In the military, getting older has its perks.
Generally, as you increase in age, so does your rank. And with rank comes priviledge, more responsibility, and the ability to have a positive impact on those in your charge.
It doesn’t work that way in softball.
Softball is the sports equivalent of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Unlike many things in life where age sneaks up on you, on the diamond it is impossible to hide. Rather, on a ball field the slow and inevitable march toward death is announced loudly, and for all to see.
As a youngster, you’re speedy and have an arm that can fire rockets like a 155mm Howitzer. You can dive for the ball and get up again. You can slide without ripping a tendon.
But as you age, softball gets tougher. The bases get farther apart, and the grounders get faster. The ground gets harder and the bat heavier.
And everyone sees the decline, because you begin the clockwise rotation around the infield.
You start at third base when your reflexes are quick and your arm is strong and accurate.
When your reactions slow down, you move to short stop. You are still young enough to run and throw, but you have more time to chase down those grounders.
Once your arm goes, you move to second base. The throws are shorter, and consequently you have time to drop a ball, pick it up, then toss it to first base.
When you have lost most of your mobility and arm strength, you get moved to first. You still have to field a grounder or two, but only if it comes right at you, and even if you miss it, no one expected you to catch it anyhow.
Pitcher is reserved for those who have can’t run anymore, and can only throw underhanded.
The final stop is catcher. Catchers don’t have to move, field or even throw.
I once thought that was the end. But I was wrong.
You know you are really getting old when you have to platoon with another guy at catcher. Apparently you can’t be trusted to get through an entire game all by yourself, so the coach provides you with help.
When the end is near, you are assigned the “very important” position of base coach. There, you don’t throw, catch, run, or bat. Your only job is to stand inside the coach’s box and give high fives to the players after a good play.
After that, the only thing left is picking out your grave stone and waiting to die.
Of course, one advantage to being in the military is that as you get older, you also get more senior in rank, which leaves open the option of artificially maintaining your position. But experience has shown that this technique only delays the inevitable, and it annoys the other players (trust me).
So old guys, take your cue and bow out gracefully when the time comes. When you find yourself high fiving the youngsters as they round the bases, it is time to begin planning your exit strategy. It’s over.
If you just can’t hang up the glove for good, may I suggest the “over-40 or over-50” leagues around town? The playing field is level again for sure, and you can stave off the angel of death for a few more years. But fair warning – I hear the competition for catcher is intense.