Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Adventures of the Noreasters: Three in the Heat

The 2011 Noreasters
“I have seniority, so I’m getting one of the rocking chairs,” Dan, our right center fielder, said. “This place is totally awesome.”

He dropped his stuff and quickly collapsed into the chair. Spud and I eagerly did the same on the couch nearby.

“This is like a cabin back in the 1970s,” Chris, our third baseman said. “I feel like we’re at camp.”

It wasn’t far from the truth. We were at the Cowgirl Diner in the Village. There was a deer’s head looking at us from his perch above the fireplace and the chairs and couches were arranged in a circle. Also, part of the ceiling was painted black with painted on stars. It was the perfect refuge for a sweaty bunch of softball players.

It got even better when Spud walked back from the bar with two beers for me in his hand. I hadn’t had anything but water, Gatorade, and bananas to eat or drink all day, but that didn’t stop me from taking a healthy pull from one of the bottles.

I smelt terrible. I had salt deposits on my cheeks as if I had just finished a half-marathon. I was tired, sore, and hungry.

“I asked them for the biggest Diet Coke they could possibly find.” Brad, our injured second baseman, said after someone made a remark about the gigantic cup of soda he was about to consume.

It had been well earned.

Dan, Chris (wearing a hat and about to play the outfield), and Spud
As some of you may have noticed, a heat wave swept across the country last week.

According to one report, last Saturday the temperature 100 degrees, but felt like 113, in New York City.

All the softball games scheduled on Randall’s Island were canceled by the Parks Department.

Were the Noreasters one of those lucky teams? Did I get to spend my Saturday parked front an air conditioner somewhere with an ice cold beer?

Of course not.

My softball team was only lucky enough to have three games scheduled back-to-back-to-back during the hottest part of the day. And rather than being out in the open with the possibility of a warm breeze, we were stuck playing in the oven that is Hudson River Park off the West Side Highway.

I had a bad feeling about the weekend when my manager Trish emailed the team urging us all to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate the day BEFORE the game. I also had my own mother texting me every hour checking up to see if I was drinking plenty of fluids and worrying about me playing in the intense heat. My plan to grow my hair out went down the drain (literally), after I took my long neglected buzzers to my out of control mop. I threw three pairs of socks into my softball bag, along with three extra dri-fit shirts and three different hats. I had two large Gatorade bottles and a full Nalgene, and planned to buy even more water the next day. I would remind all of you that this preparation is for a recreational softball league and not military exercises in the desert.

I have to sprint onto a field at the beginning of a practice or game. My older brother taught me that hustling off and on the field meant something, so no matter what condition I was in, or how miserable the weather, I had to run my ass to my position. So, I was already sweating profusely by the time I got to shortstop. I could barely catch my breath. My feet could feel the heat rising up from the turf infield through my cleats. My hat felt heavy on my head after fielding only a couple of ground balls.

After starting the year 9–1, our team had gone on a little bit of a winless slide (a slide stopped by a hard-fought come-from-behind tie the week before); so first place was going to be up for grabs all day.

We were faced off against the Ballbreakers (our nemesis) in the first game. Despite the conditions, we played nice and loose and managed to eek out a close win. Although I made a nice backhanded play on a liner in the hole and threw out one of the fastest runners in the league in a key inning, I'm obligated to tell you I had five or six line drives go just past me or just over my head. Yes, I am short.

One game, one win.

Game two pitted us against the Sirens, who had destroyed us two weeks ago. They found every gap that week, had a bunch of worm burner hits that went just past the pitcher’s mound, and got our team so flustered at each other that one Noreaster was prompted to tell another “Eat me.”

Today was different. They weren’t the same team. We clearly wanted the game more. It didn’t hurt that we had Vinny as are pitcher. He’d been off the past few weeks dealing with a family issue, and had stoically volunteered to pitch all three games. He was exactly what we needed. He didn’t waste any time on the rubber, cracked jokes the whole day, and fielded a ton of liners back to him that turned into easy outs. He was the MVP of the day, hands down.

Vinny getting the job done
Two games down, and we had won them both.

Thank goodness the third game was a blow out. If it had been close, our minds would have melted even more than they already were. Just to stick it to Spud one more time, I won the RBI challenge we had started at the beginning of the day. During the first inning, I hit a two-run homer, followed by a grand slam. Late in the game, I came up with runners on second and third. At that point, we knew that we were close, so this at-bat was crucial. Needless to say, I came through, bringing both runners in with a double. Spud had a chance to get back into it since he batted right behind me, but ended up popping up to end the inning. Sara, our official scorekeeper and all-around cheerleader, let us know that I had won by just one RBI. Spud took solace in the fact that he hit one more homerun on the day and didn’t fall into a unending pit of personal despair like he otherwise would have.

The other highlight of the last game was Brad acting as our third base coach. He had done it all day, but he really got into that last game. It seemed on every ball hit, Brad was waving someone around third. He said it best, “I’ve never met a run I didn’t like.” However, we didn’t have one runner thrown out at the plate all day. The best part was he was wearing a Tom Landry style fedora. His advice, though, needs some work.

“I know we have a lead guys, but we can’t be giving up six runs every inning,” he said matter-of-factly after a messy inning.

“Really inspiring coach, thanks,” I said as most of us dragged our fatigued bodies back to the dugout.

It almost didn’t feel real when the last out was recorded. Three games, three wins. We were now controlled our own destiny (UPDATE: We ended up clinching the division yesterday. Go Noreasters!).

“Who wants to have drinks?” Trish asked.

Every hand shot up.

I wish I could tell you everything we talked about at Cowgirl. If I did, many of us would either be in jail or fired. Just know that there was not one moment we weren’t laughing, making fun of each other, devouring appetizers, or sucking back some kind of alcoholic beverage.

Vinny was the only casualty.

He finally cracked after all that time in the sun. After throwing up in the bathroom, he was last seen stumbling out of the bar. He sent out an email the next day, telling us he was all right. It was his heartfelt thank you for giving him the game ball that struck me though.

“I really didn't deserve it,” Vinny wrote. “It is a team sport and we all contributed both offensively and defensively.”

This from the guy that lost his breakfast, lunch, and dinner just to help us out. It’s not hard to see why I love being on this team. We’re a family and we’re always there for each other no matter what. Win or lose, we always enjoy each other and have a good time.

Expect for Spud. He just whines incessantly (just kidding…sort of).