By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
In tee ball, Krista and I would pass the time doing splits, which we were sometimes so engrossed in that we barely took note of the batted balls rolling past us in the outfield. We'd glance at a passing ball and argue over who would have to retrieve it while our fathers were smacking their foreheads in frustration.
But my fondness for the sport grew. I was so happy about being the batgirl for my older sister's team that my mother was once unable to coerce me out of my navy-blue uniform for a solid week. The next year, I'd get a team of my own. My arm was strong and my batting solid. This softball stuff didn't seem so bad after all.
My Dad always coached, and I was the envy of every little girl for having such an involved father. But my mother was sick of spending her free time and money on softball. She was also annoyed that my father would cut out early from work to coach high school girls who weren't even related to us. The sport became divisive for my parent's marriage.
When I quit softball at 13, my father didn't speak to me for weeks. My mother had to threaten divorce to negotiate a truce. When it came to me and my athletic pursuits, though, Dad was a trooper. My new hobby, I decided, would be ballet. The beginners' classes were full of 5-year-olds, so my ballet studio suggested I join the adults. My father would drive me to each class and hang out in the car until I was finished. One day, the teacher approached him with a suggestion: Why didn't he just take the class? So my father and I learned ballet together.
My parents divorced in 1999. But my mother still lowers her voice and narrows her eyes whenever she says the word softball; in her voice, softball sounds like the root of all evil. My father still coaches a local high school team for what amounts to slave wages. Five months out of the year, the sport consumes his afternoons and weekends. I asked him recently whether his softball fanaticism stems from a desire to prove his athletic skills to his father. His answer: probably.
My paternal grandfather has been dead for more than 30 years.
As the season progresses, morale sinks among the Law Dawgs, but I'm finally finding my groove. I strain a muscle sprinting toward first base in a game against a team called Bullzeye. On the next play, as I rush toward second, my right leg gives out, and I fly forward, arms stretched out like Superwoman. It looks like a graceful, albeit unnecessary, headfirst slide — except that my stomach lands on top of the leather base bag. Everyone thinks I'm demonstrating some serious heart.
On the way to home plate, in a subsequent play, my leg gives out again. This time, I soar over the base and the catcher waiting with both ball and glove in hand. Splayed on the ground, I realize that the ball is in the dirt. The catcher and I lock eyes. I reach for the plate and tap it for a run.
Henceforth, I'm known as "ballerina girl." Even the opposing team gets a kick out of my dives. As we slap hands after the match, a few ladies giggle and give me appreciative pats on the ass.
All it takes is a couple of base hits and a few graceful catches in the outfield and I feel wanted. Needed. Like part of the team. We even talk about grabbing beers together after the game. That's right. Up until this point, there was no communal beer-guzzling going on among the Law Dawgs. Adult softball without beer is like a honeymoon without sex. Lame.
It's a Friday night at Howl at the Moon, the raucous piano bar in Fort Lauderdale's BeachPlace. Liz, our team manager, is hosting a post-season party to celebrate her graduation from City College. I'm one of the first invitees to show up.
I tell the beefy young man at the door that I'm here for Liz's party. He points to a small group of people and says, "They're over there by that man with the big button on his shirt." The "man" he's referring to is Liz. I'm quick to correct the blunder. "Oh God," the doorman whimpers. "Don't tell her I said that!"
It's been almost two weeks since we played our last softball game. Liz doesn't recognize me at first. I'm wearing makeup, some platform wedges, and a shirt with a plunging neckline. I consider it a conservative outfit that I might throw on before driving to the office.
Liz does a double take each time another teammate enters the bar. It's amazing how different the ladies look without ball caps and schleppy T-shirts. "You all look so nice," Liz moans, "and I look the same as I do at the games." Actually, she looks much happier than I ever saw her at the ballpark. She's radiant.
I settle at a table with two silver-haired ladies, one of whom played on Last Call, a team that crushed us on numerous occasions. Most of the gals on Last Call are over 40. This particular lady, who is in her 60s, played outfield this season. But for 35 years, she was a shortstop. "After a while, your reflexes start to slow," she says with a twinge of sadness.