Beer is the reason for softball

Can’t see the L.A. Dodgers — they’re not on. Thanks again, Dodgers.

I can’t stomach the L.A. Lakers — I’ve watched, and they’ve barely been on all year. I can’t afford the L.A. Kings — everyone is on their bandwagon.

No Dodgers, or Lakers or Kings, oh my!

Thank God for the Saints!

This week, Saints We Ain’t, the softball team I play on in the San Fernando Valley, in a city recreation league, began its roughly 25th season; it’s about my tenth. So far this season, we are 1-0.

Time to retire to the bar, maybe even call off the rest of the season!

The clever team name is derived from the team being loosely and unofficially affiliated with a local Catholic church in the San Fernando Valley — almost everyone who plays on the team either belonged to the parish or had kids go through its school.

Saints JerseyBut we’re definitely not kids. And we definitely ain’t Saints.

The pre-game ritual: the stretching, warming up and preparing for the game has a certain sound, a symphony of grunts, re-awakening of stiff muscles and the reclaiming of our youth, at least for an hour or two. There is taunting — among players on our own team. There is early declaration of injuries/excuses. There is the wondering if so and so is going to show up, only to see him sauntering though the outfield from the parking lot with five minutes until game time.

After the game, the sounds are the same each week: “You going to Chili’s?” There is no warm-up required there.

For many on the team — especially the older half — the game is simply foreplay, with Chili’s as the climactic destination for the evening. There is beer. There are chips and salsa. There are sports highlights on TV. There are familiar waitresses.

Mostly though, there is camaraderie, male bonding, and team chemistry that comes when you get out of shape athletes together with cold beverages: communal grumblings about home life, bragging about off-field victories of all kinds, needling about on-field miscues.

Unfortunately, some of the younger guys on our team skip the post-game activities fairly frequently, especially after the 9 pm games. “Younger” on our team means a couple of late 30’s guys, a couple of mid 40’s who mostly have young kids at home and wives who want them home on a Monday night.

Sometimes, though, we get them to come out after the 7:30 pm games. For those, we’re done at the field before nine and they’re encouraged to “Come on out for one!”

They come for one quick beer … which turns into two, and into fun stories from new tellers, or old stories re-told to new ears. Either way, a full table at Chili’s makes the outcome of the game we just played inconsequential. And usually more enjoyable, and definitely less painful.

Although that could wind up a tie the next morning.

Even after we lost the championship game last season to “Gits and Shiggles,” a team made up of mostly 30 and 40-something guys and a couple of 30-something girls — who clearly played some college-level ball — we reveled at Chili’s. It didn’t hurt that the second place trophy was the same size at the first place trophy, i.e., laughably big. Seriously like 3-foot tall. The trophy should have come with a parking garage.

Saints-ChilesThe 22-oz beers at Chili’s weren’t even half that tall so we had to have more than one. Had to. Chili’s is part of our … conditioning.

There was a time a few years ago when the (then) team manager suggested that we skip the games and just come right to Chili’s. I voiced opposition to that plan, I happen to really enjoy playing the game first. Next thing you know, I was voted manager.

Aside from “the young guys,” Saints We Ain’t has a roster where more than half of the team receives AARP magazine, some for years. Invariably we play at least a couple of games against guys that are younger — much younger. Some of the guys on other teams could be our sons.

Which gave me an idea. This year, there’s a very good chance we may cheat.

After some surprising repeated requests by my almost 17-year-old son, I checked the rules and discovered all players must be 18. My son, who is bigger than me, can pass for 18 now. I have decided that if we are missing players, that is, if two or three or more of the dozen or so guys I have on the roster can not make it for a certain game, my 17-year-old son will be the first “go to” guy to fill in.

He will not be a “ringer.” No one will question where we got this talented ballplayer. He hasn’t played organized ball in five years or so. He went from Little League to volleyball to wanting to make films.

But he will be playing on the same field as his dad. That warms my heart, even more than the salsa will at Chili’s after the game.

It also means that’s another two-plus hours out of the week that I will know exactly where he is, what he is doing and who he is with. If his lack of experience or a mis-play costs us a game … I’ll still consider it a win.

Of course, this hasn’t happened yet. If you’re familiar with the attention span and determination focus of teenage boys, you know the guaranteed odds that this will happen falls somewhere between “possibly” and Warren Buffet’s million dollar bracket payoff.

But we talked about it. He’s interested. He mentioned a trip to the batting cages.

We’ll see. He could be a Saint in the making.

All photos by Mike Brennan