It's gotta be the shoes

Oh, summer, we’re rolling now …

Since I officially finished my graduate work and concluded my school year a couple weeks ago, I've been relishing my new freedom and the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures when I come home from work at night – instead of being tied down by 60 pages of reading and a research paper.

Kates and I have been taking the girls for walks on the campus almost nightly, and I’ve enjoyed returning one of my favorite past times – working in our yard and shaping the landscape.

Monday night, me and some of the guys on our softball team got together for some practice. Then, I came home, mowed the lawn and worked on one of our gardens until it was too dark for me to see. Tuesday night, our softball game was canceled because the team we were supposed to play couldn’t field a full team. So we got the win by a forfeit, and I spent that night working in the yard again.

Between our summer living in that wretched duplex and being too busy with school work the last two summers, I haven’t spent this much time working in – and enjoying – our yard since we lived in K-Town. I’m lovin’ it.

Tonight, I finally returned to the ball diamond, and what a relief it was.

You see, since I made my return to softball last summer, I’ve played in good ‘ol tennis shoes. My favorite metal cleats I wore for playing baseball in K-Town were no good. Illegal. … I hadn’t taken the chance to purchase a new pair of softball cleats, and my playing suffered because of it last season. I was always slipping on the basepaths, and it was difficult to gain my footing when fielding ground balls and making good throws to the bases.

After our season opener last week, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.

So today, I headed to our local sporting goods store on my lunch break, on a mission to purchase a pair of softball cleats. On my way into the store, I met a co-worker who was walking out with a new pair of shoes.

“How’s the selection?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Not great.”


Inside the store, I went to the shoe section and began scanning the wall display for softball cleats. They had soccer. Baseball. Track and field. I wasn’t seeing softball and began to have a sinking feeling. … But a store employee stepped in, asked if I needed help and saved the day.

She showed me a sweet-looking black pair of Nike cleats. They were the only pair the store had in stock, and I figured they were going to cost me 70, 80 bucks for sure. The high cost of shoes has never made sense to me. Bracing, I asked how much the cleats would cost me.

“These are 40,” she said.

“Great! I’ll take ‘em!”

And I was on my way.

Tonight, I took my spot at shortstop and the infield dirt under my new cleats never felt better. I had traction. I had quickness in my step. I knew this was going to be a fun game.

In the second inning, I made my mark. The first batter of the inning laced a hard ground ball slightly to my right side. I got in front of it, but my momentum carried me backward to the edge of the outfield grass. Like vintage Cal Ripken, I leaned on my back leg, tossed the ball with ease to first base and made the out. One down.

Then, I fielded a ground ball from the second batter. And the third batter, too. I fielded both balls cleanly and turned both of them into easy outs. Two down, three down. I retired the side from shortstop.

I was greeted with a round of high-fives and smiles when I returned to the dugout. “That was kind of like Groundhog Day,” a teammate’s dad said to me from the stands.

After our at-bats, we returned to the field and the guys started cracking one-liners. “We’ll stay here, you go out and take this one,” one of them said.

The first batter of the third inning flied out, but the second batter hit another ball my way. This time, I got low to snatch up the ball and threw from my knees, getting the runner just in time. I put out four of five batters.

I credit the shoes.

In the meantime, our offense was running smoothly and we had mounted a good lead. A key to our team’s success is making the pitcher throw good pitches and a balance of timely hitting. Thanks to a string of walks in the first inning, we put seven runs on the board early.

I went 1-for-2 on the night. I walked and scored in that first inning. Later, I grounded out and then grounded a ball through the gap between the shortstop and second base for a single.

We kept adding to our lead but a couple defensive miscues here and there allowed the other team to stay in the game. … And we wanted to win this game badly. We were playing our rival – the team that knocked us from the playoffs last year in the semifinal round (on that triple play that wasn’t called) and the team that we’ll no doubt meet in the playoffs again this year.

In the last inning, they put together a string of solid hits that got through holes in the infield and dropped in the gaps of the outfield. They hit a couple hard ground balls to my left that I should have grabbed, but couldn’t. I got the tip of my glove on one, but it skipped past me, and I dove for another but couldn’t reach it.

Before we knew it, the game was tied. And then their winning run was crossing the plate. It was over.

It was a fun game. We’ll get them next time.

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