I Miss You Guys, And Boy, Do I Miss The Games

This is a personal revelation, but one that I expect many old ballplayers can relate to.
I’ve kept it to myself until now. But this newspaper that I work for wants us to blog about our lives, and this is what’s been on my mind for the past few weeks. Months, to be honest.
To make a long story short, I suppose this little entry of mine can be thought of as an open letter to my old fastpitch softball teammates. I’ve played fastpitch softball in pretty much an unbroken career since I started my own team in Allendorf, Iowa, while I was still in high school. I’m 56 now, and this is my first year of my announced retirement.
Technically, I didn’t announce at all. But it was strongly hinted at, I think, at the 2012 national tournament in North Mankato, where I lived and worked at the time. I skipped the nationals, as I skipped many of our tournaments last year, due to a frustrating rotator cuff injury that I couldn’t shake. It left me unable to throw a softball with any velocity, and it compromised my swinging of a bat. I knew I was no help to my teammates in this condition, so I reluctantly moved to the shadows.
I was in the deepest shadows during the nationals. In fact, I didn’t show up for it until late on the last day of the tournament, watching from afar. It makes me feel weird to hang out with my teammates during a big tournament when I’m unable to play. Though they’re a great bunch of guys, I feel like a third wheel. I’m not comfortable in the cheerleader’s role if I can’t be part of the real action.
I only appeared for the final two innings of one game. Some of my teammates might have seen me in the bleachers, but if they did they didn’t let on. So I watched them complete an amazing comeback to secure a victory. Part of me, of course, wanted to join the celebration on the field afterward, but the other part of me —the stronger part of me — just wanted to go home.
And that’s what I did. I left them to their celebration. I watched for a few moments, then I quietly got up from the bleachers and walked to my car. I thought to myself, “I guess this is the way that it ends. As the poet says, ‘Not with a bang but a whimper.’”
Well, it’s an embarrassing way to end a long career in the sport I have always loved. I guess it makes me look a little small. It makes me look like I was just feeling sorry for myself on that final day at Caswell Park.
And maybe you’re right. Emotionally, I was sorry a very important part of my life was skidding to an end. I wanted my fastpitch days to go on forever. I always told my family and friends, “Other players have to get old. Their knees give out, their backs go out … but I’m going to be the exception. I’m going to stay young forever.”
Of course, it was a ridiculous statement to make. Nobody can stay young forever.
This episode has gotten me thinking about something that happened when I was 11 or 12. It occurred at the old Woolworth’s store in Worthington. I was aimlessly walking through the premises with my dad and I heard him say “Why you ol’ …” to somebody. When I turned, he was busily engaging with an old guy, and standing next to him was a classmate of mine, Bill Pearson. Now, Bill and I were not friends at the time. In fact, we hardly ever said two words to each other. But it turns out that this old guy was Bill’s dad, and my dad and Mr. Pearson were old teammates on dad’s amateur baseball team many, many years earlier.
To hear those two old guys swap baseball stories, smiling and slapping each other on the shoulder like two brothers in arms, awed me. And it must have been an awe-inspiring sight to Bill, too. That very next day in school, we began a friendship that lasts to this day.
That was the day I learned that the friendships of old teammates can’t ever be broken.
Fastpitch pals, what I guess I want to say is this: It’s hard for me, now, to come to your games because the emotions are still raw. But I look forward to seeing you again on the street, or somewhere else where we least expect it, maybe 20 years from now. And I hope that meeting takes both of us back to some of the happiest years of our lives.

3 Responses

  1. Matt

    Couldn’t agree more…I am 35 still playing and will undoubtedly loath the day I have to quit playing. I grew up in Fulda/Avoca going to my dads games as a kid in the early to mid 80’s Michaels Steakhouse/ Worthington Sports Center teams; went to games in Dundee, Windom, Worthington, Slayton etc tournaments it seemed every weekend….. being the bat boy thinking to myself how cool it would be to someday do what they were doing. Now I look back at having been playing the game since I was about 16 or so and wonder where 20 years went. Hopefully I can make 20 more like you did. GREAT story!!!

    1. Doug Wolter

      Thanks for the response. Enjoy your fastpitch years while you can. And when you retire, no one can take away the memories.

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