Marolt: The diamond reflecting light from a different angle
February 12, 2019
"Dude, you swing just like you did 35 years ago!" An old teammate yells from the dugout as I take a few cuts during batting practice before the annual alumni game. They are humoring old-timers before the kids take the field. The real game will be between this year's team and the recently graduated who are mostly stopping by on their way to spring training. We are like a collection of antique cars. Sure, we still run, just go easy on the gas.
Is my buddy remarking that I swung like an old man back in my prime, or being generous and pretending that I still swing like a 20-year-old? I assume the former, but someone else calls him on it for sounding like it was the latter and everyone is in stitches. I clank the next pitch off the handle. The laughter doubles.
We're suddenly back in young mens' bodies for an hour or two trying to remember where all the switches and buttons are to make them work again. There are people starting to fill the stadium for the game and when they sense shenanigans on the diamond, it's natural to want to know what's going on when nothing is supposed to be going on.
It is the old feeling of being in a game and sensing eyes on you. I haven't felt it in decades and suddenly my legs are jittery and the next three swings are not even decent for a guy my age. I skip out of the cage like "whatever," but competitiveness tries to pull its stake from the ground by the chain, and I wrestle it back behind a smile.
In the old days, nobody would say anything after a performance like that. They wouldn't want to intensify things. It mattered then, or at least we thought it did. It doesn't matter today, and we know it doesn't. There is no game on the line. All of our positions on the team from four decades ago are secure. We are true friends, comrades in arms, storytellers of legends recited with the perfection that comes with years of running a story from the same starting spot in your mind, but ending it differently every time until all of its points have been polished, so they tell me, "Nice job."
Do you remember how Ed got his big break to start at second? Sure I do! It was when Beckwith and Martin were horsing around in the locker room after practice. Remember? Sure I do! Becky gave him a shove and he tumbled over those folding chairs. He landed wrong and broke his leg. Eddy took his place at second and played so well that Marty never got it back.
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Hahaha! But, that's not quite how it happened. No? No. It was when Hollander. … Remember, he was the shortstop that coach was riding hard in that game against state, and Holly came into the dugout between innings and just yanked off his jersey and walked away, never to return! Oh yeah, I remember that! Hahahaha! What ever happened to him? Ah man, I think he ended up playing professional beach volleyball. Hahahaha! Yeah, I think I remember seeing him on TV. Anyway, that's when Eddy took over.
Both are good stories. Take your pick. The truth was never that interesting.
It's a joyous war of attrition! Blisters pop and muscles tear in the grabbing of this moment dressed in vintage attire. It's time for the home-run derby contest and my old teammates vote for me to represent our era. I don't want to embarrass myself, but neither does anyone else. I take a deep breath. The kids lining up around the cage now are about the same age as my own. I still love playing with them and their friends. I tell myself that this is no different.
I am an asset, fully depreciated and ready for scrap; nobody expects me to hit a ball out of the park, so they set up cones in the outfield. If I hit a ball out to them, it counts the same as a homer for anyone else. Charity for the wrinkled! I take my cuts. I'm reaching the cones now and then. I stop watching the flight of the balls because they will not travel where I want them to.
On my last swing, I let it all fly. My hands drop smoothly, my head stays down, the barrel of the bat kisses the sweet spot of the ball. There are cheers of surprise! It is what an old guy gets for hitting a two-hopper to the wall. And, although it was really nothing to see, it felt as good as ever!
Roger Marolt is thankful for the opportunity to feel young and be old at the same time. Email at email@example.com.
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