January 15, 2013

In 1991, I “auditioned” for a new softball team. I had been playing slow pitch/arc in town but had become a bit bored, so when some old friends from Brooklyn told me about their fast-pitch team in Freehold, I thought I’d give it a shot.

In the first at bat of the first day of “spring training,” I pulled a soleus muscle stretching a single into a double. It felt like someone had thrown the ball at me and hit me in the calf. It hurt, but no so much that I was about to pull myself out of the game. In fact, if memory serves, I went 7-8 in the double header and didn’t have to do much work in the outfield.

Of course, once the adrenaline wore off…

It took about seven weeks to heal completely, without the benefit of any kind of physical therapy; just rest and anti-inflammatories. I went on to have a very good season and stayed with the team for another couple of years, when I broke the pinky on my glove hand while playing third base. Of course, it took be two weeks and countless painful bumps before I found out it was broken and submitted most unwillingly to surgery — two days before we moved into a new house.

After taking a couple of years off, I tried the local slow pitch thing again and didn’t really feel a comeradery with my teammates. Then I turned 50. ­čśŤ

As the sports editor for the paper, I received request to publicize a 50-and-older league but because it was not specifically Jewish, we couldn’t use it. I could use it however, and to make an already too-long story shorter, I joined and have had a pretty good time since.


In the first game with my team, playing second base, I tried to turn a double play on a low throw from our third baseman. After the relay to first, my finger felt a bit odd, but I attributed that to the very cold evening. Upon further examination, I saw the pointer digit ad an unnatural angle. Without even thinking, I jerked it back into place and went about my business.Again, no PT, just some OTC drugs.

These games were different than the ones in Freehold, taking place several times a week rather than just Sundays, so I was forced into a DH role for a week or so.

I say this all as a (very) lengthy intro to what the TV networks would consider a “crossover episode” (think Law and Order meets Homicide: Life on the Street) as we consider quarterback Robert Griffin III’s injury in the NFL Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks.

RG3, as he is popularly called, underwent┬á five hours of surgery to repair ligament damage sustained during the game, on top of injury earlier in the season. The rookie had been cleared by the Redskins’ medical staff and obviously wanted to play, given the importance of the situation. A lot of blame went around as to who was responsible; many called for the firing of head coach Mike Shanahan and/or team consulting physician Dr. James Andrews.

The point is, professional athletes, at least those at the highest levels of the game (or those in which teams have made major investments), receive a level of care usually unavailable to the weekend warrior. The pressures all around are enormous. After all, the careers are extremely limited; the average for most is less than six years, so you don’t want to spend a moment more than necessary off the field.

Pardon the Interruption discussed this yesterday. The show is based in Washington, DC, and both Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon worked for the Washington Post, so the connection with the Redskins is perhaps a bit stronger for them than the majority. They spoke about him with sadness, as if this had happened to a member of their own families, as they wonder about his future.

Former Major Leaguer Doug Glanville contributed this piece for Time about who’s in charge of an athlete’s body. Eye-opening stuff. And none of these even touches on the scandal and long-lasting “legacies” of head injuries that have been in the news the past couple of years.

The cliche is that an athlete gives his all to his team/employer, but time eventually runs out. And since sports is, after all, a business, these young men (and women) eventually get cast aside.

Several years ago, a Senior Professional Baseball League had a run. The idea, not unlike my 50+ league, was to put former Major Leaguers on a level playing field, so to speak, and give fans an opportunity to see them one more time. But the League, under the commissionership of Curt Flood, failed; I guess it was too sad to see these former stars in the diminished light of time.

Me? I’m still going to play as long as I can. A Jim Bouton famously concluded his Ball Four, “You spend your life gripping a baseball, and it turns out that it was the other way around all along.”


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