By BOB WIRE
The batter got plenty of meat on the ball, sending it high into the summer sky over Northside field. Deep in left center, I drew a quick bead and spun away from the ball to sprint for the fence.
I got there just as the ball did—only I had misjudged its trajectory and run too far to the right. It bounced off the chain link, maybe a foot short of being a home run. Had I been able to catch it, I would have sworn up and down that I’d robbed the guy of a dinger. As it was, I managed to hold the guy at third, but not before two runs scored.
Hell of a way to end what might have been my last game ever.
Every summer for the last 15 years, I’ve hauled my aging carcass out onto the verdant fields of Fort Missoula, McCormick Park, and my beloved Northside diamond twice a week to play softball in the Men’s D League. My team, Kent Bros Automotive, usually winds up at about .500 after each 20-game season. I’m not too concerned about our record. Hell, I’m usually not even aware of the score. I’ve always just tried to play my best and contribute to the team.
Lately, it seems like I’ve just tried to play without getting hurt.
When it comes to softball mishaps, I have suffered injuries literally from the top of my head (brained myself on a fencepost diving for a fly ball, resulting in three stitches and a concussion) to the tip of my foot (jammed big toe, complete with lovely purple nail).
Pulled hammies, heel spurs, hyperextended knees, sprained quads… brother, I’ve had ‘em all.
Every spring for the last five or six years, Barb asks me if the coming season will be my last. She gets tired of having to sleep next to me when the skin of my outer calf has been shredded off from sliding, and I hit the ceiling every time she accidently bumps the wound. Road rashed forearms. Bloody knees. Jammed fingers. These are the everyday bumps and bruises that most players suffer. Annoying, but not enough to make a guy quit the game.
Even the more catastrophic injuries can’t keep me off the diamond. I once dislocated several ribs attempting to fly like Superman into a headfirst dive while stealing second. For the next two weeks every breath I took felt like I was being shanked by a vengeful convict.
I lacerated a rotator cuff diving for a shallow pop fly, then finished the job swinging my bat the very next inning. That required major surgery. I asked my doc why he couldn’t use arthroscopic, and I’ll never forget his answer: “I gotta get both hands in there.”
The granddaddy of all softball injuries, the reason I wear jersey number 1.5, happened at Northside during my first (and last) season playing for the Red Pies. I think we were playing the Books, and the batter was Rick Stern, the Missoula writer. He hit a sharp liner over the first baseman’s head, and I charged in from the outfield. Dropping to my knees, I extended my glove to scoop the ball before it hit the ground.
The ball had other ideas. It bounced off the heel of my glove directly into my man plums. I somehow caught the ball, held it aloft, and keeled over. Later that night I would undergo emergency surgery, and let’s just say it’s a good thing Barb was already pregnant with our second child.
The next game, every guy on our team had a cup.
I would return for every season afterwards, each year incurring pretty much every softball related injury you can think of. But it didn’t stop me. Turning fifty didn’t stop me from diving for balls and flopping around in the outfield.
When I started to misjudge routine fly balls (an oxymoron for our team) I got glasses. Although I used to lead the team in PBRs, I began to drink more water and less beer. My asthma inhaler and a jar of Advil took up permanent residence in my softball bag, right next to the sugarless bubble gum.
I’ve played several years now with orthotics in my cleats, and I own a neoprene brace for every appendage and joint. When I run the bases they can time me with a calendar, and I lose track of what inning we’re in by the bottom of the second.
None of this is enough to make me hang up my glove for good. No, that took an ailment that threatens to put me in a wheelchair if not corrected with surgery. One of the vertebrae in my lower back (what’s called the “moneymaker” sector of the spine), has shifted nearly halfway off the one below it. It’s called spondylolisthesis, and can be corrected with spinal fusion.
After consulting with surgeons, pain specialists, chiropractors, family doctors, and other people who own much nicer cars than I do, I’ve realized that it’s no longer realistic for me to play softball. For sure, it hasn’t been realistic to think that I could hit a standup double for ten years, but hey, it’s all about just getting on base, right?
So I chose a Monday night game at Northside field (scene of many softball triumphs, home of half of one of my nuts) to be my last.
We lost by a couple of runs, I think, but that feeling of trotting out into left center, exhorting my fellow fielders to keep it in front of us, put ‘em down one-two-three, hit the cutoff man, shoe-ah, is the main reason I love to play. To get out there for an hour and fifteen minutes, twice a week, and let my inner Little Leaguer play his heart out. To shout encouragement to my good friends and teammates, to yawp with sheer joy over a triumphant defensive play or a big hit. Every inning is a new story, every at-bat a new chance to succeed.
I’ve never been the best player on the team; far from it. But I can guarantee you one thing: no one in that dugout had more fun playing slow-pitch, D League Missoula softball than this guy. Thanks for the camaraderie and the friendship, Kent Bros.
Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.
Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.
Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.