Robert Steven Williams’ yoga practice didn’t prepare him for the dangers of pick-up softball.
I played softball for the first time in 15 years, and the next day I woke up with my hamstrings on fire. It’s not as if I don’t work out, in fact as I’ve written here at Good Men, I’ve got an active yoga practice. I take a lot of walks. I do a bit of jogging. This summer, I even played tennis a couple of times a month. But none of that mattered for softball.
I’m amazed at the depth of muscle in my body and how each activity uses certain muscle layers. This morning I’ve gotten reacquainted with a whole batch of softball muscles that sat dormant for ages.
I got roped into this weekly pick-up game because I was down in Philly for a couple of music gigs, and my host loves softball. It was an affable group of guys, ranging from the 30s to 50s, who play for fun, not glory. There was a hitting and fielding practice prior to the game, and we got there early to make sure we warmed-up properly.
I used to play third base, and I gravitated there. I wasn’t on the field five minutes when a ground ball got whacked in my direction. I put my glove down and used my body as back up, just the way I’d been trained all those summers ago in Little League. But the ball came hard, and there was doubt in my mind that caused me to misjudge the ball.
My shin was still in the correct back-up position, and the ball hit it squarely. That’s the way you’re supposed to play the game, just not with the first ball you’ve fielded in 15 years. There’s a purple bruise in that spot to memorialize this moment.
Last week I wrote about fear in yoga, and here was fear again. As a kid, I was fearless. The harder the ball came at me, the more determined I was to snag it down. But when a ball comes at you fast, if your mind is processing even a tiny bit of fear, you’re doomed.
I missed the next couple of balls that came my way, but I used these misses to gauge the speed and bounce of the ball. The next one, I fielded smoothly, but when it came to who was playing where, being the new guy, I ended up in right field (and thank God because in a game I’d have gotten bruised and battered at third).
I batted in the first inning and got a single, but somehow sprinting to first I twisted my ankle. After the next batter made the third out, I hobbled to right field thinking I was done. It was only the first inning, and I already had a bruise on the left shin, and now I could hardly walk.
I was bummed big time.
I thought about playing through it, but that made no sense. And yet I didn’t want to sit around for the next two hours either. I tried to walk it out and in certain angles the pain did go away. During our next at bat, I took off my shoe in hopes of massaging the pain away.
Somehow that worked, and I played the rest of the game pain free.
My fielding was rusty, but the hitting came back fast. I got on base with each at bat, and I sprinted hard. This morning I’m feeling each one of those runs; I’m just glad my ankle isn’t sprained.
Still, I have no regrets. I loved the camaraderie of being part of a team. I enjoyed the action, but it was also humbling to realize how fragile my body is despite the amount of yoga I do.
This weekend taught me the benefit of cross-training. I also see the benefit of doing different types of yoga to address the body’s complex layer of muscle. Yesterday’s softball game reacquainted me with several layers I hadn’t accessed in decades. I’m sure this week in downward dog I’ll be feeling those muscles because these hamstrings are going to be sore for days.
—Photo Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson/Flickr