It’s been 18 years since I stood on this grassy, triangular plane with my mitt on my hand. Why the hiatus from softball? I suppose part of it’s because coaching and encouraging my kids’ fervor for the sport through their own growing years superseded my personal need to partake in America’s favorite pastime.
Or maybe the reason lies in the inconsistency of having to work 24-hour medic cars in addition to overtime shifts to pay for my son’s gotta-have-it, $450, titanium, gold-trimmed, NASA-approved baseball bat.
Not buying it, huh? OK. So maybe the fear of getting injured attributed to my hesitancy to rejoin the park and recreation softball leaguers. I certainly didn’t have that fear factor before I became a medic. I mean, for crying out loud, how does one get hurt playing slow pitch with a soft ball? Well, it may be because more than 42 million Americans play softball, and one third of them consider beer a means of pre-emptive physical rehab.
Most of you EMS types have no doubt seen your fair share of softball injuries, including jammed, dislocated or broken fingers from those attempting to catch a ball without a glove (duh); sprained or broken ankles and lower extremities from sliding into fixed bases that fail to slide with them; torn rotator cuffs, fractured clavicles and wrists from falling while trying to catch a ball or tripping while rounding a base; facial fractures from line drives from those “soft” balls; and finally, those occasional poor heart attack victims who never should have hit more than a single while at bat.
I haven’t even begun to mention the massive throng of unreported dermal lacerations and abrasions, knee twists, hamstring pulls, quadriceps strains, groin tears, Achilles heel sprains and calf spasms that leave the agonized weekend warrior limping and whimpering for the next four days—before the next game aggravates everything all over again.
EMS certainly isn’t always a physically demanding job, but when we have critical patients, we’re often required to use all our physical faculties to their full capacity. I’ve seen many a medic who could ill afford to be sidelined from street medicine for months at a time incur injuries playing softball. So again, maybe that explains my 18-year lull.
So why take the chance of playing ball on a league again after all these years of bearing witness to unrelenting softball trauma (especially now, when my body reminds me every aching morning that Advil is the breakfast of champions)? I’m sure it’s partly because my children are away at college, and it’s time for me to again experience some joyful emotions of my youth—another Field of Dreams.
But, more importantly, I’ll be playing on our fire department’s baseball team. I’m fortunate enough to work in a system where EMS and fire live and work in the same house, and actually enjoy not only the public safety work we perform together but also take pleasure in each other’s company between calls.
However, in order to feel some triumph over the aging process, I’ll only play a position that minimizes the risk of embarrassing myself. I will not slide into any base, even if the game’s outcome depends on it. I won’t play the position of catcher—not with these un-lubricated, cot-lifting knees. I won’t dive into the hardened soil to catch a ball or risk colliding into anything.
A few games ago, two outfielders on my team ran into each other while going for a ball that was dropping between them. It was a high-quality crash when they made contact and went down. All the firefighters ran toward them. I assessed the scene from my right-center-field spot and determined that although they were dazed and bleeding, no ALS intervention was required. Camaraderie was one thing, but I still had my reputation to consider.
At the conclusion of every game played thus far, I find myself limping off the field either from an Achilles issue or a pulled hamstring. I still can’t hit the ball to the fence, and I resent the outfielders moving in a bit when I come to bat—even though I did strike out once. It amazes me that I could swing and miss a fluorescent green beach ball coming at me at the speed of a sloth on Versed running toward me. That reminds me, I still owe the team a case of beer for that embarrassing strikeout.
Despite all the potential drawbacks to “elderball,” I believe you can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of working with them. It’s too bad we don’t play more often between calls. Our team doesn’t wear fancy uniforms. We show up in shorts, tennis shoes and team T-shirts. We lose some, we win some. Each of us shows up, regardless of whether we’re hurting from the previous game or from a 9-1-1 call we went on during the shift before the game … then again, bowling is starting to look pretty good right now.
Until next time, ice and elevate. JEMS
This article originally appeared in August 2010 JEMS as “Playing Ball: Nothin’ soft about it.”