momentum was heading towards the left field foul line. He couldn’t stop, plant his feet in the mud, and make a throw to get me. Not a chance. He doesn’t even know I’m off the base. Well, he did know. And he made the throw. And he got me by an inch. Once again, I was the final out. And once again, I stared skyward in disbelief. Poetic, isn’t it?
So then there is this year. Specifically, last Sunday. I only played two regular season games, but my team was definitely a contender. This was our year! Our turn! Our moment!
We lost, 10-0.
The scenario I explained in the introduction is how the game ended. We had just faced this team last week and lost, 4-3. They weren’t that much better than us. But on this given Sunday, they were. No one is to blame for the loss. If anything, I blame the weather and field conditions. The other team didn’t have a problem scoring runs or playing the field, though. We did. End of story.
As I stepped up to the plate with two out, I thought I was going to make the final out, again. I had to, right? That’s how the script had gone for the last two years. If anyone were to make the loss official, it might as well be me. I had accepted this fate, until I hit a single up the middle. I knew I never liked following a script. Take that, you co-ed intramural slow pitch Gods!
The game ended and our team headed to Boston Pizza for lunch. Going out for a meal, as a team, has turned into a tradition after our intramural season ends. A team that loses together, eats together! Food makes everything better and judging by how many jokes were flying around the table, we had all put the loss behind us, at least momentarily.
The waitress recognized that we were a team. I told her that we had just lost and were there for depression eating. Might as well be honest, right? At least she laughed.
I wrote a pre-game speech that I intended to give the team. I’ve done it before. People seemed to like them. Once I got to the field though, I decided not to give the speech. It just didn’t feel appropriate or necessary. Sometimes saying too much can backfire. Just let them play – they were winning games without me there. They know what to do on the field.
So I gave the speech after the game, at Boston Pizza. Here is the pre-game speech, given post-game:
“I think it goes without saying that we want to win today. There are three things we need to do today to be successful. First one is we need to play smart. When we’re hitting, make them throw strikes. Take walks. There is no shame in a walk. We need baserunners. On defence, we gotta know what to do with the ball if it comes to us. If there isn’t a play, hold the ball. We can’t be throwing the ball around today. Second thing we need to do is focus. Focus on what you have to do on defence and running the bases. If a ball is hit to you, don’t panic. You can’t do anything unless you have the ball. Make one play at a time and don’t rush. And the third thing we need to do is play with determination. If we get down early, don’t worry. If you make a mistake, don’t worry. Put it behind you and keep going. The most important play is always the next one. If we do those three things: if we’re smart, focussed, and determined, then there’s no reason we can’t win. Play with each other and play for each other. Hands in. Titans on three. 1…2…3…Titans!”
I was right, the team didn’t need that speech. We played smart. We were focussed. We were determined. It just didn’t result in a win.
So there we were – ten hungry individuals scanning a menu, looking for the perfect meal to erase the memory of another playoff loss. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich.
Losses can tear teams apart. It’s easy to blame a loss on someone. Our team doesn’t do that. We win as a team, and we lose as a team. Nothing will tear us apart or stop us from going to a restaurant after being eliminated.
The only thing that will ever divide us is a debate about, “ketchup on the side vs. ketchup on top of fries”. Ketchup, not a game, not a playoff game, but ketchup, is what initiated the insults and dirty looks at the table. (Ketchup on the side is the correct answer).
At the beginning of the day, I wanted our playoff run to end with a championship. Instead, our playoff run ended with pulled pork. It wasn’t the desired result, but it was a delicious consolation after a disastrous defeat.