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Chux0r - Number 38 for the Stallions

I really didn't start out this year with any intention of doing anything remotely rehabilitative. In fact, I distictly remember silently opting out of any resolutions upon the new year. After all, I quit smoking at the new millenium, which should count for at least a decade's worth of new year's promises, right? So what if my waistline got a little thick? Hell, I'm a big guy, "large and in-charge", and a few extra pounds weren't a big deal, right? I quietly justified my extra heft by reasoning to myself that as long as I could possibly be mistaken for a mafia style leg-breaker, I was sorta kinda fit.

Halfway through 2007, I was smacked by a moment of clarity, free of denial, self-justification, defensive reasoning or whatever. The truth that whacked me out of my beguiled stupor was my bathroom scale. 300 pounds? OK, I admit I can wear some weight and still look marginally OK, cause I'm a pretty tall fellow. But I, suddenly embarassed, just looked at that dial and muttered a blue fog of obscenity. I couldn't accept it. Not even with my mind retreating swiftly back to my stored bucket of excuses could I remotely justify what I saw. Ultimately, to have a fit mind is nice, but I need the mind and the body to do all the things I want to accomplish. Resigned to this reality, I hit the gym in July. I worked hard over the months (still do), dumped 30 pounds and packed some muscle back on. Not too shabby, I thought. Well good, Chuck replaced a bad habit with a good one. Still large and in charge too, bonus.

Oh basbeball - yes, enough pretext already! How did I end up playing ball? Well, my friend Kirk and I used to sit around at work, hacking on thousands of Unix servers and discussing our finer memories of playing baseball. One day he found a league and told me about it. I figured it's gotta be just like riding a bike, right? Reveling in my rediscovered fitness, I plunked down my dollars, and joined the McLean County Senior Adult Baseball League (MSABL). A local guy Brian Thede put the league together. He's as nostalgic as any of us, maybe even more so. To hear him talk about all the young guys who coach or umpire or do nothing when they should still be playing, it suddenly makes sense. We should've never stopped playing! Why the hell did I stop? Shit, I can't remember. It's like everyone gets busy in their twenties and seems to forget about it, not on purpose of course, but forgotten just the same. The only thing that remains is a pang, like you know you're supposed to be doing something, but can't for the life of you remember what that is - if you ever run into Brian, he'll remind you. He describes his league as "little league for big kids." Players range in age from 25 to, jeez 50-ish, I think. When he asked me to choose my number, my old number from the Lombard Boy's League days was taken, so I shrugged and decided that my age, 38, was a fine number. At least I wouldn't forget how old I am, right?

So next I stopped into the local sports shop, strutted through the door and happily exclaimed to the salesman that I needed new stuff 'cause *ahem* I was playing baseball - not softball, hardball - not coaching, playing, yes ME. Beam. Gloat. Brag. I picket out 34" composite wood and maple league bats - no aluminum bats; no way sir. Those are illegal in *my* league - wood only thankyouverymuch, just as God intended the game to be played. I selected a new glove, trying each on and pounding my fist in the pocket. I bought balls in a cup and a cup for my balls, spikey Addidas cleats, uniform pants, glove oil, and a bag. I drove home, taking the occasional whiff of tanned leather. As soon as I reached my kitchen, I began the hallowed rites of glovebreaking. I oiled the hell out of my new glove, stuck a ball in it, and bound it up tight. I'm not Catholic, but protocol dictates that I recite the Hail Mary when breaking in my glove, and so I did.

I headed out to practice on a hot August afternoon. Took the field. Took batting practice. Took infield practice. Took outfield practice. Ran sprints. Ran out of steam? Aaagh! I felt nauseated, hot and old and as the sweat dripped from the end of my nose onto the floor of the dugout, I started to wonder what my nostalgic exuberance had gotten me into. What was my number, anyway? Oh yeah - 38. I excused myself and retreated to the excellent air-conditioned comfort of the Men's bathroom. I sat in a stall and reflected on what this all meant. While driving home I decided that things should get better, not worse; I should stick with it. After all, I endured military boot camp, right? What was this compared to a 14 mile run? And by God, glory was waiting for me on the field, I was certain of it...

I suited up later that week for my first game and felt the thrill of game day for the first time since I can't remember when. I looked in the mirror and saw a different guy, hot damn, a baseball player! I headed out to the ball field. Walking onto the field, I felt a light breeze blowing in from right field. I scouted the fences - 325' to left and right, 355' to center. I saw umpires conferring with Brian. I saw my Stallions teammates stretching out, warming up, shooting the shit in the dugout, and planning the day's lineup. I stood there just taking it in. Someone shouted "Chuck, you might wanna stretch or you'll pull a hammy" - oh uhm, yeah right. What's my number? - 38!

Until this game I neglected to consider how I might modify my play to suit my, err 'advanced age.' I just didn't commit any thought to the idea because frankly the issue didn't occur to me. Obviously there existed a real problem, but not the one that might be expected: I hit the ball extremely well that day, just like I used to do. That obviously was not a problem, no siree; I was a fist-pumping ball-jacking fool and loving it. But in my adrenaline-soaked lumber blitz, I erred terribly by resuming everything else as if I was still 18, and took to sliding like a crazy man into close plays. Three slides in all was all it took to hobble my ass for a week. Crud, after 20 years of ankle abuse including such highlights as military service and a motorcycle accident, ya think I'd have thought about this. Holy myopia Batman! Ah yes, too busy contemplating glory, homeruns, and fabulous adoring fanbabes. The price for my little fantasy? My ankles swelled up real nice, had a cantaloupe in each one. I limped tenderly around for the next week and got some ribbing on top. What, again is my number? Oh shit - 38, right. Such is the way Chuck learned to wrap his ankles before every game and declare to his teammates that this warrior probably would not be sliding into the close ones much anymore.

After settling in, I played plenty of games. I played first base. Did pretty well, got some much-needed coaching from just about everyone on the team. So it isn't *exactly* like riding a bike - or if it is, I wobbled at first. I also played outfield on and off. At the onset, I doubted a big guy like me could cover any of the outfield positions. But my teammates reassured me, especially our shortstop Chris, who kindly gave me much help (Like, I stood where Chris told me to LOL). All in all, I believe I made (barely) more catches and stops than errors out there, so I would rate my performance as 'fair'. I do however remember my best play, grabbing a hard hit line drive straight out of the blinding sunlight in left, which was freakin sweet! I obviously will need more outfield practice to get really good though. The errors really stung by the way - no glory there.

Now that it's all over, for this season anyway, I can say this. This summer, I crushed the ball, struck out, made a spectacular catch, made a spectacular error, ran fast, slid in, pulled my quadracep, winked at the pitcher, ducked chin music, crowded the plate, got dirty, took a lead off, kissed my bat, crossed the plate, waved at the fans, whacked the hanging curve, smelled the air, knocked dirt out of my cleats, high-fived my teammates. I played baseball. I am number 38, and I'm feeling pretty damn glorious.

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