Loving the Sport

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Summer is good for my health; it’s the only time of year when I like being outdoors and being active. I hate winter, which is a bit of a hindrance since I live in Utah, where it’s not uncommon for snow to fall into early June.

I had tried skiing a few times when my family moved to Salt Lake City in 1981. The first time had been a great ego boost for a timid 11-year-old; the Bunny Hill instructor had had me put on my skis and hold onto a revolving rope tow to get the “feel” of skiing. Using both hands I had grabbed hold of the line and it jerked me so hard that I instantly landed face-first in the snow; but I didn’t let go, so the rope tow twisted me on my back and dragged me around and around until the instructor stopped the menacing contraption. I obviously wasn’t “feeling” it.

After a few more embarrassing attempts to the master the rope tow, I had been halfheartedly released for an actual run. I was put on a chair lift and hoisted to the top of the Bunny slope, where I froze up and didn’t get off the lift. I had circled about 20 feet before the attendant stopped the lift, drudged through the snow in bare feet and had me remove my skis then jump down into his arms. I couldn’t help but think how idiotic for someone to go out in the snow without boots.

A few years later, a group of friends had talked me into a day on the slopes. Obviously I was still a novice, but they had felt I could handle a black diamond run. And of course I believed them — that silly, stupid need to fit in with idiotic straight boys. By the time we had reached the top, my stomach was doing somersaults. I had “snow-plowed” about 40 yards through deep powder, stopped (actually fell over), removed my skis and walked the rest of the way down the run. At some point during my hike of shame, an incredibly unattractive skier — OK, I don’t remember if he was unattractive, but it somehow makes me feel less ridiculous believing he was) — stopped to see if I was OK. As if my reddened eyes (from sobbing like a sissy) and snot-crusted nostrils (from the arctic air) weren’t any indication that I was lying, he had believed me when I said yes and skirted off, slaloming down the hill as if he was born with skis on his feet. It had been one of my proudest moments.

I had hung out with that group of straight friends for a couple more years — not at the ski resorts — doing other idiotic things like four-wheeling up Lion’s Back in Moab, farting in each other’s faces and shoplifting Playboy magazines. Eventually, and because of all likelihood, we had drifted apart.

Then four years ago I had found a sport that suited me, and thankfully it’s a summer sport. I play softball in a hetero-friendly gay recreational league. I’m pretty versatile on the field … like I am in the bedroom. I can do just about any position with some level of skill and agility (especially for a 40-year-old), but I’m usually the pitcher … again, like in the bedroom. Pitching … on the field, is quite difficult. The pitcher is constantly in motion, and is subject to killer line drives. I’ve been hit with a speeding ball, where the lacing leaves an impression in the skin, about a dozen times over the years: my shin, inner thigh, knee, chin … it’s idiotic! And let me tell you, getting sand rash over the top of rug-burned knees … it burns!

During a game a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of diving head first into second base, literally, and splitting my eye open on the corner of the bag. Mental note: Diving is for pools. I think I had a mild concussion from the impact because I let one of my teammates — with the compassion of Nurse Ratched — clean and sew up the wound with drinking alcohol and fishing line found in the back of her truck.

But that’s what I love most about softball. Other than the fact it’s the only workout I get, softball is about camaraderie, about being there for your teammates. And playing as a team — we sort of look like a Benny Hill episode — we do it perfectly with strange but fervent enthusiasm. We laugh in the dugout, I yell on the field, Jesse watches butterflies and shiny things, Gina tosses the ball like it’s a grenade, Joseph makes numerable diving catches without breaking his lit cigarette and straight Monty has seen more balls grounded between his legs than he’s comfortable admitting. But I couldn’t nor wouldn’t ask for a better team; our cohesiveness is stronger than Bondo.

I have to wonder if I would today be an avid skier if it had been my teammates who took me skiing all those years ago. I know for a fact they wouldn’t have tricked me into a death run … they might have pulled my pants down directly in front of the lodge, but at least they wouldn’t have tried to kill me.

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