Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Real People I've Known #28: Softball Nomad Part 1

To be honest, I will probably never remember how we met. Really, I can't think of anyone who was sure where he came from. All I know is that one day he was there and that is really what matters.

It all started my junior year of high school when I agreed to play for the church softball team during the summer. Judging by the tarnished trophies around the church, the team had been really good at one point but had fallen on hard times. The season I joined was special because it was the first time in four or five years we had fielded a team.

We got together for maybe one practice before league play began, nothing major. After all, I knew pretty much everyone who was on the team.

That all changed at the first game when he showed up - the Softball Nomad....

I was warming up with Brian, my brother-in-law and soon to be de facto coach of our squad, when the Softball Nomad ambled up to our team. Having no idea who he was, I asked around for someone familiar with him - no one had a clue.

No one knew what to make of him. I mean, here, standing before us, was the 45-year-old incarnation of David Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey's mustachioed character from Dazed and Confused, wearing jean shorts an old t-shirt and neon Nike running shoes. Everything was there including the slow Southern drawl and the boyish twinkle in his eye. He was wiry and tanned. The age showed at times.

We were friendly to him as we would be with anyone else, but I think that deep down we smiled and nodded waiting to see another middle-aged guy who was good at softball once.

If you have played on a non-competitive sports team, you will understand that when someone tells you they play a certain position, you have to take their word for it. You might have a sneaking suspicion that the 300-lb slug you just added to the team is not in fact a wide receiver... Anyway, Softball Nomad said in no uncertain terms that he wanted to play Centerfield. We had no choice. When Softball Nomad tells you something, for some weird reason you listen.

There was nothing very memorable about the game (with the exception of me throwing the ball over the dugout...twice) particularly because the other team scored about 100 runs an inning. Seriously, it looked like that old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Then something amazing happened. A soft line drive hit towards center looked like it was about to fall in front of Softball Nomad.

All I remember was the flash of neon Nikes flying through the air and the Nomad going down in a heap. The team let out a collective groan that said "dang, I hope he signed his insurance waiver". Fifteen guys and our three fans all had that split second of gut wrenching anguish knowing there is going to be a mangled middle-aged man out there. Before we could grasp the gory scene though, Nomad jumped to his feet threw in the ball and ran back to his position. No harm no foul.

Collective silence.

After the game, the self-effacing Nomad would only say, "Well, it's like I always say, 'As long as nobody got hurt that was as good as a victory.'" With that, he evaporated into the darkness as silently as he arrived.

Fortunately, the Nomad would magically turn up for every game. Always arriving an hour early to go through a stretch routine only qualified yogis are capable of pulling off, the Softball Nomad appeared and disappeared without warning. At the end of the season, he drifted into the ether only to return each spring.

Over the years, we got to know him better - as well as you could know him - but on some level he was always just the Softball Nomad.

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