Blockin' the Plate
This past Saturday, I got the opportunity to play softball with my friends' church team. It's a C-league team made up of people about my age that I usually go watch and hang out with, but due to a couple injuries, I was given the opportunity to fill in for a game.
Now, bear in mind that I haven't actually played softball or baseball in years. I've wanted to, but I had difficulty finding a team to join and with (in recent days) paying for a roster spot for myself. That said, I watch so much baseball on television or at the stadium that I feel pretty well-versed in how to play most positions and how to position myself on a variety of plays.
Normally, I would play shortstop or first base, given that those are my preferred positions. I try to shy away from the outfield because I have a weak right shoulder (my throwing arm) from an injury back in 10th grade. I can throw, but my shoulder tires very quickly and if I make certain throwing motions with a high degree of torque, I can strain it. For Saturday's game, however, I made my first ever start at catcher.
Now, in softball, the catcher's job is pretty much nothing like you'd see in a baseball game. There's no real required stance, no setting up of one's glove as a target, no pads or face guards, and the only real job duty is "grab the ball as it comes bouncing toward you if the batter (somehow) misses hitting it." It's a fairly routine position without much danger involved, save for when you're attempting to block the plate and tag out a runner (as I'll explain later).
Anyway, when I got out onto the field, our pitcher got a couple warm-up tosses in and the first batter dug in. We were playing another C-league church team composed of people a few years older than the average of our team, though that didn't stop them from being tough competitors. Two pitches in, batter #1 grounded out to shortstop. Batter number two hit the first pitch he saw to left-center for a double. #2 was a bigger guy, solid with a bit of a gut and a few inches shorter than me. I knew that if batter #3 got a hit, I might get a chance at the plate. Sure enough, #3 laced a rope into left field, and #2 came racing around third. The throw came in to home about two steps ahead of the batter. Somehow I managed to (a) catch the ball, (b) tag the runner, and (c) hold on to the ball. As I made the tag, #2 went into a slide and took out my right knee, causing me to fall to the dirt and scraping my legs up nicely in the process. However, the umpire saw that I had held the ball and called the runner out at the plate!
I got a nice cheer from my teammates in the dugout and on the field, which I heard in the back of my mind as I was rolling around. If you've never had a 280-pound person throw himself into your legs causing hyperextension of the knee before blunt force trauma and abrasion of the same knee, I don't really recommend it. It hurts. I was able after a couple seconds to get to my feet on my own, but for some reason, the slide had caused my entire right knee to go completely numb. I had difficulty walking on it, though I did try to walk it off. It was apparently obvious that it was bothering me, though, and my team brought in another person to play catcher while I was walking it off the remainder of the inning. After taking a couple laps around the complex, I tried running on it and succeeded without any pain, so I was good to go.
My first time at bat was in the second inning, and I struck out in spectacular fashion. Remember, I hadn't batted in years, so I was definitely rusty. I fouled off the first pitch at the plate, then utterly, completely, and totally missed the second pitch to complete the K.
In the third inning, I was back out at catcher in an inning which seemed to go on forever. About the fifth or sixth batter of the frame, with runners on first and second, the batter ripped another liner to left field, and the runner on second charged home. The throw came in to me a bit off the mark, but I snared it, turned, and tagged the runner a half-step before he crossed home plate standing. It was the second out of the inning, and I got overexcited that I'd actually made the play so (not thinking) I gave a fist pump and allowed a runner to advance to third (oops... I wasn't actually trying to show up anyone... I was just thrilled to have succeeded in making the out!).
Back up at bat in the fourth, I took the first pitch to get a look at it... right over the exact center of the plate. I mean, if the pitch could possibly have been thrown more perfectly, I don't see how. I felt a little stupid for taking it, but I did get a feel for the pitch and vowed to swing at #2. I did, and I connected solidly for a little bloop single to center. Power hitting, perhaps not, but I did get on. As I pulled into first base, my knee was beginning to ache, and I didn't even make a move toward second. The team coach I think saw this and pulled me for a pinch-runner, for which I was grateful - he came around to score.
Later in the bottom of the fourth, I had a third chance to assist in getting an out. Runners on second and third, one out. The batter hit a fly ball to shallow left-center field, which was misplayed. The runner from second went to third while the runner on third scored. The throw came in to me and I looked the runner back at third as the batter-runner moved toward second. I threw to second right on the money, and the ball was dropped as the runner slid in. Had it been played cleanly, I think it would have been an easy out, but that's what happens. I feel comfortable saying that my throw was a good one regardless.
My third time at bat was nothing special. I swung at the first pitch again because I saw it well and felt I could get it, and I popped it up softly to shortstop. I barely got out of the batter's box before it was caught, but at least it was only the first out of the inning. So, my batting totals for the day were 1-for-3 with a single, no RBI, no runs scored, one total base. My defensive totals would be two outs at the plate on three chances, one failed attempted assist at second, no errors (my judgement, of course), and no passed balls.
I found out later from my teammates that they'd never had a catcher make two outs at the plate in the same game for them before, so I can now claim that, too. We won the game, 16-7. Afterward, we all high fived the other team (reminded me of little league, really!) and I went and found the guy that took me out. I told him, "nice slide" and he asked if I was okay. I told him I was and thanks for asking.
After that, I sat out game two as there were other people promised to play in that contest, though I did keep score and play first base coach (which I found that I am TERRIBLE at). I was secretly a little glad I didn't try to play the second game, as my knee was starting to stiffen up and ache again. The team ended up losing game two 19-9, though in their defense it was a one-run game until the final inning of play when the other team scored 10 runs. After the games, we all went to IHOP for food and to wind down. I treated myself to an ice cream sundae, which was delicious, and then went home to relax.
I took some Excedrin for my knee, and the caffeine in that (as a pain reducer) kept me awake for a while to watch Baseball Tonight on TV. All yesterday, I hobbled around as it was painful... well, I don't know if it was painful or just a strong ache... to bend my knee. Today, it's much better and hardly hurts except for right when I try to stand for just a second. There is, however, still a numb spot around the area where I got all scraped up. It's not worrysome as much as it intrigues me. It's just the skin, not the underlying muscles or tendons, but it's definitely numb. Kind of cool in a weird, I-hope-it's-not-permanent sort of way.
With only two games left in the C-league season, I hope to get another chance to play next Saturday, provided that my knee's back to normal. I had a great time with it despite the injury... and either way, the adrenaline from making a couple of really good plays kept me focused on the game rather than my knee!