For the past five years, I’ve participated in a sport where old men go to pretend they’re still athletes. Granted, there are dudes out there who still got game, and there are occasionally young guys who come out to play who aren’t over the hill, but for the most part, it’s guys in their mid-30s to mid-40s who have sedentary office jobs and run, jog, and do athletics once a year. The sport is church softball.
Church softball is kind of hard to explain. It’s not really that different from a regular men’s softball league, except the players are generally worse, there’s less cussing, and everyone meets in the middle of the field after the game to pray. That, and church softball is the only sport on Earth that is a walking Jesus Juke. By that, I mean it is really only plain old softball, played by guys who aren’t generally good enough to play in the open league, and instead of saying things they would normally say, we pretend to be encouraging in a Christian and brotherly way. For example, if a brother gets too mad about bad play, you don’t say, “Suck it up, you big baby.” You say, “Come on bro, we’re being witnesses out here!”
People play sports to compete, and when you compete, you want to win. When you’re a Baptist church playing the local Presbyterian church, you want to win bad. This is a small town, and I generally know a good number of the other church’s players. I know their fans. I see them in restaurants, and their kids play with my kids in baseball, basketball, soccer, etc. So yeah, I basically want to grind them into the dust on the softball field. I want to crush them, see them driven off the field before us, and hear the lamentation of their women. But… it’s church softball, so we have to act like we’re there for fellowship and fun. It’s awkward and a bit fake.
In regular softball, when your buddy drops an easy fly ball, you can say, “Come ON!!! Get under the freaking ball, dude!” And if you drop an easy fly ball, you get to come back to the dug out, slam your glove on the bench, and sulk in silence. Guys just leave you alone because you need that angry pout time. But in church softball, you have to say junk like, “It’s okay bro! You’ll get the next one! Hahaha! It happens!” and you grin like an idiot. But on the inside you’re a seething mess of frustration.
Another thing about church softball that a lot of people don’t realize is that it is, actually, the most dangerous sport on earth. Don’t let the slow-pitch fool you; you can be seriously harmed in this sport. The reason for this is because older dudes play it and forget they’re older dudes. Nothing is sadder than watching a 40-something-year-old man who has forgotten that he is aging and out of shape take a slide into second base. Calling it a “slide” is kind. It looks more like a flop roll. Almost invariably, guys jump up clutching their buttocks or hamstrings and grimacing because they just ripped the flesh off the hinder parts of their glory. It’s hard to watch. I have seen guys tear a quad just sprinting to first base. Not just once: I have seen it happen three times. (Seriously.) People throw out their backs, pull hamstrings, injure shoulders, and most recently, hurt themselves in collisions with the outfield fence. And through all of this, we aren’t allowed to damage our witness by swearing. It’s madness. “OH GOLLY GEE GUYS I THINK I JUST BLEW OUT MY ACL PRAISE GOD!!”
There’s also a more sinister, scandalous side to church softball. The regular men’s league usually plays on the same fields as the church leagues. The difference being that, while most church dudes are average at best, the men’s league guys are actually good. To them, playing church softball would be a bit like a pro ball player going back and playing high school ball. Sometimes, a church might recruit one of those guys. You know, for evangelism. The next thing you know, you have “church” teams in the league with 12 players and only two of them go to church. In order to stop this sort of thing, most leagues have instituted a “ringer” rule. You can only have two guys on your team who do not attend your church. This is an actual rule. I have never seen it enforced, but I guess they check your church roll or inspect your baptism at the gate if someone gets huffy about it.
In the end, church softball is a lot of fun. It’s fun to play with the guys, it’s fun to fellowship, and it’s fun watching dudes try to “keep their witness” and not throw a bat or yell at an umpire. Church softball is a lot like Christian rock n’ roll, I guess. You get to wear the costume and jump around a lot, but the lyrics are cleaner and family friendly. This year, our team is undefeated so far. Six wins, no losses. I went five for six last night in a double-header. Booyah. I still got it. Kind of.
Image via Xelcise.