I Miss the Comradery of Being on a Sports Team

I Miss the Comradery of Being on a Sports Team

Source: © Erica Busick Batten from Pexels

Softball was one gift my father gave me. He (when he wasn’t drunk) and I spent hours throwing a softball in the asphalt playground next to the apartment building in which I grew up. He was still critical and demanding: You’re throwing like a goddamn girl. Put your weight into it.

One of my favorite memories was that in February, right after my birthday passed at the mid-month mark, he and I would take out my softball glove and oil it down with mineral oil until it was soaked. We’d take an old softball, place it in the pocket of the glove, wrap it tightly with an Ace bandage, and put it in the bottom of my closet. Dad explained that this was necessary in order to shape the pocket of the glove for the upcoming season. When I got to high school, after he stopped drinking, after he stopped medicating his depression with the alcohol and became too depressed to barely get out of bed, he stopped joining in our ritual. I was excited because I’d made the high school team, but that barely moved him. I was the pitcher and he never came to see me play.

Softball was how I made it through high school. That and pot. My team was divided in several ways. Some of us smoked weed, some never touched the stuff. Some of the team was gay, some were straight. I was confused about my sexuality but had no one to talk to about my feelings. My father had retreated to his room and my mother was working six days a week to support us. I’d stumble in from practice, stoned out of my mind, eyes cherry red having smoked on the ride home, and no one ever noticed.

On weekends I headed over to the apartment of Rachel, my friend and centerfielder. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, we huddled in her room, doing bongs and listening to Kansas—”Dust In The Wind” and Carry On My Wayward Son.” I still have those songs on my playlist because they evoke such strong memories.

Because I wanted – and needed – to get as far away from home as possible for college, but needed to stay in New York State for financial reasons, I went to SUNY Buffalo. Not the best climate for softball, but they had a team. I pitched again and smoked pot again, in the dorms every Saturday as we watched “Saturday Night Live” and munched on chicken wings and blue cheese.

Again I questioned my sexuality and continued to have no one to speak to. I don’t think they had counseling services there and even if they did, it never would have entered my mind to seek them out. I’d never heard of therapy.

I fell into my first job in New York City at an advertising agency because the day I interviewed with them I happened to pass the typing test. My communications degree from SUNY Buffalo was worthless. I started in June and joined the company softball team, part of the well-organized and well-developed NYACSL (New York Advertising Co-Ed Softball League). I was an anomaly, a woman who could play ball. I was put at second base because the women played second base, pitcher (slow pitch), catcher, and short centerfield. Word spread and soon I was asked to play on a women’s corporate team made up of women from all different advertising agencies. This team was called the Adwomen. We became close on this team and I miss the cohesiveness we shared. I played for this team until I developed anorexia and needed to be hospitalized. The first basewoman on this team introduced me to cocaine and I became hooked. The coach was the one who first got me into therapy – with his therapist who turned out to be inept.

We played in Central Park every Friday night for six or seven years. I played third base. Crouched down, ready for the ball, daring it to come my way, I found myself creeping up toward home plate until I was almost halfway there. Now I realize that was almost a form of self-harm as I didn’t care whether the ball hit me in my face. I just didn’t care.

A third team that recruited me to play was a fast-pitch men’s team that also played in Central Park but on the weekends. I’m not sure how they heard about me, but I was invited to try out for them and was accepted. I did find pleasure in striking out men who laughed when they initially saw me on the mound, but a lot of the stares and whispers I noticed from people passing by stirred up my confusion about my sexuality again.

I didn’t know how to bring the topic up in therapy. I was embarrassed and ashamed of anything having to do with sex. I was in my mid-twenties and still a virgin and I didn’t want to talk about anything that could lead to my revealing that tidbit about myself.

One season we won the championship and there was a banquet at the end of the year. I went undefeated that year and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. All I could think as I stood at the podium accepting my award is that I should have worn a dress.

Every March now, I see signs around my neighborhood for over-40 softball leagues forming and I become wistful recalling how much fun it was to be part of a team. Anorexia and mental illness stole that from me. Once I was hospitalized, I never went back. I doubt my body would cooperate now. Past stress fractures and asthma and a heart condition aren’t conducive to running the bases. My left wrist fracture still hurts and I can’t imagine catching a line drive coming straight off the opposing player’s bat like a bullet.

“Glory days, well they’ll pass you by

Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye

Glory days, glory days” —Bruce Springsteen, “Glory Days”

 © Andrea Rosenhaft

Source: © Andrea Rosenhaft

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