The future ain't what it used to be. — Yogi Berra
We lost a second baseman in July. Pulled hamstring.
Our switch-hitting outfielder went down in early August. Pulled hamstring.
Lost another outfielder last week. Pulled back.
But go ahead, ask me: have we lost any games? Even with all our injuries, bruised up like the last banana, do you think we've lost any games this season? Think we've lost even just one?
We've lost quite a few.
"We're a second half team," our catcher says.
We are the Holey Sox, a crowd of 12 or so men who have three things in common: we're Methodist, we're over 40 and we're playing church softball.
And this week, it's tournament time.
"We're playing the Presbyterians," our manager says. (He's also the catcher.)
We've tangled with them before, those Presbyterians. They think they're predestined to win or something. Earlier this season, I walked to the plate against them, tapped my cleats with my bat and looked up to give the pitcher my best hairy eyeball stare, when lo and behold, it was Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire on the mound.
Heck of a pitcher, although he did keep pitching a lot to the right. To the ... right. The ... right. (Anyone?)
Apparently, Sen. Gardenhire likes to park his car close to the field. Once, someone said, they fouled a ball off him, and it was headed right toward his windshield.
"You hit my car," he hollered, "and I'll raise your taxes!"
Gardenhire pitched me inside, and I popped out to the shortstop, for probably the 2,895 time this season. (I've think I've been using a gluten-free bat.)
"Swing level," our center fielder tells me.
Two nights a week, we play seven innings of softball, with some improved rules.
• 1. There are two first bases. One your standard white, the other breast-cancer pink.
• 2. There are two home plates. Same color scheme.
• 3. To avoid collisions, runners headed to first or home are to touch the pink plate, not the white one.
• 4. You start each at bat with one strike and one ball.
• 5. You end each game with caps-off infield prayer.
And finally, the best rule I've learned: don't take it too seriously.
"Have you heard of the new movie 'Constipation?'" our catcher will ask, just as you start your swing. "It hasn't come out yet."
The season has completely changed my view of sports. You can have your high-priced Uptons and Puigs and Verlanders. Who can relate to them, especially if you're sweating mortgage payments or can barely hit it to short center? (Me again.)
Our Holey Sox team? We're just like everybody else.
We've got pulled hamstring ... and pulled heartstrings.
We've got parents in the hospital. Kids who are hurting. Wives who are sick. We're worried about work. We've lost our jobs. We're losing our bodies, this two-arm and two-leg contraption that used to do whatever we asked of it.
We're in the middle innings of life.
Sometimes, we strike out.
And sometimes, we hit it deep.
That promotion comes our way. We get a job offer, then another one. Our kids heal, our wives get better, parents, too. We beat out the shortstop's throw to first.
That's the real highlight reel. Despite the out-of-whackness of life -- like a game of dizzy-bat made real -- we still show up twice a week, maybe limping, maybe not, and lace up our $20 cleats, slap each other on the back and play hard.
"Swing level," our center fielder says.
Swing level ... no matter what life throws at you.
Who knew it would take me 40 years to realize the true meaning of sports?
Holey Soxers, two things to say. (First, sorry 'bout the time that grounder went through my legs, and two runs scored, and we lost.)
The other thing?
I am reminded of what the Big Closer in the Sky once said.
"One day, the last shall be first."
Here's hoping that day comes during tournament time.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...