In the springtime, a young man’s fancy turns to baseball. When baseball careers fade, an aging man turns to softball, and past the body’s safe softball age, an old man pretty much says goodbye to his balls altogether.
He still has his beer-belly sports though, and I’m playing a couple of those this weekend, rolling a 16-pounder and whacking a smaller ball into the stratosphere. All in all, it should be a ball for all, called the “Second annual Simon Augedahl Memorial Bags ’n Bogey’s Tournament. A good time and good memories of a good man and legendary long-hitter.
But let’s talk softball and memories of my 20s and 30s when the men’s softball league was a bastion of male revelry. I was young, strong and virile with long thick hair, and I ran the bases with minimum wheezing.
My first softball summer when I returned to Cody at 20, I joined my two brothers’ team “Men’s Christians,” led by elder statesman and pitcher, Irv Gerber. Opposing us with mocking, maddening glee was a team of rapscallions officially called “Chief Service,” but they much preferred the self-titled handle “The Heathens.”
Mark Skates and company weren’t a bunch of atheists or anything. I’m sure many were church-going chaps taking communion and going to confession, but I’m sure the priest enjoyed their confessions much more than they would have ours. Far from an altar boy myself at the time, I secretly hung around after games to drink beer under the lights with them Heathens.
So here was Skates, Jim Beahm, little George Francis and other yahoos going against us so-called Christians. If that wasn’t rattling enough, there was Billy “Blackie” Blake, often wearing some kind of fake, obscene nose as he passed around a bottle of tequila between innings. How could our sincere, pregame prayer compete against that?
We had our big cooler of ice water trying to hold up against Coors on ice. Heck, sometimes they even carried their beers along while running the bases, getting the goats of the Christians.
We chattered tired clichés like, “Hey batter; hey batter … he can’t hit!” While they guffawed things like, “Hey Georgie, for striking out, guess who’s buying the beer next game?” They’d howl overbearingly as my teammates would roll their eyes and forgive.
Oh, but how we Christians came to hate those Heathens. Our epic games always ended 8-7, 5-4, etc; always in their favor! Skates asked me a while back, “Remember that game you guys were up 5-0 in the last inning and we came back and beat you 6-5?” I growled, “Well, aren’t you a dear to remember!”
I endured a season or two, but even my brothers knew I was destined to convert and did eventually take my infield place amongst the jolly sinners like a coming-of-age Quaker boy leaving the commune. By then called “Jack’s Sports,” they adopted and raised me as one of their own. I drank and played “dizzy-izzy” with the Ballingers, John Wiley, Francis and other wild notables. I think I even borrowed Blackie’s fake nose a time or two.
This weekend I play with different, older balls, but my desire to win remains young.