I have never been big on team sports. Ever since one disastrous Little League season in which my team made it all the way to third place in all of West Los Angeles County – and I made it all the way from the bench to the forgotten depths of right field – I’ve known better than to try and attempt any sort of group sporting activity. It’s not that I’m not athletic – I run, swim, kickbox, do yoga, pilates, bootcamp, and all the requisite oceanic activities anyone who grew up in a beach town loves to do. I even like sports – well, sort of. I’m an avid Lakers fan, I regularly root for the Dodgers and whoever is playing against the Giants, I even enjoy my fair share of water polo games. So you see, it’s not sports that are the problem for me; it’s that whole team thing.
Growing up in a small town, albeit a small town adjacent to L.A., I was well aware of the importance of youth sports as a community bonding experience from a very young age. Without a decent football team, Malibu residents were left to rally around two things – water polo and Little League. I played polo as part of a brief stint on a club swim team, and although I enjoyed it, it never stuck. Little League, however, was not as easy to get out of. As soon as I was old enough for T-ball, I was spending my Saturdays squeezing my rapidly-growing behind into those white baseball pants that were always and inevitably far too tight for me.
Sausage casings masquerading as uniforms aside, Little League was a hellish experience. With parents whose entire lives revolved around their star center-fielder, my adequate-at-best baseball skills were constantly under the microscope – and under attack. Whenever I went to bat, I felt like each strike was an affront to most of the parents, and a straight-up offense to the more – ahem – involved parental units. It was not the most supportive psychological environment, especially not for a chunky girl with lots of frizzy hair, very little natural athletic ability, and a whole bunch of self-esteem problems. Thank god for sour straws at the snack shack. Nothing says comfort like sugarcoated, soury goodness.
Anyway, suffice it to say that when I was propositioned to join The Bad News Beers – the intramural softball team from my work – I was skeptical to say the least. Not only would I be opening myself up to all those lingering Little League issues, but word on the street was that there wasn’t even a snack shack near the field. What would I do? Well, I sucked it up and I let myself literally get pulled out of yoga one afternoon and dragged down to the softball field. I’m not going to lie; the butterflies were raging in my stomach. Doubts were flying through my mind faster than the balls flying over my head, and the only thing I could think of was how much my coworkers were going to make fun of me when I inevitably lost the game for everyone. What I wouldn’t have given for some sour straws and an overzealous coach to bench me that afternoon.
Unfortunately, there was no bench-time to be had. Our team had exactly enough girls to play, and so play I did. I played catcher. I went to bat not once, but at least three times. And I hit the ball. That’s right, I hit the ball; and I hit it hard. Well, hard enough to get me a run and get someone else batted in. In one game, I had already managed to achieve more in terms of scoring points than I did in three years of Little League. Something was very different about intramural softball.
It’s been almost a whole intramural season since that first game, and things just keep getting better. There’s been more hitting and even some catching too. Sure, I’ve fouled up a play or two, but I haven’t been kicked off the team yet. And everyone is more than willing to keep letting me play – and not just at the farthest outskirts of the outfield. I suppose one could argue that I’m older, at least a little wiser, and a good deal more confident now. The big difference could also be attributed to the fact that I work out every day now, and back then my major workout consisted of going from the couch to the pantry and back again. But, I think that the difference has more to do with my teammates than with me.
Back when I was playing softball, I was lucky to get positive encouragement when I shared my sour straws with the rest of the team. The rest of the time, the encouragement extended to being told not to mess up too badly when I went to bat. There was also that day when the coach gave me the game ball after the one and only time I actually made contact with the little round bugger. Granted, I had hit a straight foul, but still. Either way, team spirit always took a backseat to competitive drive when I played Little League. As far as traumatic childhood experiences go, I know being the token Little League loser is no big deal, but it was enough to scare me away from team sports for quite some time.
Lucky for me, my friends didn’t let me stay scared. Instead, they dragged me out to the field, put a bat in my hand, and forced to me to face my fears of failure. Like any good cheesy inspirational sports story, the support and encouragement of my teammates helped me overcome my inner obstacles and succeed – or at least not suck as badly as I thought I would. The moral of the story is, of course, you can do anything you set your mind to – or anything you get dragged into doing by force and the promise of post-game pints. Not to mention the fact that intramural sports turned out to be way more fun and way less scarily competitive than I thought it would be. Our team name may be The Bad News Beers, but our games are nothing but good times – even if intramural softball does suffer from a serious lack of sour straws.