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My Weekly Ritual — Softball Lite — In Today's New York Times

In sports on June 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm
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The joy of a new editor and a new section….here’s my story in today’s Times about my beloved co-ed weekly softball game. It’s been nine years and we’re still going strong, even as I now need someone to run the bases for me (my hip) and I’m still, on a good day, lead-off hitter:

It’s lite because, with an age range of 14 to over 70, we’re looking for fun, not more pressure to perform. People don’t yell or look at their BlackBerrys or answer their cellphones while on base. We’re skilled and competitive, but chill enough that we don’t obsess over the score.

Since a number of players are in their 50s and beyond, some of us have been known to limp to the diamond. My team has seen me through shoulder surgery and a foot stress fracture, so when I hobbled up recently and warned the gang that I’d need someone to run for me — I had a newly arthritic hip — everyone shrugged. “I showed up on crutches,” said Joan, a medical editor.

I can still hit to the outfield, so even unable to run, I was lead-off hitter, and Alan, a lean, swift lawyer running for me, scored a double. In Westchester County, N.Y., not known for its diversity, we’ve got a pretty good mix, with players driving or coming by train from Queens, Long Island and Harlem: five lawyers, a literary agent, a pastry chef, schoolteachers, a retired ironworker and his three adult sons, a psychiatrist, a scientist. Perhaps most fortunate, an orthopedic surgeon, one of our more competitive players.

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Even the photo than ran with the Times piece was taken by a good friend, fellow freelancer Alan Zale.

As a Canadian, I didn’t grow up playing softball, so my skills came much later in life, which is half the joy of them. I so treasure this little island of camaraderie in a sea of competitiveness.

Do you have a beloved sports team you still hang out with?

  1. Great story Caitlin – Congratulations.

  2. Thanks…I’ve heard from a few of my teammates and they liked it; always nervous when writing about friends!

  3. Where I reside, in Columbia, Missouri, the slow-pitch baseball leagues have taken on special meaning for me–meaning transcending the camaraderie as portrayed in Caitlin Kelly’s wonderful New York Times essay.

    Slow-pitch leagues abound at superb city-maintained fields six nights per week. Some of the leagues are all male, some are all female, some are co-ed. The leagues are divided not only by gender, but also by skill level.

    At age 62, I participate in an over-50 league (no over-60 league exists yet) and in a church league. One night per week, I also show up as a paid umpire.

    What is the special meaning of all this? Well, Columbia, a city of about 100,000, is generally a civil place to leave on the surface. Sadly, though racial and ethnic groups rarely mingle in meaningful ways. The softball teams are a huge exception to that unfortunate segregation. Seeing folks get along–really get along–evening after evening at the Rainbow Softball Complex gives me hope, however slight, that the invidious social construct of race will someday fade.

  4. Our gang is also racially mixed, and no one gives it a thought. The only things that matter are your skills and your manners; in our game, you’ve got to bring both.

    Sports, at their best, unite people organically — in play.

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