For me, it can be traced back to Feb. 20, 1982. When a day is so significant it alters the rest of your life, you never forget it.

On that day, I found out that breaking up really is hard to do. My seemingly placid existence was thrust into sudden chaos and turmoil. Under similar circumstances, some people seek professional help. Others end up using drugs or alcohol as a crutch.

I turned to softball.

And now, the game grips my life between May and September. This week marks the start of a radical change of life style, meaning games at least five days a week. That's a piece of cake for a man who once played third base for a team in the District, shortstop for a team in Fairfax, and pitched for another in Bethesda, all within a five-hour span.

Softball can get to be a deranged perversion. Yet, several months past my 30th birthday and as energetic as Pete Rose in his halcyon days, I see it differently. It has become a way of life.

Finding the time requires a verytolerant wife or girlfriend. Actually, playing more than 120 games a summer without off-the-field distractions requires not having a wife or girlfriend at all. I currently qualify on both counts.

The boss also must be understanding enough to excuse the vacant desk at 4:20 p.m. After all, getting to a 6 p.m. game at Ednor Road field, far north on New Hampshire Avenue, is easily a 1 1/2-hour proposition during rush hour. (Games at isolated Ednor Road are the only ones even softball hard-cores do not mind having rained out.)

Softball is fun, but playing virtually daily takes its toll mentally and physically by midsummer.

I once went out to play second base at Cabin John Park thinking about everything except softball. The first pitch was a line drive directly at my nose. I managed to get the glove up in time, but it was clear that safety necessitated a replacement before the second inning.

As captain -- a job guaranteed to take 100 points off the batting average but ensures you never have to bat 11th -- there is the added burden of coping with teammates' problems.

"Noodles," our .640-hitting designated hitter who averages two RBI per game, was an excellent fielding first baseman, but three springs ago, the ability to match leather with a ground ball escaped him. I had to give him the bad news, and that clearly was no fun. Noodles still brings his glove to games, but both he and his teammates usually hope it is never needed.

A captain also has to protect his ballplayers. The most diplomatic resolution I have negotiated came not with an umpire, but with a man in a parking lot. This was necessitated after my left fielder, Gary the Madman, leaped spikes first onto the hood of a Toyota in an attempt to catch an eventual home run. Problems arose when the Madman not only refused to apologize to the car's owner, but blamed him for having his car there.

Winning is the objective, but the motivation behind softball is social.

Each team means getting to see a whole different group of people, and for someone who thrives on being surrounded with friendly people, it gets no better than this. My summer will be divided among the Sigal Construction team on Monday and Tuesday nights, the Easy Sliders corec team on Thursday evenings, the Foundry team in the Georgetown Bar League on Saturday mornings, and The Washington Post newsroom team Sunday mornings.

The best part of softball is the three-hour postgame analysis of the 65-minute game. The sessions also allow a weekly opportunity to catch up on whatever is happening in the lives of your friends.

But the game really is what brings us all together. Over the next few months, we'll talk about my teams and my teammates, the good days and plays and the bad ones, too.