When I had last played softball, the bases were made of rocks and the hide on the leather ball was still attached to the animal. So when I agreed to play again this year on the Mighty Mick's team, I expected some changes.
What I didn't expect was that there are new rules, and there are Omaha rules. The city calls itself the Softball Capital of The World—indeed it has more fields per capita than other city—so it only takes a tiny bit more arrogance to rewrite how the game is played altogether for its own convenience.
My first surprise was that the unsportsmanlike fees we paid to join the association don't pay the umpires. We are expected to slip them some cash before each game, which, in other sports, gets you ejected. I also made the mistake of giving them the correct amount, which is probably a reason we lost every game but one.
The point in Omaha is to get the game over with—indeed, get four games over with in four hours, such that the umpires can go home regardless of whether you are finished. It's no longer a game—it's a Softball Factory. I imagine they learned it from the Chinese.
To help you speed things along in Omaha they add a tenth person to the outfield. You start off with a count of one ball and one strike, before you even lift your bat. After three balls a female walks to first base, but a male gets to go on to second. Females are pitched a different ball to hit than males. And my personal favorite Omaha-ism of all: hit the ball over the outfield fence and it's a home run. Do it again and it's an automatic out. That is, if you're good, you're now bad.
If you learn to avoid all those landmines and manage to have fun for the whole hour, the boys in blue will call off the game. Can't run late. Git'r done.
It works, though: after hearing all those crippling rules, I felt the game was already half over before it started. And with a 7:30pm start time clear across town, I was always home by 9:00pm. Chop-chop!
Our team learned the hard way that the infield is made of sandpaper. They mix gravel with the dirt because it's cheaper for them to maintain. (Maybe they'll save enough money to pay their umpires.) I took human anatomy in high school but learned more about the muscles and tendons of the leg after watching Justin slide into second. I also learned you can get kicked out of a game for bleeding.
Ball uniforms—those pinstripe collarless shirt and Capri pants—used to be something you could only wear to a ballfield, or on Halloween. Omahans today wear the same thing they wear to a fancy restaurant: t-shirt, saggy shorts and dirty sneakers. The ballcap now is worn in one of various symbolic orientations, depending on whether you are, or aspire to be, black.
Sour Grapes Alert: our combined score over seven games was 15-126. But at least the whole season only took six hours (two games were called off early due to lopsided scores). And yes, it hurts a little that we only won one game, during which we used one of the opposing team's pitchers. And I was absent that night.