One of the toughest things about growing up, (or getting older), is how quickly you can lose the ability — time, energy, extra income, muscle mass, flexibility — to get outside and play with others. It’s easy when you share a street, cul-de-sac or nearby field to get out and toss a ball or go for a bike ride with your best friend. Once you move to a big city, how do you find other adults as passionate about softball, soccer, cricket or street hockey as you? Team sports need…teams.
So I love this story, from the Washington Post, about pickup street hockey (shinny, as it’s called in Canada) played on the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, a spot better known for a slightly different reason. For about 14 years, a group of strangers has met there year-round at noon on Saturdays and Sundays and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
I’ve been playing softball on Saturday mornings since 2001 with a group of men and women, ranging in age from 20 to 70+, at a local field. We meet at 9:30 a.m. for batting practice then play for two hours. I’ve gone from being an OK player to hitting consistently to the outfield, even being the lead-off hitter, which is pretty cool for a Canadian girl who didn’t even play the game ’til she was 18. We now have our own custom-designed T-shirts and we meet afterwards at a local tavern, sitting under a tree with a great view of the Hudson River, for Stellas and Guinness and a cold pint of Blue Moon. And food, of course.
Like the Washington game, ours has become a treasured and reliable oasis of fun, friends, good exercise, light competition and camaraderie, a needed breather from the absurdity of daily life, certainly in this recession. We’ve got a guy who last year had a double transplant — he’s back. I had shoulder surgery and was on the disabled list for a year, but I’m back. Eddie broke Joe’s wrist with a wicked strike — Joe’s back pitching. Joan’s gotten over Lyme disease and a broken foot. I love our raggedy gang of survivors: a literary agent, a couple of lawyers, a retired ironworker, schoolteachers, a few shrinks, a (male) pastry chef for one of Manhattan’s hottest and most expensive new restaurants. I really like it when Marty comes, because Marty not only coaches well but is an orthopedic surgeon; if something really bad happens on the field, as it has once or twice, we’ve got an expert on-site.