Running on empty

Hey, who moved second base?

Sure used to be a lot closer.

At least, that’s what I thought as rounded first base, looked to second, and wondered when the bag was now so distant. It certainly seemed farther away then when I ran out doubles years ago.

But I continued on this familiar path as the throw came in from the outfielder. It was going to be close, closer than I expected after slashing a line drive to left-center, so I had no choice. I had to slide.

I have slid into bases hundreds of times, but not for several years.

Still, I dropped into a perfectly acceptable skid and was called safe, which I was, too. My teammates, surprised to see a nearly 61-year-old player stretching a hit and hitting the dirt, issued some cheers. I smiled as I stood up, glancing down at the blood already dripping toward my left ankle.

Yes, I slid on a hard infield while wearing shorts. It was a warm night, and I haven’t had to wear sweat pants all season. I also hadn’t slid for several years, but I am moving better this season, thanks to swimming and walking I have been doing.

So that explains the blood, the pain and the sore leg I experienced for the next several days. As I limped around the house, and squirmed in pain and discomfort a few nights later, I wondered why the heck I didn’t just stay at second. I didn’t score, anyway, as they next matter made a routine out.

It was all for naught, but it sure felt great. Well, other than the pain that had me searching for salve and Tylenol at 2:13 a.m. Saturday.

I always loved to run the bases. Along with playing center field, it was one of my favorite parts of summer and softball. I was fast when I was young, and ran well as I moved through my 20s and 30s. Beating out infield hits, hitting doubles, triples and some inside-the-park home runs were one of the reasons I loved softball.

I always could hit. As a small kid, I swung the bat well and people noticed. As I aged, could hit line drives past infielders and slam a few balls over and between outfielders. If I didn’t hit .600 I considered it a bad season, and in some co-ed leagues, I approached a .900 batting average. Yes, I always could hit.

I think hitting is like spelling and a sense of direction. They are skills you are born with, talents that are with you intrinsically. I always could hit, at home with family and friends, in school during recess or in gym class, or on a softball diamond.

I also was and a good speller. Direction, however, has been a lifelong challenge. I am finally getting a better grasp on north, south, east and west, but I still wouldn’t pick me to lead an expedition into the wilderness.

If it had been Lawrence and Clark, they never would have made it from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back. You learn to live with your assets and minimize your weaknesses.

While I remain able to swing the bat, and have enjoyed regular visits to some fancy batting cages, where I work on my swing in modern style and comfort, other parts of my game have withered. I moved out of CF years ago, and now pitch or play first or third base. Even there, line drives I once snagged now zip past me, or, even worse, strike me.

Running the bases, an often-neglected part of the game I cherished, has become a smaller part of my repertoire as I grew larger. I still know what to do and sense opportunities, but I also realize I am unlikely to make it safely to the next base. But I grew bold one more time and made it, willingly paying the painful price.

Maybe that’s why I really didn’t mind the sting as I rolled over in bed, or as I bumped my left shin as it slowly scabbed over and healed. It’s a reminder, however painful, of something I did again after a few years, and how much I still enjoyed it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I will do it again this season. I’m not crazy about pain.

Plus, I suspect they are moving second base even further away from first every game.

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