Field of Schemes

“This is the bitterest pain among men, to have much knowledge but no power.”
— Herodotus

This profound, timeless quote — a touchstone of many experiencing dark nights of the soul — makes me think that Herodotus must have coached softball. Specifically, he must have coached his 11-year-old daughter’s junior varsity softball team and watched, in silent horror, as a promising lead in the last inning is erased by walk after walk after walk.

And I, the coach, must smile through it all because these are just kids. It’s not like the old days, when I played, and I could trot over to the mound and spit tobacco juice on the pitcher’s shoes to get my point across. Patience. Patience. Like Herodotus of old, I can only appeal to the gods — the gods of softball. But they can be downright ornery.

For instance, one afternoon I’d left my job early to go to the township middle school where our parish plays its home games. I thought that I’d have to work on the diamond thanks to this wet spring. A little raking here, a bit of hole-filling there, maybe a dash of weeding, some dignified chasing of rabbits — it would be perfect.

However, when I got to the school, I found that the field — Field 1, the diamond nearest the parking lot — had already been raked. Not only that but lines had been put down, and a circle drawn around the pitcher’s rubber with a flawlessness that would have made Pythagoras blush. (OK, I’m finished with the Greeks now.)

Then, a child from my parish’s varsity team arrived. I froze. The deal worked out at the beginning of the year was that the older team gets the better field. I gazed across the expanse of campus in the direction of Field 2. Were they cactuses around second base? And were those puddles at home plate? Isn’t that geologically impossible?

I screeched out of the parking lot over to the Athletic Director’s house. We had devised a system of transferring the lining machine and bases that harkened back to the message drops of the Cold War. The equipment would be sitting outside his house. I’d pick it up, use it, return it so that he could use it for the team he coached. If anyone should question, we were to deny each other’s existence.

I had earlier, in my hubris (that’s sort of a Greek word, isn’t it?), decided that I didn’t need to worry about the liner. Now, I was happy to see it still sitting there. It had been a year since I’d used the machine and it’s not like riding a bike. I’d forgotten how it works. I would figure it out later. At the field. Now, I thought, the important thing is to get going. I wheeled the liner to the back seat of my car and threw it in.

This produced a silent explosion of white smoke as lime mushroomed out of an unlocked compartment on the machine. I could just make out the mound of white powder that was still settling in. No time to worry about that now. I ran back and got the bags of lime, picking them up two at a time. They weighed about 41.2 pounds each. (But who’s counting?) I had always refused to laugh at the physical humor of comics like Stan Laurel, whose kneecaps would point in opposite directions as they supposedly buckled under some weight so that he looked like an insect waddling toward his destination and I refused to laugh now. In fact, I was grunting and mumbling the entire time. After I finally packed everything in, I looked up to see that runoff from the machine had left a crooked, white trail from the Athletic Director’s porch to my car. In the Cold War, this would have had to have been explained somehow. At gunpoint. I sped off, the lime in the back seat shifting with each turn.

The diamond was worse than I had thought. To the right of third base, there was a patch of mud in which fossil remains of dogs and shortstops might possibly exist. Sort of a time capsule. The runoff had cut a deep gully into the pathway by which the visiting team’s players would approach home plate. Time to triage. The mud hole needed to be addressed and, besides, climbing is good exercise.

At this point, I took matters into my own hands and begged a few of the early-arriving dads to help. Somehow, some way, we managed to get the field into some semblance of shape by about seventeen-hundred point 52 hours. Time enough, even, to give the team an inspirational talk.

“Gather in, girls!” I yelled. “Stop playing catch! OK. The ancient Greeks said that ‘character is fate.’ Ouch! All right, who threw that?”

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