The Triple: Third Time’s a Charm

Brand-new t-shirt with the original litho. Thanks, Erik!

I recently found two identical business cards while cleaning up my dresser top’s seemingly perpetual mess. The cards read Golden Senior Softball Club of Sacramento. I remembered picking up one card a year ago and the other about a few months ago. I vaguely recalled being interested in playing softball last year but never got the nerve to even look up the establishment online, and as I type this post, I still haven’t looked up the club online. On the back of the cards, it reads:

Stay Active

Meet new Friends

Have fun playing Senior Softball

Visit our Website for Applications,

Schedules & League History!

Besides the random capitalization that rubs me the wrong way, meeting new “friends” sounds horrifying. Has anyone ever met a new friend before? Usually, the process goes: you meet someone, and over time, you become friends. Anyway, playing softball (even if it is with a bunch of oldsters like me gave me pause. Yet, if there is one team sport I would like to play, it is softball. Of course, I would prefer hardball, but maybe I would regret that preference if I played in a real senior baseball league. But I am talking (typing) out of my ass. So I haven’t tried it. I haven’t even talked to somebody in the club yet.

The following post is not just a reposting of a story I told on this blog back on April 19, 2008, and reposted on October 6, 2017. Since I can’t seem to conjure up any new short fiction and the previous Pilates story is the first post I have written in nine months, I’m posting this story for the third time, but I am adding material to the end that is roughly related. I’m also cleaning up the grammar from the original and second (Geez!) post. Hopefully, I’ll get inspired and start posting more stories soon.

THE TRIPLE

I didn’t remember hitting the triple until Erik, an old college buddy and leader of the slow-pitch softball team, the Dead Seagulls, reminded me in our first communiqué since those days. I hadn’t spoken with any of my old American River College or Sac State buddies for years, but I began searching for old friends about fifteen years ago. For some reason, the details of that one summer I played on the Dead Seagulls have fallen into a black hole in my memory. So when Erik mentioned the triple, it was the key to many wonderful feelings and one bad one.

The team got its name when Erik, his brother Paul, Erik’s high school friend Chuck, and other original members of the newly formed team found a dead seagull on the diamond when the players took the field for their first practice. The dead bird was there every subsequent practice until someone finally removed it. The team didn’t have a name before the seagull incidents, and on the day they registered the team, they couldn’t think of a more appropriate name. (See the image above of a newly minted shirt Erik made for the Dead Seagulls alums. The design came from one of Erik’s high school friends, who drew it during a geometry class one day for $5.)

When I became a Dead Seagull, my father’s business sponsored the team. Usually, the sponsor or sponsors’ names were on the back of the shirts, but as I recall, the shirts were already printed, and my father didn’t have a stencil. My dad didn’t care; he was happy that his sedentary son was moving around, especially playing a sport. Unfortunately, as noted in earlier posts, I have never been good at sports, and my lack of dedication to any competitive game only worsened my athletic abilities.

It seems strange that I remember so little of what was an enjoyable and virtually carefree time in my life. I was in junior college and had developed some good friendships. Establishing, cultivating, and keeping good, close friends have always been problematic. This time was also special because I was playing a “sport” for the first time since I wrapped a 3-iron around a tree on a golf course and walked off, never to play the game again. I placed quotation marks on the word “sport” (there, I did it again) because this kind of softball was more casual than most. For instance, the pitcher was in an offensive position. Each batter would select his favorite teammate to lob pitches, so to speak—whoever knew how to place the ball right where the batter wanted it. I recently read in John Thorn’s Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game that before the 1860s, pitchers did not try to strike out the batters—only to help put the ball in play.

This also meant that the catcher—my position—had one main job, fetching the pitch if the batter missed or took the pitch. Things hadn’t changed much since I had been in Little League—what the right fielder was in Little League, the catcher was in this particular brand of slow-pitch softball. I would lean against the backstop and pick up any balls the batter missed or preferred not to hit. Because of this, there were no strikes, no balls, no stealing bases, and no pitcher-catcher conferences on the mound. Play didn’t start until the batter hit the ball into play. The only times my position became important were when plays came to the plate, but that didn’t happen much. I only remember two times that the ball came to me faster than a croquet ball.

I once ran in front of the plate to hold the runner at third. The throw came hard, and I remember hearing Erik yelling my name—not in a “head’s up” kind of way but more like a mother yelling at her son to “get out of the way of that speeding car.” Everybody knew I was the worst player on the team, and since this was not a very competitive league, my teammates would rather see me unhurt than depending on my ball handling to save a run or two. The ball came in low and fast, then took a high hop, and I caught the ball right in front of my face—the mitt so close to my nose that I could smell the lanolin oil I had just used to break it in. I remember Erik yelling my name again, this time in a deep breath of relief. It made me wonder if Erik and my dad had entered into a secret pact: my dad not letting go of the check and whispering in Erik’s ear, “Protect my boy from anything that might hurt him, like a ball thrown in his general direction.”

Then there was the time I blocked the plate—like a pro catcher used to do. I remember concentrating on the ball slowing coming in from the outfield and seeing what looked like a freight train coming toward me through my lazy eye. Before the ball got to me, the entire diamond turned upside down, and I could see the backstop and the ball flying between my legs. Then I came down—on my back. I wasn’t bowled over, though; the runner slid between my legs, and as his feet pushed my feet off the ground, I did a somersault and fell on my back. The runner I was attempting to block, and the runner behind him scored. I thought it must have looked magnificent and wished someone had filmed it. Most of my teammates acted as if I did a foolish thing; this was casual competition, nothing worth getting injured. In my mind’s eye, Erik covered his face with one eye, peaking out and praying I was okay. I was.

