Thursday, May 22, 2003

the best catch I ever made

To offset the drinking entry from yesterday I will add a story about the season I spent on my company's softball team when I was in Okinawa. I was in the communications company of the headquarters battalion of 3rd FSSG. I think that's how it was set up. However you slice it, I was in the communications company and the camp I was in was called Camp Kinser. It was probably named after a dead young person. That's how the marine corps works. You ain't shit unless you're dead. Once you're dead they name all kinds of stuff after you. There's hardly an alley or building on any Marine Corps base that isn't named after someone who died gloriously for god and for corps.

I don't remember the specific game in which my best catch took place. I do know that it was a day game and I was playing right-center field. In case you don't know, slow pitch softball uses four outfielders.

The softball field was located on a narrow plain beneath a row of steep rocky hills. Home plate faced out towards the coral reef and the constant surf. Between the outfield fence and the sea was a small covered picnic area and a few tables scattered around in the manicured grass.

Before I joined this softball team I was a first baseman and it took me a while to get used to playing the outfield. In fact in the first few games I muffed a couple of easy fly balls because I was nervous and we were playing at night. Playing at night when you are nervous is a lot different than practicing during the day. Eventually I discovered that I could pick up the ball better off the bat in right center and that is where they stuck me. Eventually I got better and played all four outfield positions but the best catch I ever made happened with me in right center.

The batter was right handed. He hit a shallow pop up into right center, of course. I started running in as soon as the ball left the bat. Sometimes you have to keep your ground on pop ups until you can determine where the ball is heading. This time without even thinking about I just started sprinting forward to where I thought the ball would land. I remember thinking initially that it was going to fall in for a hit and I was just trying to catch it on the bounce and keep the runners already on base from advancing. There were two outs so I had to move fast and get to the ball as quickly as I could. As I sprinted in the ball seemed to hang in the air and as I approached where the ball would land I realized I had a shot at catching the ball before it hit the ground. I picked up my speed a bit.

Moving in toward the ball I waited for the last second and dove onto the ground with my glove in front of me. I fully extended my body. My face was in the grass. When the ball hit my glove my eyes were closed and my hand closed around the ball reflexively. Since I had committed by body so fully to the ground I had no way to stop myself and I slid naturally to a stop, on my face.

I remember the right fielder, Sergeant Sparks, helping me to my feet and he had a strange look on his face. I'd never seen such an admiring look from someone so much older and more mature than me. Heck, he was my direct supervisor in the shop. My catch ended the inning and the moment that means the most to me in relation to the best catch I ever made was when our third baseman, who had spent time in the minors and was one of the top three athletes I ever played with, came over to me as we trotted into the dugout area and told me "that was the best fucking catch I've ever seen! At any level."

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