I think it began for me in high school gym class.
Like most guys of that age, I looked at the oversized, mushy ball and the slow, gentle parabola arc of the pitch and determined that softball was for girls and old men. As further evidence that I was correct, the Daily Times was filled with softball scores from … you guessed it, women's leagues and old men's leagues.
But then Mr. Hoopes, our 25-year-old, former University of Delaware all-star football player and present day gym teacher, had us play the game. Well, his version of the game anyway. My first surprise was that we used no gloves. The softball he brought out to gym class was so old and soft that no self-respecting 17-year-old guy would risk looking like the baby who started complaining about the no-glove policy.
And Mr. Hoopes decided he would be the steady pitcher. So there was no gentle arc, and barely any time to see the pitch since he seemed to be standing 15 feet away. I'm pretty sure I missed the first two pitches entirely before slapping a ball right back to the mound. As any gym teacher would do, he held the ball until I'd run almost all the way to first before throwing me out.
(I should mention here that I was actually on the men's baseball team at the time, which made this all the more embarrassing.)
Out on the field I took third base. And just as the pitcher stands closer to the batter, so are all of the bases closer together. This has two main effects on a third baseman: First, it feels like there will never be enough time to react to a smoking line drive headed for the privates; and second, if you don't field a ball perfectly there's no time to get the runner at first base.
Despite how all of this may sound, though, I actually did have fun playing softball. And that put me front and center with just about ever other Delaware County resident. I don't know if Delco has more softball leagues than anywhere else in America, but I wouldn't mind wagering that it does.
I've played in work leagues, beer leagues and completely unorganized let's-grab-a-bat-and-ball-and-head-to-the-park non-leagues. And I'm a piker as far as that goes.
I know guys and girls who have played softball every spring, summer (and sometimes autumn) for more than 30 years. They sometimes play in two or three leagues at once. They often play more games than the Phillies, with fewer off days (and full time jobs, to boot). They frequent the businesses that sponsor their teams, where they get to show off the championship trophies those sponsors are always happy to display.
So now that I'm completely sold on the challenge of softball, I guess it's golf that is the old guy sport in my mind. Then again, Mr. Hoopes' version of golf might have involved football-style pass rushers or baseball bats instead of clubs.
Hmmmm … that might be interesting.