Last night was the second practice of the Stars, the unified Special Olympics team for which I volunteer. I wanted to show off some photos of our practice field because it would certainly make you laugh. But it's always available and it's free, so it is therefore good. Unfortunately, the camera batteries were dead, so instead I'll take this opportunity to talk about our line-up.
As I mentioned last time, on a unified Special Olympics team, half of the team comprises people with disabilities (“athletes”) and the other half people without (“partners”). You split the infield and outfield positions evenly between athletes and partners and bat every other.
#33 Matt 2B
My brother Matt--who qualifies as an athelete by virtue of his autism--leads off. Matt's short throws to first or second (we pretty much never throw to third) had been problematic because he would lay them up like a basketball. Like on one foot and everything. This, of course, would result in the softball flying straight up into the air and finally reaching the base well after the runner did. (Using basketball maneuvers at inappropriate times is just one of the hazards of growing up in Indiana.) Matt, however, has made great strides in this area this year, and now almost all of his throws look like they were intended for softball.
#21 Abe 1B
Next is our first-baseman, my brother Abe. Abe is a good choice at first base because at about 5'10″, he is the tallest person on our team. Abe hits decently, usually straight to center, and is very proud of the time last summer when he hit the ball out of the tee-ball diamond where we were goofing around practicing. He needs to work on not throwing the bat at the end of his swing, which is a horrible no-no in Special O softball where the catcher is probably the person with the slowest reaction time on the field.
#20 Joe or #22 Robert 3B
Who we have hitting third depends on two factors: 1) who has shown up to the game, and 2) who is not smoking when that place in the order comes up. It could be Joe, one of our platooning third-basemen. Joe shocked us last night by throwing all the way from third to first while we were warming up. He played third all season last year, but we'd never actually see him do that, so it was a big deal. I think every single person in the infield congratulated him on the throw, which made him grin. A grin is about the extent of jubilation you can expect out of Joe, so it was clearly a big moment for him.
If Joe's not in, you'll probably see Robert, our other third-baseman, hitting in this spot. We were really not very fond of Robert for a while there because though he has raw skill far surpassing most of the rest of the athletes on the team, he had the nastiest attitude. It seemed like Robert didn't want to be seen failing, so he thought he looked cooler just not to try. Plus he'd yell at other athletes when they messed up. This season, however, he has gotten a kidney transplant in the off-season so he no longer needs dialysis, and he's a totally different person. (There's an off-season surgery you won't see much in the majors.) When Robert plays at third, we might actually consider throwing there.
#50 Jon SS
Hitting clean-up is our shortstop and my hubby, Jon. Jon boasts the most real power on our team, and that power might get him all the way to the back half of the outfield. Jon's been lifting in the off-season, though, and we're fully expecting to see one or more of his hits if not actually hit the fence, at least roll to it.
#? Matt P LF
After Jon you're probably going to see left-fielder Matt P, who is not my brother, in the 5-spot. Matt P is new to our team this year so I don't really have a beat on him as a player yet, but I do know that if a fly ball is coming his way that he won't actually move out of the way of it, so that's already an improvement over last year's outfielders.
#15 Little Robert RCF
Hitting 6th is probably going to be “Little Robert,” so called because he started playing on our team a few years ago when he was 13 or 14. Now that he's 16 or 17, the moniker does not exactly fit anymore, but we still use it. Little Robert is a good kid, puts in his time in right-center field and usually gets us a pretty good hit.
#? Mark RF
In the 7-hole is Mark. Mark is related to Matt P somehow, brothers maybe, and he's new to our team, too. Mark is a little slower than Matt, so he'll probably play over in right field where relatively few softballs end up. Mark can hit some, though, and it's pretty exciting for us to still be hitting pretty good so deep in the line-up.
#12 Me RHP/LCF
At long last, at 8 is where you'll finally see me. I am not a horrible hitter, but I'm lucky to get the ball out of the infield. I pretty much drive it to the short stop every time (once I did it twice in the same inning; imagine my joy). Last night I was pitching again (I didn't hit anyone and I got a couple strike outs), and when I'm not doing that, I'm in left-center field. Since we're likely to have one too many partners this year, I might just “coach” because, and this might surprise you, I like to tell people what to do.
#10 Jerry or #15 Wally C
Hitting 9th you'll find one of our catchers, Jerry or Wally. In both cases, getting the ball all the way back to the mound from behind the plate is an event that is noteworthy. Jerry is a very good basketball player, but not so much with softball, though he's gotten better every single year we've played. Wally is the single most enthusiastic person on the field and has something to say about every play. He also had new teeth last night that he was showing off to anyone who would look.
#43 Bobbi RHP
Finally, rounding up the line-up is Bobbi, our pitcher whom we have yet to lay eyes upon this season. Bobbi, however, doesn't really need the practice because she's been pitching longer than…let's just say she lends that important veteran presence to our dugout. She knows what she's doing. And she's so charming that she immediately wins the favor of the umpire for our team. That's an important skill they just don't teach in little league.
And that's us: the Stars. Next Wednesday is our first official game. We play the Cardinals, another unified Special Olympics team in our county. It's sure to be a spirited contest full of heroic efforts, heart-stopping near-misses, and plenty of amusing errors that will make you laugh even more than the pictures of the field. Definitely tune in for the wrap.