By Nate Fish
I play for a softball team. The Orphans. We are a group of bar workers, actors, and students. We play in the Lower East Side Bar League. To qualify for the league, you simply have to assemble a group of people who are available to play softball Monday and Tuesday afternoons and attach the name of a bar that exists below 14th St. on the east side of Manhattan as the prefix of your team name. We are the Uncle Ming’s Orphans even though no one on the team works at Uncle Ming’s. How ironic.
In any case, games are at 1pm usually in East River Park. We draw a good crowd. A short Spanish man sells drinks out of a grocery cart (he has beer under the tarp). He is joined usually by two or three small men that follow him around.
Spam plays third base. Spam has one huge dreadlock in the back of his head that looks as if it’s nesting in the rest of his hair. The best writer could not justly describe this thing. It’s like a fifties prom doo with a huge dreadlock spiking straight up through the middle. His hair is called Huey.
Allison plays second base. A short Asian man is our first baseman. And McKeon is in Left field.
Wiggins, our center fielder, lights off fireworks periodically throughout the game when he gets bored. Wiggins was our original team coach. But when he moved to Las Vegas, McKeon, took over the thankless role of manager. He has really turned things around for us. I get several text messages a week about game times. Joel plays right field and is phenomenal. I have no idea what he is doing there. And the infamous softball fourth outfielder is usually more of an observer wandering around behind second base in the form of my girlfriend, Kate. Her name is actually Allison. Her middle name is Kate. There is already an Allison in the story and I don’t want to confuse you. I play shortstop. Kanya is our catcher. She sometimes plays second base though.
Kanya consistently wears small, terri-cloth shorts with matching knee high socks, tank-top, and Kangaroo sneakers to every game. Her level of devotion is remarkable. It is Susan Summersesque. I imagine her planning her outfits and getting mentally prepared. Of the two opposing teams she is the only one who has clearly washed herself before the game. I am sure my teammates are as shocked and impressed as I am but it goes mostly unspoken.
According to league rules you must have at least 3 girls in the line up or it is an automatic out each time you go through the batting order. These rules often lead to us scrambling around the park asking female joggers and dog walkers if they want to play in a softball game. Allison, our second baseman, was actually just walking by one day when fait was to find another female player or face the dreaded “automatic out rule”. She has been there every game since. I actually overheard her bragging she leaves her third grade class unattended for two hours to come play in our games.
We even have umpires. Nelson is a man of an unidentifiable ethnicity. He switches between accents that could either make him Korean, Polish, or Viking. When a batter hits a foul ball Nelson raises his hands and bellows, “IT IS A FOUL BALL”, with force and clarity. But when nearly anything else happens, he is silent and confused. If presented with questions about a call he will surely respond with a series of unintelligible noises and gestures, but he repeats, “IT IS A FOUL BALL”, with a vigor only a stupid man possesses– even when it’s fair sometimes.
Nelson’s partner is a Puerto Rican man who appears to have been a ballplayer. He knows the game, and he manages Nelson beautifully though he does get caught in the confusion at times when Nelson starts his blathering. And these are the umpires, the same two every game.
I qualify as the best player to ever play in The Lower East Side Bar League. Joel is pretty good though. The average skills of any individual player on the field is roughly around a third grade level. If athletic ability were measured like literacy rates, we are a third-world team.
I have spent two seasons with The Orphans though I haven’t played lately. Under Wiggins, our first year, we only had 4 wins in a grueling 36 game schedule and were asked to leave the league and forfeit the rest of our games just before the playoffs began due to too many cancellations, and, we suspect, our appearance. But after much pleading, we were invited back for a second season.
Under Mckeon, we had a winning record and made the playoffs for the first time. In the eyes of the league we have risen from despair to be considered a solid middle of the road team who’s players show up.
Two Boots is the team to beat. Mona’s is pretty good too. They look as bad as we do, but they have a key element that all winning softball teams must have, a couple of old guys who take the games really seriously.
An older man pitches for Two Boots. He wears knee braces over his sweatpants. He sports rec-spec goggles and wears only a yellow penny and several wristbands on his upper body. He reacts to each ball hit with a spin and a longing look at his teammate making the play. Through sheer will he raises the play of his teammates, and leads them to victory every time.
Mona’s has an entire line up of these types. Middle age men who participate in midday softball games typically in an emotionally fragile phase of life. The very fact that they are available suggests they are miserable. The saying goes that when you play ball you feel like a kid again. In the case of these men, they still feel old, but they behave as children. They complain about the umpires, they bicker amongst themselves, and they start fights with other teams about the rules or the score. But they win. Both teams have tried to illegally recruit me to play for their them, but I decline. I don’t play for nobody but the Orphans.
I bumped into Kanya just last week, it turns out we go to the same school. She is going to be finishing this spring and is considering law school. We spoke about the team for a while outside the registrar’s office. You’re not going to believe it, she was wearing little pink shorts and white tube socks with pink stripes just below the knee, a matching tank-top, and Kangaroo sneakers.