Monday, April 19, 2010

The Rules (by Billy Coffey)

It began two years ago with a simple conversation between one college softball player and one groundskeeper. I’m not sure who first said what. All I know is at some point one said something about being a much better ballplayer than the other, which was taken as an insult, which resulted in more insults, which resulted in the first ever softball game between the girls fastpitch team and the staff.

Last Wednesday was round three.

The games are always interesting. There is an extraordinary amount of fanfare involved, all of which can be boiled down to one word—pride. That’s what fuels these games. It’s not just pros against Joes, it’s the experience of age versus the cockiness of youth. Both teams are out to prove something, whether it be that that a bunch of old men can still kick it up a notch when needed or that the gals can hit and throw and run just as good—better, even—than the guys.

So while there is plenty in the way of friendly trash talking, there is also an undeniable seriousness beneath. My team doesn’t want to be beaten by a bunch of girls. Their team doesn’t want to be beaten by a bunch of groundskeepers, a few office workers, and a mailman.

It was an informal affair at best—no uniforms, no signals, and no stolen bases. And no umpire. Balls and strikes were called by the catchers, one of whom our team borrowed from the other. Baserunners were called safe or out based on consensus.

What could go wrong?

As it turned out, not much. For a while.

Because despite the combination of weakened knees and livers and lungs, us old guys were holding our own. And the young gals were holding theirs, despite the fact they’d been up for days cramming for finals. We were locked in a 1-0 pitchers duel.

But then through a series of walks and hits, we rednecks managed to load the bases with two outs.

Things were suddenly serious, and very much so. The chatter and clapping began in our dugout, while in the field the ladies were pounding their gloves and getting restless. And nervous.

The count ran full, and I could see the sweat building on the pitcher’s face. The intensity was getting to her. It was a look I’d seen before. No way she’d throw a strike.

And she didn’t. The ball sailed about four inches outside.

I jogged to third as the carousel of baserunners moved up one base. The runner ahead of me stomped on home plate with authority. We had a tie game.

Yes! Wait. No.

Because then the pitcher decided her last pitch was a strike after all, which was immediately agreed upon by her teammates.

Team Redneck protested in a most vehement way, of course. But in the end, there wasn’t much we could do about it. We took the field and vowed revenge our next at bat. Which never came, because after they batted they decided the game was over.

I didn’t stick around for the cookout afterwards. I imagine it was a quiet meal.
Me, I didn’t care that much. It was a chance for me to play some ball. The score was irrelevant. And I guarantee you that thought was echoed by most of the people on my team who just enjoyed playing like kids again. It didn’t bother us that we lost. What bothered us was how we lost.

We played by the rules. They didn’t.

You could see this whole episode as something bad. Not me. In fact, I see much good in it.

It lets me know that regardless of how often we’re reminded of how bad both the world and the people in it are, we still expect folks to follow the rules. To play fair. Most do. A lot don’t, of course, and never will. But as long as there is someone somewhere willing to take offense when the rules are broken, I really think we’ll be okay.

All of this has gotten me thinking about the rules my Dad first taught me about baseball. The ones I’m teaching my son now:

Play hard.

Practice much.

Don’t be afraid to get dirty.

Have fun.

Cheer for your teammates.

Keep your head up.

Win well. Lose better.

Shake hands when you’re done.

I like those rules. They’re good for baseball.

They’re good for life, too.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.


L.T. Elliot said...

I loved the rule about Win well and lose better. Sound, good rules for ball and life. Another home run, Billy.

Glynn said...

They're not just good rules for life; they're great rules for life.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Yeah, I agree, Great Rules for life!

Great story too!

Even greater story-telling!

Cassandra Frear said...

The victory does not always lie in the scores that men read and talk about it. Eternal things are often deeper than that.

What matters most is how we play, how we work, how we love, how we fight. And why.

Sandra Heska King said...

Yeah. What they said!

A Simple Country Girl said...

Yes! Wait. No.

That statement carries so much more than those three words. I love it.

May I post your daddy's rules on our fridge?


Helen said...

This will hurt them more than they know right now. Years from now, they will find that they can't go back and undo the wrong that was done that day. And it will hurt.

Graceful said...

Your story reminded me of one my husband told me recently, about a canoe race between the frumpy old professors and the cocky students at the college he teaches at. The race takes place every year -- usually the youths take off from the shore a little too enthusiastically and manage to dump the canoe in the mucky pond. This past year, though, the biology prof did the same, thrusting off the bank with his paddle and dumping the canoe not 2 feet from shore. He had a bit of a tantrum standing waist-deep in the campus pond, blaming his canoe-mate for leaning, when in fact, it was his too-ambitious paddling and his need to prove himself that tipped the canoe. It was kind of ugly.

So it seems the rules apply to everyone alike -- cocky college kids and cocky professors (hiding beneath the disguise of frumpiness!).

Beth E. said...

Our son (also named Billy)lives, eats, and breathes baseball. He played baseball from the time he was on a t-ball team all the way through high school.

He gets to work with the Greeneville, TN Astros this summer as an intern toward his business degree in tourism. He's beyond excited!

jasonS said...

I'll echo most everyone else and say I love those rules. Great story and great point, Billy. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the 'comical relief' sections to your stories. "and a mailman"

I love a story that can entertain as well as teach. Nicely done!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the 'comical relief' sections to your stories. "and a mailman"

I love a story that can entertain as well as teach. Nicely done!

Joyce said...

What a gyp!

♥ Kathy said...

I like those rules too. Great post!

Mary Aalgaard said...

When/how do people learn that winning is more important than playing fair? How do you feel triumphant over something taken, not earned? Good story.

Duane Scott said...

ARGH! I'll march over to that campus and kick some girl butt.

If there is one thing I can't handle, it's an unfair play.

Next time you play, I'm going to drive out there, play with you, and yes, I play dirty.

And if there's an unfair play, I won't shake hands. Okay, I might. But I'll do it with a glare in my eye. That's me. I'm only partial good.

Jake said...

Fun story! great rules, too!!