Part 1: Same glove, new team
My return to sports this fall has given new meaning to 'field of dreams.'
This fall, I’ve been a point guard, a third basewoman and a youth soccer coach.
It’s been a blissful return to sports that, quite frankly, I’ve been dreaming of for 15 years.
This week, I’m posting a short little series on what I’ve been picking up in these pick-up games, starting with the sport I loved the most as a kid and played all the way through high school.
I’d been planning on joining a softball team the year I found out I was pregnant with Julian.
But life had other plans for me each fall for the following 14 years.
Driving past the towering lights of Krieg Field, the ache in my gut returned. I wanted to be out there. Those fields needed me like I needed them. Could I just join a team?
Over the years, there wasn’t enough interest at the Statesman to make a team — or we didn’t have enough energy to put one together — so I’d been fishing to get on a team, any team. For all the reasons (kids, work, sick dad), I just couldn’t make my way to a dugout. (Well, except for those three Reckless Kelly Celebrity Softball Jams. Those were so fun.)
But late this summer, I met a friend of Frank’s daughter at a family gathering and he casually mentioned that he was playing softball with his workmates.
“You’re on a team?” A familiar hope rose.
They always needed an extra player, he said, a bonus if it’s a woman, to help even out their numbers. The next game was the following week.
I showed up with cleats, a 25-year-old glove and my scrappy third base skills, and within one inning, became part of Team Papercuts. (All of the players except me work at Literati, the Austin-based book club membership website. Cute name, right?)
We didn’t win a single game and often lost by double digits, but there’s no quantifying the fun we had over these past couple of months. Shooting the breeze, spitting sunflower shells, watching the full moon rise over the outfield, Coors in the cooler, batty baseball banter.
The stuff of dreams, but, finally, not a dream.
We played a double header our last night, only losing by a few runs in the final game, which thrilled us as much as a win, to be honest.
We all got some action on the field and at the plate. One poor woman took two hard hits to the forearm, a souvenir she’d be taking with her to Ohio, where she and her husband, who was also on the team, were moving two days later.
It was the end of the season and the end of their time in Austin. In a week, she’d still be feeling that bruise and also be settling into a new phase of her life, where Wednesday night softball isn’t part of her routine. Yet.
Saying goodbye to my teammates was a little bittersweet, but I’ve been promised winter trivia as the next activity to do while we wait for the next softball season to start in the spring.
I’m not really part of their workplace “we,” but it gave me a taste of that life that made me think about what it takes for a group of co-workers to come together like this and what they gain when they make the effort.
Sports create a kind of connection that is hard to explain. A high-five hits different than a “way to go” post on Slack.
Will we see a resurgence of these work-based teams as a way to build better workplace culture in the Zoom era? After this little half-season experience with the Papercuts, I can say that I hope so.
All of my teammates talked about how much they enjoyed getting to know their co-workers outside work. As an outsider, I couldn’t tell you who’s boss was whose. Nobody was too attached to winning. Even the worst players had their hero moment.
The whole experience was so personally satisfying, from getting to know the teammates to snatching up those ground balls and hurtling them to first base.
The season ended on a high note: My buddy who introduced me to the team and I had a double play during the last inning of our last game. He caught a pop fly in far left field and then threw a hard, long throw to me at third, where I tagged a runner who was trying to take the base.
My dad was my softball coach for many of my early years. He loved playing in these recreation leagues as an adult, and now I can see how much joy being on those teams brought him. We all need a way to break up the workweek and to do something outside the home-work-home grind.
That night, as my teammates and I celebrated our little wins within the loss, I sent him a little missive from my still-grieving heart: The scrappy thirdbasewoman is back.
Part 2 of this series, “She goes hard in the paint,” coming tomorrow…
Does it feel like fall yet? It doesn’t today, but it will soon enough.
Here’s a shorthand version of Joanna Gaines’ banana bread recipe to bake any time of year. (I pulled this from “Magnolia Table,” the second bestselling book of ALL BOOKS SOLD during 2018, only behind Michelle Obama’s memoir.)
This is a classic all-year-round recipe, but if you make it right about now, add some pumpkin pie spice, a splash of bourbon and extra pecans and call it a “Thanksgiving pecan banana bourbon bread.”
Magnolia Table Banana Bread
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
5 ripe bananas
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup pecans
1 to 2 Tbsp. sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Cream butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add mashed bananas. In separate bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt. Coming wet and dry ingredients. Add pecans (I place them on at the end) and dust with sugar (optional). Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes.
— Adapted from “Magnolia Table”