It is a strange feeling.
Recalling recently the end of our softball season during my years in New York brought on an odd realization amid the fond memories. In our small town, the rec department was at Onatru Farm. It was a working farm at one point that was donated to the town by a lady named Poor. Her dream in her youth was to live "on a true farm", hence the name given to the land, farmhouse and barns. The rec department offices were in the farmhouse. They rented it out occasionally for added revenue. I was married there one rainy Sunday. It was supposed to be an outdoor wedding but was quickly moved into the farmhouse when the rain did not subside.
I believe the four softball/little league fields in back of the farmhouse and barns was originally pasture. The first few years it certainly played like that. I took many a bad hop off my chest due to the uneven turf in leftfield. It is a strange feeling to think back at the end of the softball season in New York after moving to sunny, broiling Arizona twenty-seven years ago. I remember our season wrapped up before Labor Day. It marked the end of summer in New York. Hard to imagine while the valley here is still dinging the top of the thermometer. It also marked the end of something you loved doing, the passage of time, contemplation that someday the games will end, and we will not be back.
Adding to the melancholy were the triggered dreadful childhood memories having my mom take me shopping for school supplies and worse yet, clothes for the upcoming school year. This happened right before the start of school, late August. There is nothing more depressing and boring than shopping for something you loathe, a veritable childhood hell except for watching the Jerry Lewis's Labor Day telethon, on the eve the first day of school. It was dismal. Some acts would be entertaining but invariably Jerry would start crying about the kids with muscular dystrophy. It was all downhill from there.
The last softball games of our year marked an end to summer living. It was the beginning of cold months to follow under the dark, grey skies of winter.
It is quite opposite in Arizona. First of all, we play all four seasons and summer is the worst. We look forward to winter, to putting on blue jeans instead of shorts, getting out sweaters, things to bundle in. The fall season is the best climate wise. We have parks with LED lit fields. In my small-town New York days, we could only play in the summer after work. The fields were not lit. The season would end when there was no longer enough day light.
A strange feeling came across me when I juxtaposed the end of New York's summer softball season, its sense melancholy, with the happiness of the Arizona fall softball season commencing the first week in September. It was like a weather pattern, a cold front and a warm front of colliding experiences made ripe for precipitation.
The last team I played on in New York was a good team. We played well and got along well. At the end of each weekly game, we gathered in the gravel parking lot for beer and conversation. The manager worked in a local market and would bring day old goodies that the store was going to throw out. Chips, Ring Dings, doughnut holes, and other surprises would be for the taking in a box on his truck's tailgate. The children of teammates particularly enjoyed the bounty. My son dubbed him "the food truck man," a mythical hero in a child's mind.
The last game of the year we stayed longer. Someone would play a boombox on low volume because the town fields were in a residential area. Come to think of it, the whole town was a residential area. We didn't want to have neighbors call the cops. Our first baseman worked in a fish market and would bring in his truck bed one of those round metal tubs that horses would drink from. The tub was packed with ice and a bushel each of clams and oysters. He shucked and served for his teammates.
There is nothing more blissful after running around getting dirty and thirsty than washing down oysters and clams with ice cold, cheap beer in aluminum cans while night falls. The crickets were out, some peepers too. Soon they would be gone with the advance of the cool weather. Our voices were hushed as was the music like we were attending a wake, a reverence and respect to the end of another season. I often wondered if it was purely the acoustics of the place that muffled our end of year celebrations. The parking lot was surrounded by trees and shrubbery and the open fields beyond the old stone walls surely let the sound wash away like a strong tide. I think the mute was also within.
It was the end of summer. It was also the end, in our minds, of the year because other than holidays, winters where we lived in New York were usually no picnic. I also think, although it was never spoken, it was a touch of mourning that we as a team, like the crickets, were going to hibernate for several months. Playing on a team with people you like is a very rare and beautiful thing.
This week my most loved team in all the years I played this sport played late games at
Scottsdale's Horizon Park. On the way to the games, I saw an orange sliver of a moon in very dark sky. When we play early games, it is common to see the orange moon show itself from behind a ridge of low, rounded mountains beyond the fields. Even the umpires pause and admire it. "Isn't that something?" one would say. Hard to disagree.
Our late games usually wrap up by 10:30. Our team, Balls Deep, (I did not come up with that name!) instead of going home, take a few minutes to sit in the metal bleachers to talk and joke. A lot of the guys have to get up early, they have family, small kids. Some guys work outdoors in the blistering heat, but we stay. We enjoy our company. We are friends.
At the end of every season, I buy each of us a shot bottle for a toast, win or lose. As our shortstop says, "I don't care if we lose every game. I love playing with you guys."
We are a good team. We are a we. It is a little easier here knowing another season is not so far away. Here, softball memories grow year-round. Our toasts, not at all melancholy. But it is a strange feeling how the old memories of New York precipitate with the newer memories of Arizona.
No matter the climate, whatever you do, there is always room for more.