My batting was no more stellar than my fielding. I don’t remember doing anything but grounding out, although I know I hit safely to first occasionally because I remember being embarrassed about how slowly I ran. I was then, and still am now, a plodding runner. I remember running the pads, actually listening to the footsteps of my teammate behind me getting louder and louder. I am not sure, but I think I recall the base runner behind me yelling to “speed up.” It must have been a drag to follow me at bat. If I reached base, the next hitter would be limited to a single or double because I couldn’t run fast enough to give the hitter who followed me the extra bases he usually would have.

These memories came back when Erik reminded me about “The Triple.” He used the definite article as if there were only one ever hit in the game’s history. As if you were to ask Bob Costas or Vin Skully about “The Triple, ” they would say, “Oh, you mean the one Jack Keaton hit in the ’80s that one season when he was on the Dead Seagulls?” In this league, extra-base hits were as ubiquitous as pop-ups and ground balls in the majors. This three-bagger was memorable because I had never hit the ball so far. When I cranked this one, all I remember was that when I made first base, I could see I should take second. When I reached second, everyone was off the bench and advancing me to third; all the while, I continued to hear screaming from the bench. When I landed safely on third base, I looked over at our bench and saw all my teammates up and madly rattling the chain link fence like crazed monkeys, yelling at me as if I had driven in the game-winner in the final game of the World Series.

It was the most significant moment in my life as far as sports go. I never felt so triumphant, never so—at the risk of sounding melodramatic—appreciated. How could I have forgotten this moment? Why did it take Erik over ten years later to jog my memory? This should have been on my memory’s mantlepiece along with (finally) graduating from college, getting married, seeing my youngest born, a few sexual encounters, and other highlights.

Perhaps the answer to those questions is in what happened minutes later. Unfortunately, after scoring and returning to the bench, I also remember the smiles on my teammates’ faces. They looked as if they were more amused than supportive. I sat down on the bench, basking in the afterglow, and then Ethan, who joined the Dead Seagulls with me, made a comment that may have defined all the looks: “Man, you run just like Ron Cey!” The all-star third baseman was known as “The Penguin” because of how he ran. The comment crushed me and might be why I forgot the longest ball I ever hit. All I could think now was that my teammates rattling the cage had been laughing about how funny I looked running with a 2×4 up my ass. I know they were excited for me—we never cheered fellow players as they cheered me, but I couldn’t shake the embarrassment.

I never played a team sport again. No, I wasn’t so profoundly hurt that I could never play again; we went our separate ways: Erik moved to Poland for a year, Ethan continued college in New England, and I advanced to California State University, Sacramento. After that, the closest I came to competitive sports was being Assistant Manager to my kid’s tee-ball team one season in the early 1990s.

University Maryland kegball players take their time before moving on to third.

Around that time, a friend at work invited me to join his “sloshball” team. Sloshball, as he explained, is softball with a keg at second base. Base runners cannot advance past second until they have drunk a red plastic cup of beer. There were certain dispensations to accommodate the slow drinkers: more than one runner can be on second at one time, and they can advance together when the ball is in play, and both runners have finished their drinks. Players in the field can throw out or tag runners together, creating some unique double-play possibilities, assuming the fielders were sober enough to turn them. Even if you homered, the guy who hit the dinger had to drink a cup when rounding second base. Note: I thought my borderline alcie fellow employees invented sloshball, but I ran into a couple of sites while researching that have to do with sloshball or kegball, including some folks at the University of California, Davis, but they only play annually at a college picnic.

Since I am heavily medicated and am not crazy about beer, to begin with, I passed on the offer. Considering my batting history, I don’t think I would have gotten very drunk had I joined. I’m sure the now fabled triple would not have happened. I would have had to settle for a two-bagger, and I am sure I would have booted all over home plate.

The Triple: Forty Years Later

Sore feelings aside, I think I would like to play with the Dead Seagulls again, but they no longer play softball. Instead, the now-greying Dead Seagulls continue to play virtually as the Dead Seagulls Baseball Association (DSBA): a fantasy baseball league run by CBSSports.com. Erik, his brother Paul, and Chuck now play ball vicariously through MLB players. All the other team owners come from other parts of Erik’s life.

Erik invited me to play a few years back but kept forgetting to sign me up until the 2022 season. I was already a fantasy baseball team owner on an ESPN-run league. In my first year, I did alright. My team, the South Land Park Barking Dogs, ended up somewhere in the middle of the field, but I’m in the cellar of the ESPN league this year.

In my first season as a Dead Seagulls Baseball Association team owner, I am doing about as okay for my first year. Still, it is a far more complex league requiring owners to be more knowledgeable about players than I am or care to be. I can see myself continuing playing in the ESPN league because it is so easy to navigate (not so easy to win), but Erik’s CBS Sports-run league requires expertise in ball players.

As far as the Golden Senior Softball Club of Sacramento goes, I’m going to deem starting now too late. So instead, I will check out the website and investigate how it works, where they play, and maybe even attend a game or two. Then, next spring, I’ll pick up yet another card from my gym’s lobby. Perhaps I’ll sign up, get picked for a team, realize I am now even worse than I was in Little League, on the Dead Seagulls, or the fantasy teams I manage, and who knows, maybe this 65-year-old man will hit another triple!

1 thought on “The Triple: Third Time’s a Charm

  1. Carolyn aka Mom

    What a fun read Jack!…..Sorry you picked up the “no sport” gene from your mama……I did pick up golf but I sucked there too, but I was good at lunch and scintillating conversation so I was always invited to play…….keep them smiling Lukie….mama loves you!!!

    Like

    Reply

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