Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heaven in Mudville.

It is always darkest just before the dawn.

It is always a dark day when my baseball season comes to an end, as it did on August, 15. And, that particular day was made even darker by how it ended (See Losing isn't Nothing). But no season-ending game, regardless of outcome, is as deeply dark as the day that I finally decide to put my baseball equipment in storage, for the winter. Now, that's dark.

I never do it right away. Every year I hold out for a few weeks...just in case. Some people call it denial. I call it "waiting for the dawn". But, eventually, reality gives me a swift kick in the pants and, with a great sigh, I lay my batting gloves flat, brush off my cleats...and kiss my glove goodbye. Then, zipping up my sports bag, I begin the long walk down into the dark abyss known as my basement.

I know the dawn will come, but I've just slowly come to accept the fact that the "darkest" time of my life happens to be nine months long. So you can imagine my shock and ecstatic joy, when I was invited to play in an all-day baseball tournament last week! Are you serious! The dawn had come early!

Hey, I knew it was only a "one-day" dawn, but there would be nothing keeping me from this opportunity. I grabbed my bag from the basement and, no word of a lie, when I opened it up...a beam of light burst from it and I heard the angelic choirs singing.

Last Saturday morning, I woke up, gathered my things and headed off for one last kick at the can. It was a little overcast and cool, but a month earlier I had played all day in the sweltering heat of mid-August...this was like a vacation.

When I first arrived at the ball field, there was good news and bad news. The good news: The diamonds had dirt in-fields. Dirt in-fields! I haven't played on a good dirt diamond in a long time. I've been doing head first slides on gravel for as far back as I can remember. This was going to be SWEET! The bad news: The "No sliding" rule.

That is a dumb rule. Period.

For our team, the tournament started with introductions, because it had been assembled with a whole lot of spare parts. I only knew three of my team mates and, in fact, not even the team's architect knew everybody. First impressions. We'd be...competitive. To what extent, I had no clue. It was a "one-off" Tournament, so there wasn't even any knowledge about the quality of the other teams.

And, there wasn't much time for ice-breaking, because I'd say that within 20-minutes of introductory handshakes, we had already taken the field for game one. At the end of that game we had our first victory and...I still didn't know the first name of one of our fielders.

Game two was a big win, as we shut out what appeared to be a pretty good team. I'd say, for an ad-hoc team playing against teams that clearly had competed together in the past, we were quite happy...if not surprised, by our 2-0 start.

But, if there was any pride beginning to well up inside of us, it was quickly exterminated. The next team gave us as sound a beating as we had just delivered. With our record now at 2-1, we weren't happy, and we weren't alone. Apparently, the Heavens were on our side, because at the start of game four...the sky dumped every drop of water that it had stored up. It absolutely poured!

Now, I'll play baseball in any weather, but even I will admit that playing in a down pour, on a chilly September afternoon, wears on you quickly. Unless you're a polar bear, being cold and wet just isn't a desirable condition to be in. But the sign clearly read "Rain or Shine", so on we a six-six tie.

With the first round of competition over, we were sporting a 2-1-1 record and looking like drowned rats.

There was no joy in Mudville. I don't think any of us thought our record was enough to get us into the play-off round...and I don't think any of us really would have cared. We'd already been playing ball for six hours, the playoffs could keep us there for another three hours...and the rain was not about to let up. At all!

Guess what? We advanced to the next round. The game face was put back on and two games later, this rag-tag team - with every muscle seized and even our bones wet - were in the finals!

And, quite honestly, I didn't think we'd ever be there. But, I figured, now that we were...we better just win the whole thing. After all, it would be very depressing to lose AND die of pneumonia the next day.

We lost. I didn't die. I felt like I was going to die...but I didn't. It was a GREAT day!

After my glove had dried, I packed away my stuff. Only eight months until dawn...hopefully, my bones will be dry by then.

Have a good one,

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