On Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 I watched the flight of the 42nd home run in Yellow Team franchise history, a shot to deep left center field that was a sure thing from the moment contact was made. It was hit on the last day of the Fall 2011 regular season, an eventual 24-23 loss to one of the two best teams this league has to offer. It came off the bat of a player who had never hit a regular season home run, inside-the-park or over the wall. That player had watched seven other players, including one female, hit a home run while donning a Yellow Team jersey. Perhaps, it was just time.
I was in my dorm room at SUNY Oswego during the Spring of 2009 when I decided that I wanted to introduce my very own co-ed softball team into the league in my town. I had a falling out with my best friend, Jim, in August of the previous year and we had not communicated in eight months. My first recruiting calls were to my brother Ray and another of my best friends, Clayton. I had to form some kind of initial roster before presenting my idea to the recreation director, who ran the league. I didn’t want to throw out the idea of my own team and not follow through with it.
A month or so later, I received an instant message from someone who I hadn’t in a long time. It was Jim, expressing his sadness over our loss of friendship. I had been thinking this same thing myself as time went on, but stubbornness coupled with the fear of contacting him without him being open to it kept me from initiating anything. It didn’t take long before softball was brought up and it was agreed that we would both represent the team as captains when the season began. He aided me in the recruiting process and the Yellow Team was born.
Fast forward to this past October and Jim steps into the batter’s box, the score is 19-18 them, top of the 6th, one out. The game had been going back and forth all night, with no team leading by more than seven runs. With seemingly no pressure on a player who has seen the pressure mount on him over the seasons, Jim tied the game with a solo homer. I speak of pressure because Jim has seen more pressure, even adversity, than probably any player in this league during my 6 seasons. He has been criticized by opponents, fans, even players who sit next to him in our dugout. I’ve continually been steadfast in my support of Jim, refusing to drop him in the lineup and refusing to make changes others seem to think I need to make. I say it all the time, and continue to, I believe Jim has the makeup to be the very best player on our team. The potential is all there: power, speed, commitment, everything that we look for in players who put our jersey on.
The home run, for me, was an adrenaline rush in itself. I remember watching Clayton’s first home run and just having this feeling inside me that made me yell as soon as he made contact. As everyone, umpire included, looked on to see if the ball was fair, I was already celebrating. I had the same response with Jim’s homer, somehow I just knew it was gone. I was driven to this conclusion first of all just because it was a fly ball, which Jim NEVER hits. He simply, for whatever reason, does not sky the ball, in pop-up form or fly ball form. As soon as I saw the lift, I sat up from the bench and watched it sail over the wall.
When looking at Jim’s career stats, I notice that this moment was long overdue. He had shown improvement offensively in every one of his 5 seasons. His years look like this:
Summer 2009: 7-24 (.292), 8 runs, 10 RBI, 7 singles, 5 walks, 1 sac fly, 13 strikeouts, .400 OBP
Fall 2009: 15-39 (.385), 17 runs, 17 RBI, 10 singles, 3 doubles, 2 triples, 10 walks, 6 strikeouts, .510 OBP
Summer 2010: 13-30 (.433), 11 runs, 27 RBI, 12 singles, 1 double, 8 walks, 6 strikeouts, .553 OBP
Summer 2011: 22-41 (.537), 12 runs, 16 RBI, 18 singles, 2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 walks, 2 sac flies, 7 strikeouts, .533 OBP
Fall 2011: 17-32 (.531), 12 runs, 10 RBI, 9 singles, 6 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 2 walks, 1 sac fly, 5 strikeouts, .543 OBP
Long overdue indeed and something that seems lopsided for someone who has 80 career runs batted in and only one of them is via a home run.
This post has been sitting in the “Drafts” section of my blog’s dashboard since last October. I have been thinking about it on and off at work everyday, thinking about finishing it, thinking about why it was left to sit, thinking about the future of my softball team. I’ve thought a lot about number 13 and what he has meant to this team, win or lose. I’ve thought, more importantly, about what number 13 has meant to me.
My ultimate point is one of celebration. Irony would intervene, as it sometimes does, and allow for Jim’s first home run to come off of a pitcher named Norm, a former player on our team, and one of Jim’s biggest critics. I think that this home run was a way of showing people that hard work and preparation, teamed with sincere dedication (Jim lost over 70 pounds before the 2011 seasons) will bring anyone the results that they truly desire.
I feel like a father when I say it, but I’m proud. And I’m still cheering, even when everyone else isn’t.