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Les Boys and Filles of Summer

Posted by Stefan / August 22, 2008

baseball4 edit.jpg Baseball exists at the cross-section of many subcultures. A genuinely American pastime, its roots are a pastiche of legend, bullshit, lore, and innuendo; its origin story is shared by war veterans of the American South and King Vlaicu Voda, a 14th century Romanian monarch. Countless Hollywood films extol its virtues, the inimitable Philip Roth has mercilessly skewered Cold War paranoia through its dusty lens, and a cult of Chicago-based Pharisees have recently crowned baseball the "hipster sport de rigeur." As no-doubt baseball fan John McCain would say, "Friends, football can have Thanksgiving, the Boys of Summer get, um, the whole summer."

The gnawing burdens of civilization are ubiquitous, if but tacitly documented. Those seeking to avoid the ire of their Fellow Man perform stage-managed routines designed to reduce societal friction. As a result, at about the age when our parents begin to trust us with the baser civil prerequisites, we develop a keen sense of social regimentation. The jocks, we soon learn, are near the top, and as long as we leave them to ply their trade, the rest of us will be left to squander our youth in peace.
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But sometime around the mid-20s, another impulse kicks as we realize that if we're not careful, we may never again summon the ghosts of stranded-runners, full-counts, and bottom of the ninth heroics. While men of my stature and coordination are generally better suited to chess and record collection, neither activity lends itself well to a Saturday afternoon spent half-drunk at Fletcher's Field. Civility be damned! I want to stand to my knees in dust and sweat (my own and then some)! I want sunshine, pop-flys, and stolen bases. I want La Ligue de Baseball Vraiment Amateur de Montréal (LBVAM).

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Managed by "Etienne," truly a modern-day Abner Doubleday, LBVAM is a rag-tag co-ed weekly pick-up softball league. For a small fee, organizers take care of rentals, supply equipment, and cart in well-chilled libations. Participants (it's hard to call them athletes) range in age, occupation, interests, and socio-linguistic proclivities. Outings reflect the bizarre social networking enabled by sites like Facebook and Meetup, as it is difficult to trace who knows whom from where. Having attended for the past two weeks, I have seen exactly 0 displays of poor sportsmanship, despite the ample opportunities provided by the disparate skill set of the players.

Are participants merely realizing sublimated urges left untended by the Expos's still-recent departure? Probably not. Regardless, there is an element of innocence and nostalgia to the games which add to the experience. After cranking a double (full disclosure: it was really the product of an in-field error), I giggled like a 19th century German school-boy, skipping along the Strasse with visions of plump confectionary goods and satchel in hand (fans of The Sopranos will recognize the Happy Wanderer). The mood is never damped by the presence of that other ball diamond ritual, the rhythmic taunt. Studies have shown that a softball actually becomes more aerodynamic as it travels through the air rocked by gentle mockery. To cap it all off with a cold beer (or several) is to gradually convince the mind that you have in fact regressed to a time when the summer never felt out of reach.

Every sport has its demographic. Loyal partisans who fit the mold of participants or observers eagerly march behind their teams. The asymmetry between the two can be amusing; imagine beer-gutted dynamos on the ice as the Habs crush the Bruins, or 80-pound fifth-graders taking the field with their beloved Alouettes; you needn't be a contender to be a fan. Perhaps due to its reputation as baseball's lazy (and cricket's unrefined) cousin, softball blurs the line between spectatorship and sport. Arguably the only physical activity in which testing the hypothesis that individual performance improves by swilling beer one can feasibly expect a positive result, it's the perfect august escape.
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Photos by Margot En, who caught a pop-fly.



S. / August 24, 2008 at 04:15 pm
this week's game was followed by some pizza and dairy queen. the only thing missing was quartered oranges in a large tupperware container.
Jer / August 25, 2008 at 11:15 am
This is fantastic.

As an aside, my dept.'s softball intramural team just finished it's summer season - our first winning season ever. We may be a rag-tag crew, but for a brief moment, we were kings and queens.

Goodbye for another season.
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