The Long Way Home

So today was the day. The culmination of months of training, planning and anticipation. The Tour de Cure bike ride and my first game in the city’s new men’s adult baseball league … Given the day I was about to have, it struck me that when I started my car this morning, plugged in the iPod and set it on shuffle, the first song that came on was Supertramp’s ‘Take the Long Way Home.’

… I certainly took the long way today.

My alarm had gone off at 5:58 a.m. and -- after I literally jumped out of bed (I saw how bright it was outside and thought I was late, and then realized I was fine …), got dressed, ate a bowl of cereal and skimmed the paper -- I was on my way a little after 6:30 …

It took a little over an hour to drive to the registration site. I checked in. Got my free T-shirt. And waited.

A group of riders already had left on a 100k trip. And at 8:30, after a few pre-ride introductions and guidelines, I slipped on my iPod and joined the hundred or so riders as we set out for our 50k ride. 34 miles.

The ride started easy enough with a stretch of downtown roads and neighborhood streets. Soon, however, we were riding on wide-open rural roads, head-on into a northeast wind. Pile on top of that some gradual, but grueling hills that left me seriously doubting whether I would be able to complete this thing. Not to mention my calves already were burning.

The first of four rest stops finally came about eight miles into the ride, although it seemed like 20. … I grabbed a banana, a power bar, downed a cup of Powerade and was off again.

… Fortunately the second and third legs of the ride proved to be much easier. We stayed on rural roads, but they remained mostly flat and some abundant tree lines helped block the winds. I found myself gaining some good speed at times. And by the end of the third leg, the course was beginning to loop back to the starting point, pitting the wind at our backs … But it also was the end of the third leg that my iPod battery ran out of juice (doh!), which meant I was going to have to finish the thing on my own will power with no energizing music to help me keep going ….

I contemplated skipping the fourth and last rest stop, but stopped anyway, I was glad in the end. I chowed down one more banana, grabbed some water and got my mind set on finishing …

Though the fifth and final leg proved almost as difficult as the first. The final miles took us along side busy streets, up some more gradual hills and into more wind. Even in a low gear my legs were burning so badly it was as though lava was bursting from them. And then trying to ride on the Interstate overpass with the wind currents coming over the bridge … ugh.

Finally, 34 miles and 3 ½ hours later, the finish line appeared and I rode in … stopping at my car, hopping off my bike and, well, taking a lot of pride in what I had just accomplished … and realizing, amazingly, yeah I’ve still got some left to play a ball game

I picked up my goodie bag, another free T-shirt, chatted with a team member, grabbed a sandwich and was on the road again. On my way home to play ball -- I hoped …

* * *

Somehow I beat the traffic and arrived at the ball field about 1:10, ten minutes passed the game’s start time. With my uniform in the back seat, I changed in my car, then grabbed my gear and jogged to the ball field. My team was in the field and I stepped into the dugout to the surprise of my teammates. … (I had told them last week my bike ride probably was going to prevent me from making the game. It wasn’t until last night that I started thinking about it and realized I might be able to pull off both …)

… Now, I wish I could say I got into the game and came up with a game-winning hit. Nope. Didn’t happen. Not even close.

In the dugout I learned my team hadn’t even stepped to the plate. It was still the top of the first and we were down 7-0. Apparently our starting pitcher had the jitters and when I arrived, Coach was making his second pitching change …

When our turn came to bat, Coach stuck me at the bottom of the lineup and I made my first plate appearance in the bottom of the third. I drew an easy walk. But I was quickly erased when the next batter hit a line drive into right field and I rounded second, gunning for third.
Making the turn I heard ‘Go three, go three,’ but didn’t think to look up at my third base coach. Big mistake. The right fielder’s throw was dead on, I tried sliding around the tag , but the third baseman got me square.

… At about the fifth or sixth inning (we were losing so badly all the innings were running together), Coach made another pitching change, allowing me to get into right field. … With two outs I had a shallow fly hit to me and should’ve made a shoestring catch, but the ball skipped under my glove and, luckily, died in the grass. We got out of the inning on the next batter, but not before another run scored on my error. It was the only time I would touch the ball on defense.

I got to the plate one more time, in the bottom of the sixth or seventh, I think. I quickly ran up an 0-2 count swinging and fouling off some pitches. But I kept battling, taking some balls, and fouling off some more pitches to run the count to 3-2. Then the pitcher, who was throwing absolute meat, ran one inside on me. I backed away from the plate thinking it was ball four, but the umpire thought otherwise. He called it a strike on the inside corner and rang me up. I would end the day 0-for-1 at the plate with a walk and a strikeout.

Our games are supposed to go nine innings, but the umpires called it at the end of the 2 ½ hour time limit. We lost 19-9.

… but, boy, did it feel good to be in uniform and playing again. If anything makes my summer, this may be it. I’ve been waiting years for something like this …

* * *

4:15 p.m. and I was home. … I had biked 34 miles. Played in a baseball game … and now I was heading out to mow the lawn and work in the yard.

Tired, schmired.

I mowed. Pulled dandelions. And finally sat my butt down at 8, just in time for the ‘Desperate Housewives’ finale …

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