“Throw it to second!” “Throw it home!” “Don’t throw it!” Confused, our new right fielder decided to heave the softball in the general direction of the infield. The ball sailed over all our heads and out of play. The umpire signaled a base runner home. Our captain, Sue, yelled “time out!” from left field. She stomped over to a row of lawn chairs holding the various husbands and boyfriends who, a moment before, had been shouting instructions. Glaring at them, she threw her glove to the ground.
“Shut up!” Sue yelled. “Shut the hell up!”
In the silence that followed, she picked her mitt up and stalked back to the outfield. It was right about then her sister (our second baseman) started laughing, and pretty soon everyone on the field was cracking up, including the opposing team and the umpire. I don’t remember who won that game, but I will never forget how hard we laughed.
As baseball season begins, I reflect on my playing days. For years, I played shortstop on all sorts of teams in all kinds of places. I played in bar leagues and town recreation leagues, on co-ed teams, on over 30 teams, in spring, summer and fall. I played under the lights at Houghton Park, on artificial turf at my college’s athletic field and on city lots whose backstops were the only indication they were ball diamonds. I loved every minute of it.
Softball in Western New York is a community affair and an experience shared by many. Children, spouses, friends and parents – they all sat in the bleachers to cheer us on. My husband’s team was made up of family and old friends, and the backyard parties afterward teemed with children. My teams were usually sponsored by a local watering hole, where we gathered afterward to eat chicken wings and drink beer. We celebrated our wins, commiserated over a loss, played darts and danced. Those times were just as much fun as the games themselves, an integral part of summer softball.
There was one team that was a constant through the years. As a young wife and mother, I noticed with envy that the upstairs tenant hooked a mitt on her bike handlebar and rode off to a game almost every night. I casually mentioned to her that I played shortstop, “just in case you ever need an extra person.” Soon thereafter I was invited to a practice, where I met Sue and the others. Over the years, a core group remained while others came and went.
It was the team that was the most competitive and the most fun. For a bunch of young housewives and their friends before the age of Title IX, there was a lot of talent and heart. We were serious about winning when we took the field. We looked like a ragtag bunch, especially compared to some of the teams we played. I remember one group that showed up in matching uniforms and cleats, whose coach lined the women up and led them in warm-up exercises. Our team sat in the bleachers and watched. Then we went out and beat the matching pants off them.
We coached ourselves and played our game and it was some of the best times I’ve ever had as part of a group. We won a lot, lost our share and always had fun. The camaraderie was tremendous and sorely missed after I hung up my bat and glove. The thing I miss the most about softball? Hearing two words, because of all they encompass: “play ball!”
Lori Duvall, who lives in Amherst, played shortstop on all sorts of teams before hanging up her glove.