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" …the sort of ball Jesus would play."

Over root beer floats at the Dairy Queen after the game, I asked why they did this, this being ChurchLeague slow pitch softball. "Why wouldn't you?", was the response. Never having belonged to any church in my entire adult life, the idea had never occurred to me. My team sport of choice has always been solo yard work, being the extreme introvert and homebody that I am. I have trouble meeting up with myself, so the idea that a dozen folks might manage to converge at the same place at the same time throughout an early summer season to play a series of weeknight and weekend games baffles me. In theory, it seems possible, but in practice, impractical, but in this small midwestern city, impracticality seems little encumbrance to actually pulling off such an unlikely anything.

My brother-in-law and I had just watched a double-header, home team losing both games. The play seemed baseball-ish, varying only in degree from the baseball I'm accustomed to. The balls are day glow yellow
, a different size for male and female batters. The players carry varying degrees of proficiency, many perhaps reliving their childhoods in middle-aged bodies. The pitchers lob high hand grenade arches. Batters swing on the slow hypnotizing downward drop. Home base is a scant green rug the wind continually dislodges. If the ball hits the rug, it's a strike. If not, a ball. ChurchLeague might be the sort of ball Jesus would play. Every hitter comes to the plate with one strike already against them, but also one ball. The game moves quickly.

Players range in age from teens to retirees. Some show real talent for the game while others provide more spirit than skill. Each takes their risk, each takes their turn. Nobody knows what might happen next. The short woman on the opposing team with the woodchopper grip slams a seeing eye line drive single through the hole to left. The guy affecting too much authenticity by wearing knickerbockers and long socks strikes out looking. Some plays degrade into slapstick. Others surprise and delight. All play occurs in slow motion. The eye is only rarely deceived. Good effort seems as valued as good results. Nobody's really keeping score.

I suppose purists might find themselves deeply offended by this style of play, but I also suppose that purists take special joy in creating offenses. Why else construct a perfectionist's expectation in a certainly less than perfect world? Maybe only regular church goers can still muster the genuine generosity required to delight in the perfectly normal melange of imperfections embodied in any ChurchLeague slow pitch softball team. We're all amateurs, but seem to carry the deep need to affect professional airs. These teams fully qualify as dream teams, with each player carrying their own dreams of prior proficiency and current possibility. That these aspirations mostly don't manifest hardly matters. A homer is a homer, regardless of the extenuating circumstances. Nobody long remembers whether someone gained first base on a fielding fumble or a clever squirt into right field, both were equally accidental. Consistency seems truly optional. Innocence, though, seems absolutely essential.

In a world lately dominated by endlessly stressful searches for elusive excellence, it might make sense to deliberately engage in any predictably humbling activity, one scaled to human rather than superhuman potential. As humans, we hold an underused ability to appreciate each other exceeding any potential to wow any crowd. The crowd, too, holds the very real potential to cheer for effort rather than simply result. Not one of those players demonstrated the ability to produce flawless play, not even the guy who whacked four homers. He walked away from the plate skunked by slow motion hand grenade lobs, too, and missed a few sure thing line drives through third; a hero of the "lost" game at the Dairy Queen, anyway.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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