From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Coming Out of Retirement

You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.

George Burns

The baseball glove had been in hibernation for nearly a decade, collecting dust rather than line drives, on a bookshelf next to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Occasionally, the man would grab the old Wilson A2000 and pound a fist or a ball into it. Although the glove had grown hard and crusty from years of neglect, there was still something special about it.

Each time the man put it on, a smile would crease his face and pleasant memories would come rushing back. He would recall all those boyhood games at the park down the street during summer vacations when he and his neighborhood friends would play ball from sunrise to sunset, breaking only for lunch and dinner. He would replay the Little League games and the high school games and the Legion games and the beer-league softball games.

Then the phone would ring or one of his kids would scream, and reality would return and the man would place his glove and his memories back on the shelf.

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance asked the man if he would like to play on a softball team. The man hesitated at first. There was a time when he couldn’t get enough of the game. He’d play in a couple of leagues during the week, then participate in tournaments on the weekends. But that was when he was twenty-something rather than thirty-something approaching the big four-oh.

That was when his back didn’t ache and the reading on the bathroom scale didn’t depress him and he could make out the bottom line of the eye chart without the aid of contact lenses.

He wondered if his fragile male ego would be able to handle the humiliation he might feel if a ground ball zipped through his legs or if he swung with all his might and popped feebly to the catcher.

After rounding up all the reasons that he shouldn’t come out of retirement, he forked over his ten-dollar registration fee and scrawled his name on the softball sign-up sheet. What the heck? he thought, there are worse things in life than letting a ball roll under your glove.

The man showed up at practice a week ago, left hand comfortably encased in the A2000, feet stuffed into baseball spikes that over time had become two sizes too small. He stretched a bit, then began playing catch. His arm felt good, real good.

A coach grabbed a bat to hit some infield balls. The man settled in at third base. He spit in his glove and readied himself on the balls of his feet.

“You and me, baby. You and me,” he told the pocket of the A2000. The coach meant to hit a grounder, but instead whacked a line drive and the man ranged a few steps to his right and backhanded the ball. He threw to first just for the heck of it. The ball made a loud pop in the first baseman’s mitt. “What an arm,” bellowed one of the players. “What an arm.”

A hard grounder followed. It bounced off the man’s chest. He retrieved it and let loose with a throw that Manute Bol couldn’t have pulled back to Earth. “What an arm,” came the bellow again. The man smiled.

Later, during a practice game, the man blooped a Texas Leaguer just beyond the shortstop’s reach. He dug for first, feeling as if he were lugging Cecil Fielder on his back. When the outfielder bobbled the ball, the man instinctively began digging for second. Halfway there, he felt something pull in his right leg. He grabbed his hamstring and limped safely into second. He gimped around for the rest of the practice, but never, for a minute, considered taking a break. It had been years since he had hurt so bad and felt so good.

His wife shook her head when he limped through the door. There was dried blood on his left knee and a grotesque, purplish bruise on his right hand, the result of foolishly trying to field a bad hop bare-handed.

“Honestly,” she said, examining her disheveled husband. “Some people never grow up.”

The man grinned, then walked gingerly over to the shelf and placed the A2000 in its old spot, next to Hemingway’s classic.

“Retirement’s over,” he said to the glove. “See you in a week.”

Scott Pitoniak

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