Who woulda thunk I’d discover what “team” was in beer league softball. 

I started playing slow pitch softball when I was 16, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I had just wrapped a very underwhelming (for me) season of American Legion baseball and I guess I had a month or so to kill before school and football workouts started. My uncle (Dr. Science) asked me to play. I’m not sure if his team found themselves short-handed part way through the season or if they needed someone who could run Yes, I used to be fairly fleet of foot, really! Whatever the circumstances I started playing for the “All-Nighter’s” in our country-church softball league. It was an inauspicious beginning to a summer ritual I would keep up for a little over 30 years.

Through those summers playing for the them and then Pleasant Hill in the same league when the All Nighters disbanded, until we both started to play for The Ponderosa Mall in Kearney I got to know a different kind of team. I’d been on baseball, football, basketball, and track teams for years and done all the typical “team” things with all the guys. I had experience with off-season workouts, camps, practices, pep rallies, long bus rides and of course games and meets but I’d never experienced this kind of team. These guys were typically older than me. They had wives and jobs and families. They had mortgages and bosses and in-laws and I got to know them outside of the game. Whether it was the good-natured ribbing and teasing while we warmed up or in the dugout or longer, more in-depth conversations around the tailgate or at the bar after the game I was privy to what was going on in their lives. Heck, I cared about these guys.

Not that I didn’t care about my high school teammates. We went through a lot of sweat and pain and wins and losses together. I knew who they were dating and a little about how classes were going for them, sometimes because of their absence at practice or games. And I suppose we talked a little in the locker room but with the exception of my two best friends I wasn’t really part of their lives. Now, please don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an indictment of my old teams or the players on them. Truth be told, more than anything it’s probably really more reflective of who I was back then and my own inabilities to make friends. I wasn’t a large-circle-of-friends guy then and I’m probably still not today; except when it comes to these guys and softball.

I was privileged to be a part of this group of guys that, with the exception of my uncle and a couple others, I had no previous connection to whatsoever and over the course of many summers I really got to know them. We went through and hashed out real-life adult stuff together. There were births and deaths and weddings and divorces and all that grown-up crap that early on I had no clue about. I spent a lot of time listening and I learned a lot just by hearing their stories. I drew a lot from their experiences and their foul-ups. I’d like to say it allowed me to avoid some of them later on but that’d be giving me way too much credit. The guys that I met and knew and oh yeah, played ball with, became some of my closest friends. And you can call it the beer talking but later on I wouldn’t have balked at telling them real, personal things about the stuff I was going through, mostly because they’d been through the same and sometimes worse.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all chatter and deep, heartfelt talks; we had a boatload of fun during those summers and I’d like to recount them but those guys still have wives and the statute of limitations may not have run out on some of that stuff. Still, as I got married and had kids I came to realize how much those softball games meant to those guys and me. Were we chasing our youth or unrealized glory? Yeah, maybe. Were we looking for some commiseration through the stuff that frustrated us in our lives? Almost definitely. Or were we really just looking for the fraternity and camaraderie that only a bunch of guys hanging out together, playing softball can offer? Without a doubt. These guys became lifelong friends.

We still get together once a year in Kearney at The Palm Garden during “Cruise Night” in the summer. We’re older, we don’t move as quickly and most of us don’t play any longer but we still slip into easy conversation over a beer. It’s far and away the most comfortable I’ve ever been in any group I’ve been a part of.

So here’s to all those guys. The guys I hung out with, laughed with, did life with and played a little bit of softball with for all those years. Long before the term “ballin” was a part of the common vernacular, the ‘Mall balled all.

There’s so much more to tell about these guys but any stroll down memory lane should, by rights, be a short one. I hope you have your own group that’s like these guys and maybe you would like to share it with them. That’d be nice, huh? Social icons are below to help you do that.

I’m not always this sappy but every week I send an email to my subscribers with links to the previous week’s posts. If you want to receive that, just click here. It’s free with no strings attached. 

If you would like to read more you can return to the home page by clicking this.