Monday night at the Derfwad meet-up someone asked if we'd ever done something far outside of our comfort zone. My immediate answer was grappling in karate class. Upon further reflection, I realized that grappling was pretty tolerable compared to something else I'd done a long, long time ago.
Years ago, before Mr. T was born, before WI-fi and bacon crazes and reality TV, I was a member of a fitness club. I'd faithfully head there after work a few times a week to lift weights and clock my cardio minutes on the stair-climber. Naturally I became friendly with the other regulars who came to get their sweat on during that time slot, including a nice gal named Jen.
During the course of our friendship, Jen and I talked about men, weekend plans, work, movies we'd seen and our shared annoyance at the New Year's crowd who piled on the (seriously limited) cardio equipment in the middle of winter, preventing us regulars from accessing time on the stair-climbers and treadmills. Then one day I mentioned Mr. D's baseball playing and everything changed.
"He plays baseball?" she asked eagerly. "Where?"
I confess in my attempt to impress my new pal, I got a little braggy. "Well, he played in college, was drafted, played semi-pro and now he plays in the Dairyland League and does Field of Dreams stuff. He's a pitcher and a really good hitter." (I may have tossed my sweat-damped hair over my shoulder at this point before continuing.) "People are always begging him to play softball because he always pounds the ball over the fence," I finished, my scorn of softball emphasized by the wrinkle of my nose.
"Really," I confirmed with a nod.
A week later Jen casually mentioned that she and her husband were on a coed softball team in a town league. "We're always looking for a couple of good players. It's lots of fun. Would you be interested?"
Reader, I must provide you with some background at this point. The only team sport I ever played was basketball. I kept the bench warm in grades 5, 6 and 10. For my tenth birthday my parents bought me a baseball glove, but I never understood why because I was never signed up to play in any type of softball or baseball league. The glove appeared on my birthday in the most random way--my birthday's in February, we never went to ball games, I have no memory of ever playing catch with my dad using the glove.
"Hm," I considered the offer. "What nights do you play?"
Jen provided me with a schedule and explained how a local bar sponsored their team and all the other people playing on the team were friends. "You and D would have a blast!" she enthused.
The idea of having a team of friends to spend weekends with--boating, bar-hopping, barbecuing--appealed to me. At this point in my life we had no "couple friends." D had his co-workers and teammates, I had my co-workers and, well, I had my co-workers and D was not inclined to hang out with any of my people, so my eagerness to hook up with a group of fun people overruled my common sense.
"I'm in!" I told her.
Then I went home and told D we'd be playing on a coed softball team and he explained that no, I would be playing on a coed softball team because he already had signed up for a men's golf league on that night of the week.
My enthusiasm still ran high, who cared if D was part of my new team of friends? Jen gave me a cool shirt to wear at our first game and invited me to join them for a practice before the season began. I could hardly wait to meet my new friends and Jen assured me that any time D was free and wanted to join us, he was very welcome.
Reader, I don't need to tell you how I throw like a girl, right? I mean, I am a girl, so that stands to reason. D tried to coach me a bit on my form, but my throwing arm was pretty hopeless.
And I didn't catch the ball too consistently.
I also couldn't hit the ball at all.
At the first practice I was awed by everyone's official-looking bat bags and cleats. I was wearing cut off jeans and sneakers. I hung in and gave it my best shot, and everyone was very kind.
Then the season began. I was parked in the outfield where I could do the least amount of damage. I think all summer only two balls got hit in my direction and the center fielder, a woman who'd played high school softball, sprinted across the turf to snag the balls and expertly lob them towards the second baseman.
Unfortunately, I caused more damage at bat. Every single time I was up, I whiffed and struck out. As the season progressed I could feel my team's irritation growing. It occurred to me that Jen hadn't recruited me (a huge liability), she'd wanted to recruit D. This occurred to me because Jen and her husband kept asking, "Isn't D free to come watch you play? He could play with us! We have an extra shirt in his size!"
Each passing week as Tuesday night approached I became filled with more dread. I didn't like driving alone to the park, finding the diamond (there were so many), navigating through the men's teams, and looking like a doof in my work out clothes next to the athletes in their baseball pants, cleats and hats. I couldn't comprehend the warm-up drill where people tossed the ball across the infield and outfield in a strange and ever-changing pattern that everyone else could predict. I definitely did not like going out alone to the bar after the game, the only lone woman in a team of couples. But worst of all, I hated taking my turn to bat.
At first people tried to help me, provide suggestions, encouragement. Eventually they resigned themselves to the fact that I Could. Not. Hit. The. Ball. At all. Ever. Probably not even if it was lying perfectly still on the ground.
I'd get up to bat, stand cringing in front of home plate and the pitcher would wind up to throw the ball.
Strike three. You're out.
That depressing scene played out week after week without any variation.
About midway through my season of shame I begged D to help me out. "They're beginning to hate me. They really wanted you to play, not me. If you showed up and crushed the ball over the fence, they'd get over it and like us both!"
"I don't want to play softball," he argued (legitimately, I'll add). "This is your thing, not mine."
Finally, at the very end of the season, I managed to convince D to play the last two games. Even his amazing performance couldn't erase how miserably I played softball. I continued my hitless season right through the last inning.
That fall Jen started coming a bit later to the fitness club, so we rarely ran into each other. I'll never know whether she was deliberately avoiding me or not. I ran into one of the other couples a year later at a gas station. The woman was friendly in her greeting and explained that they were off to meet other teammates for the day, their boat was hitched to the back of their truck. I watched them pull away and wondered if I couldn't have become part of their group if I had been able to hit the damn ball. Some time after that I came across my team t-shirt in my dresser and I stuffed it into the bag destined for the thrift shop. I can't even drive past the bar that sponsored the team without feeling my cheeks burn a little.
Reader, softball was one thing far outside of my comfort zone.