The Kids of Summer

Thanks to Alice for snapping this shot from September 6. Age range: roughly 16 to 66.

We started our Free Play pick-up softball league in April on the first Sunday after tax day. We’ll play until it becomes too insane to play. This usually means sometime in November, several Sundays after it is merely insane to play.

In a month we’ll hit the third anniversary of the Sunday when I lost a ball in the late fall sun and caught it with my nose. This turned out to be the $6,000 catch, as far as the medical assessment went. This is meaningful this year because I found my old confidence in left field only to lose it on my worst fielding day ever a month ago. As Walt said to me, “Snake bit, eh?”

This year has been interesting for several reasons. First, from May through the end of July, as a result of an email notification experiment, the game attracted between 24 and 30 players. Everybody gets to play–as long as he or she has reached the age of 11–so, as the person who divides the mob into two, the resulting line-ups were obviously long, with eleven fielders, and as many as four people rotating in every inning.

I wondered out loud with Alice and Dave, what this meant for the ethos of the game. It was clear at the time that the game’s remarkable consensual process of accommodation was coming under some pressure from players, including myself, who weren’t 100% dedicated to an experiment morphed to include a substantial degradation in playing time and plate appearances.

Dave, on the other hand, simply told me, “Hey, after July 4th, the turn out will fall back to normal.” Well, it did, but the email announcements were halted too!

Among several developments, two more stand out. Two new players, Mark Jr. and Mark Sr. have come out and delighted the old timers with their consistent and crafty play. Mark Jr. is both a golden glover and a tricky, tactical hit-to-any field batter. He was part of a paradigmatic moment last week, when he drove a swinging bunt fifteen feet down the line and made it safely to first. Except, he was called back for crafting a “bunt-like” hit, where the rule is no bunting. But, it wasn’t a bunt.

He protested to me that “It isn’t fair to make up a new rule in the middle of a game.”

I told him, “It’s fair if you look at it a different way. But, it’s also the kind of game where an unfair rule gets conjured when it serves a bigger purpose.”

It took me a few seasons to embrace how situational rulings emerge in ‘free play!’

The other really notable development is the blossoming of Cat. He’s 16, perhaps? Wiry. He’s been playing off and on for five years. After a big growth spurt, he’s truly arrived with a beautiful swing, rapidly improving fielding instincts in left field, and, well, he’s always been quick as a cat.

It was sometime in mid May he launched a ball about 300 feet and about 100 feet behind where I was stationed in left field. (After nine years patrolling left, I’d guess it was a top five blast.) There’s no fence, so you turn and fetch the home run ball. Fluke? No, several at bats later he hit one 50 feet beyond my more prudent–but not prudent enough–position. He hit it about 275 feet.

Stand back, Cat’s at bat!

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