I still don’t know why I did (maybe Mum or Dad can help out here) but I played softball for a season when we lived in Eastbourne. It wasn’t long after we had arrived in New Zealand and though I was an overweight Pom, I somehow decided that it would be a good idea to choose the sport that the boys too rough for cricket were exiled to and given aluminium bats.
Other than my bulging waistline, I bore no resemblance to Babe Ruth. I couldn’t catch, my throw was about half that of my team mates and I would strike out more times than Charlie Brown. In fact, the only chance I had at bat was if I bunted and even then I’d have to rely on a miss-field to give me any chance of making first base. As a result I was put at the tail of the batting line-up and normally thrown into deep left field when we took to the diamond.
There were about 11 players on my team but with childhood illness and family holidays there were always a couple of kids missing except once, when the planets aligned and on this particular Saturday, everyone turned up to play. At the same time, our opposition had a player AWOL. It was only the equivalent of little league so our coach took me to one side and said I was lucky because I got to play a whole game for the opposition rather than only half a game for our side. I was shy and didn’t want to collaborate with a bunch of kids I didn’t know so said that I’d rather play half a game but he just laughed and sent me over to the enemy.
This isn’t some feel good movie, I still sucked but for once my ineptitude with bat, ball and glove was actually helping my team to win. About half way through the game, just after my second dropped catch, a car pulled up and a young boy came running across the playing fields bat in hand. The missing player had turned up! I started walking towards where my side was sitting, waiting for their turn at bat, when my coach started complaining that once a player had begun a match they couldn’t swap onto the other team. The other coach wasn’t going to get stuck with some no-hands defector so he argued that it was only fair that the new kid had some game time. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, a compromise was met and the late arrival took my place while I had to sit out the rest of the game.
Having seen the ugly side of organized sport, I chose not to play softball the following year. I did eventually take up cricket and while I was no Don Bradman, at least I always made it on to the field of play.