Joe Iosue had endured a long softball season. His men's C League team had won only two of 14 games, having blown seven leads in the sixth or seventh inning. His coed team had not done quite so well; it was winless.
Iosue had problems, but his headaches were destined to become the lowest moment I would endure during my 1985 softball season which I have occasionally chronicled on these pages throughout the summer. In fact, what occurred at the Norbeck Recreation Center in Rockville one day in August was not only the rock bottom of more than 100 games I played this summer, but to an admitted softball addict like myself, was one of the lowest moments of my entire life.
In the Montgomery County Corec League, a team must play at least five members of one sex and four of the other at all times. Two minutes before game time, Iosue kept looking around, but could find no more than three females who were dedicated enough to show up for the game against my 4-9 Easy Sliders.
But Iosue withstood too much this season to be the victim of a forfeit. There was another female on his sideline. Sitting in the bleachers, in maternity clothes, was his wife Cathy. She was more than five months pregnant.
Cathy became the No. 7 hitter in the Equipco lineup, and she was carefully placed defensively one step inside the left field line.
Some teams might refuse to take the field against a club that would press a pregnant woman into action. The Easy Sliders, however, until this season, had never won more than two games in a season without the aid of a forfeit. They abide by the team motto, "We'll take anything. We have no pride."
As pitcher, my problem was how do you pitch to a pregnant batter?
Cathy strode to the plate seriously and even maneuvered into as much of a crouch as her figure would allow. As I stared toward her, the only thought that kept popping into mind was from Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four." Vividly I recalled Bouton describing the pitchers' meetings from the time he was with the then Seattle Pilots. After each pitcher detailed what he would throw to a particular batter in the upcoming series, veteran Gary Bell simply advised, "Smoke him inside." Bouton concluded that, according to Gary Bell, every hitter in the major leagues could be handled with inside fast balls.
I did not want to smoke Cathy Iosue inside, even if I could manage that in a game of slow pitch softball. I did not even want to lob her inside. What I wanted was a quick review of my homeowners insurance to see just how extensive was my liability coverage. The outside corner was the closest any pitch was coming to Cathy Iosue's body.
Apparently, she thrives on outside pitching.
Players from both teams broke up when this soon-to-be mother lined my second pitch over the shortstop's head for a clean single to left.
Everyone shook their heads in amazement in the third inning when Cathy stuck out her glove and caught what would have been a sure double down the left field line.
When she came up in the third, and Equipco leading, 6-1, I was not getting too serious, but I let the catcher know that I might be trying to throw a little closer to the middle of the plate.
Apparently, Cathy likes pitches that are grooved also.
She smacked a line drive over the third baseman's head, driving in a run.
Corec softball has never been my favorite form of the game. For a softball who addict who admits he likes to play hard, and occasionally takes more than a couple of slices of pizza to calm down after a difficult loss, this was getting a little embarrassing.
Making it all the more intolerable was coming to the bench after each inning. At the game was Kyle, a friend of mine in upstate New York. Kyle never imagined he would have such an enjoyable time in Washington. He collected enough material to berate me at the tavern back home for at least two decades.
When it comes to softball, the Sliders want nothing to do with being serious, but on this day, we rallied for six runs in the bottom of the seventh. The bases were loaded and I was on third base when one of our best hitters, Jay Billie, sent a screaming liner by my head. I trotted toward home knowing we pulled out a game I would like to forget, even if it was a victory.
But these were no ordinary end-of-the-game faces the catcher, umpire and on-deck batter were wearing when I moved closer to home. Their eyes were glued to the left field line, and I turned to see Cathy Iosue take two steps back, reach up, and make the catch that sent the ball game into extra innings.
Equipco won it in the eighth, 10-7.
My teammates did not seem to care much about the fact that we lost. They were thrilled by the seventh-inning rally that tied the game.
Of course, my teammates all grew up in suburbia. They do not know what it is to be from a small town, with only one true gathering place where the conversation all year round consists of rehashing personal sports exploits dating back to sixth grade.
If Thomas Wolfe was right, you can't go home again. The lowest point of his life must have occurred in a softball game, and he knew the only thing worse would be facing the troops the next time he wandered into the local watering hole.