(Another in a series of occasional articles by a softball fanatic)

When a softball player is in a batting slump, everyone wants to help, but no one can hide the fact that times are bad.

I began to learn the hard way about one-third of the way through this summer as I endured the worst slump of my career.

In a stretch of nine days, covering seven games, I came up with a total of five hits. At one point, I went hitless in 10 straight at bats. My previous career worst was six.

I was not hitting the ball as badly as the scorebook indicated, but that knowledge was as welcome as knowing the temporary euphoria produced by laughing gas will wear off in 35 minutes and for the rest of the day, I will discover how painful root canal work really is.

In one game, I hit two line drives, off the fat part of the bat, directly at the left nostril of the pitcher for Candance and the Fabulous Steps. Somehow, he caught both.

Earlier in that game, a ball I sliced down the right field line appeared to be a sure double to everyone in Wheaton, except the umpire who called it foul because she said she did not have a good view.

In another game, a 3-0 pitch bounced three feet in front of the plate. I tossed my bat to our bench , and jogged toward first base when the umpire bellowed, "Strike one." He said tossing the bat across the plate constituted a swing.

My teammates constantly tried to comfort and encourage me.

In one sequence in the on-deck area, one player suggested I use our lightest bat in order to get more snap from my wrists. Another strolled by and insisted I go for more power by using "The Meathead," the team's heaviest bat. Before that idea could be contemplated, another player said I should go back to using the wooden "Krasher" that I had used successfully for many years.

Bat selection really did not matter. I do not think anything was going to prevent the ensuing ground out to second base.

It is fact more than theory that when all of your bloops fall for hits, the trend follows off the field.

After back-to-back three-hit games earlier this year, the next day's mail brought a notice saying my car insurance was actually going to be lower for the next six months. And that weekend, the woman I met on a blind date was not only interesting and pretty, but she even agreed to go out with me again.

During a slump, however, all aspects of life turn negative.

After a zero-for-four game, I drove 22 miles home from the restaurant the team had gone after the game only to discover I was not longer in possession of my wallet. Hoping to find the wallet somewhere in the darkness, I took a flashlight out of a kitchen drawer, and the bulb and batteries promptly discharged from the top, breaking the bulb.

After the 22-mile trek back, I amazingly found the wallet in the parking lot. Still disgusted about the entire day upon arriving home, I plopped into a director's chair -- and rapidly hit the floor when the cloth seat ripped into separate halves. You are on some kind of roll when the highlight of the day is not losing your wallet.

The following afternoon, I was helping a new acquaintance move into her just-purchased townhouse, hoping it could at least lead to dinner. Instead, three hours of carrying furniture and boxes ended when what turned out to be her boyfriend suddenly appeared in the doorway. I quickly surmised it was time to go for some extra hitting practice at the batting cages in Burtonsville.