Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Pancake Batters try to get cooking

The Chapel Hill News published a much abridged copy of this post on May 29, 2013.

In a late winter morning my phone buzzed with an ominous reminder: Don’t forget to register for the Chapel Hill softball league.

I love softball, but my team’s inaugural 2012 season was filled with errors, injuries, 14 losses and only two wins. We were bad enough that The Chapel Hill News published a series of columns in which I described the stooges who were George’s Pitches and the Pancake Batters. My phone was laughing at me.

Later that same day I ran into our catcher Ben and told him about my reminder.

“I know what we need this season,” he said. I expected him to say hitting, fielding, athleticism, awareness or some daunting combination of these, but he didn’t. “We need new uniforms.”

I quietly disagreed with his prioritization of last season’s $3 blank green shirts.

Within weeks, most of my teammates had recommitted to another season. We filled the open spots with a pitcher who promised to hit a few homers and bring along his uncle, a restaurateur who could go to the opposite field with power, and a nimble outfielder. On paper we looked much better.

As the season approached, I fired myself as manager because of our dismal first season and hired Ben. With his leadership, new uniforms were on their way along with a better, shorter name: the Pancake Batters.

We opened the season against Sutton’s FDH, one of 2012’s best teams. And you know what? We won.

Our veterans were elated, and our rookies said our expectations were too low. I could feel that same giddy confidence as when I saw that I was the youngest player by at least a decade at the 2012 preseason coaches meeting. How could we not win against much older men? How could we not keep on winning if we had upset Sutton’s on opening night?

I’ll tell you how. By losing many consecutive games.

In the next game we stormed back from a six-run deficit to tie newcomer Vinny’s in the last inning. I came to the plate with two outs and the winning run on third. I flew out to left-center field, and we lost in extra innings. Shortly after we lost another game in extra innings, and then we blew a five-run lead in the last inning while tempers flared.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, our most valuable player, our rookie pitcher, suddenly came down with a case of gout and missed a game.

“He said he would be back Monday,” Ben said, “but I think gout can put you out for life. We’ll see.”

Being the only other player willing to loft a softball from 50 feet away to men armed with metal bats, I proceeded to walk what seemed like a dozen hitters in three innings before Ben gave me the hook.

Our second baseman took over until he took a line drive to the sternum and went home. Ben had no choice but to put me, perhaps the worst option, back on the mound. I walked their lineup until the game ended by the mercy rule.

Before long we were 1-6 despite our pitcher’s return, so I figured it was time to write another column for The Chapel Hill News about being a loser.

They sent a photographer to shoot our rematch with Vinny’s, and our guys must have thought he was from Sports Illustrated because we put up nine runs in one inning. Minutes later an umpire ejected an opposing player after some sort of outburst.

Some guys just can’t handle losing to the Pancake Batters. We wouldn’t like it either if we had to play ourselves.

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