PHIL WIELAND: Still a soft spot for softball season

2013-05-03T00:00:00Z PHIL WIELAND: Still a soft spot for softball seasonBy Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com

The Valparaiso Parks Department men's softball season opener was Wednesday, which explains the sobbing you might have heard coming from me late that afternoon.

For the first time since I became the Valpo reporter, I did not sign up to play on the office team. I've played softball for most of my almost 30 years here in Northwest Indiana and hoped to continue until packed off in a pine box for that big softball league in the sky.

I took a forced leave of absence after my heart attack three years ago. I felt ready to play within a couple of weeks, but the doctor thought I should finish my rehab first. I thought softball was a better way to rehab than sweating with the rest of the oldies on a treadmill or stationary bike, where I was in serious danger of dying from boredom.

I was back on the team the next season and had a pretty good year for me, a good year being defined as only one major injury while hitting more than my weight. The injury was a line drive off my left ankle on my first game back. It hit me so hard it broke my grandmother's ankle, but it seemed to restart my heart.

I finished the game and the year and headed into 2012 with high hopes of continuing to play into my 70s or longer. Then, at one of the first games of the season, I took another line drive, this time off the right ankle. That was when I decided I really didn't like pitching. I was too close to the batter, and grandma's ankles just couldn't take the abuse.

As the season progressed, I didn't. I got a hit in my first at-bat, but that was almost my last one. As I approached my 66th birthday, I feared I would not only not hit my weight, but might not hit my age. Around midseason, after hitting my 53rd consecutive weak dribbler back to the pitcher, I retired.

It's pathetic when athletes hang on past their prime, and I peaked in Little League. Actually, it was more a small bump than a peak. Fortunately, being past your prime was pretty much a prerequisite for being on most of the teams I played on, especially during the last decade or so.

Being the oldest player on the team didn't bother me, especially since I could still outrun and outthrow most of the others who were 15 or 20 years younger -- even after my heart attack. They renamed the annual team Cy Young Award after me, the Cy Old Award, and joked I played with the original Cy Young.

Ultimately, it was the eyes, and the inability to dodge line drives (sorry, Grandma) that were the deciding factor. Still, the smack of ball on leather, the clink of the ball on aluminum bats and the crack of the ball on freshly healed bone brought a brief tear of regret to my eyes this week.

Or it could have been from the ache in my ankles.

The opinions are those of the writer. He can be reached at phil.wieland@nwi.com or (219) 548-4352.

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