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Posts Tagged ‘softball’

As I wrote last week, I’ve been trying to break into the competitive sports scene in the D.C. area since moving here from New York a few months ago.

So far, so good, in getting onto a softball team–though I recently learned the team is sponsored by a local gentleman’s club (I am begging you to read the reviews for this place. BTW, a business idea: a blog where people who write Yelp reviews of strip clubs are given carte blanche to just write a couple hundred words on literally anything. I’d read that.)

Okay, we got a little off track there, but onto the main event: the story of how I tried out for a local tennis team, and how things became much more serious than I anticipated.

In looking for ways to immerse myself in the community–taking the first of many steps to becoming Northern Virginia’s answer to Coach Taylor–I reached out to some of the local tennis organizations to see about either joining a team or a ladder* to keep in shape, meet some people, and play tennis with people of a similar skill level to my own.

*A ladder is essentially a list of people who can schedule matches with each other around their own schedules, rather than being scheduled by a league. After they complete a match, they report their scores to the ladder admin, who keeps track of everyone’s win-loss record. At the end of a pre-determined “season” there may be a playoff, and a winner is ultimately crowned. It’s a great way to play tennis competitively without the rigidity of a league situation.

During the process I guess my name ended up on a few lists and message boards, and every so often someone would reach out about meeting up to hit around, or a team they were on, or suggestions for leagues to join.

On February 29 I received an email from a team captain who had gotten my information from another captain who had reached out to me (that team was in a weeknight league, but I was looking for something on weekends):

I captain an excellent team in the DC USTA 4.0 Spring league that will start in April. … The last two years we have won the league and advanced to sectionals in Newport News. … This time we hope to win sectionals and advance to nationals. It seems like you would be a perfect fit for our team being a high end 4.0/low end 4.5 so to speak.

 

Not sure whether to be flattered as a “high end 4.0” or offended at being called a “low end 4.5,”* I wrote back, expressing interest. We agreed to meet the following Sunday morning so he could get a better sense of whether I could play.

*The United States Tennis Association (USTA) rates players based on skill level. I haven’t ever been officially rated, but based on my experience playing in college and asking people who know about these things, I’m around a 4.5. However, I’ve also come to realize that most tennis people in the know tend to play about half a level down from their true rating, so I should be looking at 4.0 leagues.

After 45 minutes of warming up, rallying, and playing a few points, The Captain had seen enough. My groundstrokes and serve had been solid, but my volleys and overheads were weak, having not played in a while. But I assured him it was just rust, and playing steadily would be sure to shake the cobwebs off my game. I had played both singles and doubles at a Division III college, and felt confident I could regain some of that form (albeit it was now 10+ years after graduating).

My day job is in sales, so I did my best to ask not-too-pushy questions that would get The Captain to betray his honest opinion on whether I was right for his team. Before seeing me play he said I would be a “perfect fit,” but now he didn’t seem so sure.

He told me he needed to see me play one more time to make a decision. He later arranged for me to hit with one of his teammates, but that session was rained out. And so I sat in purgatory, not knowing if I was going to make the team. (This was a very different experience from the softball tryouts I’d attend a week later.)

I reached out to The Captain (twice) via email about next steps. His reply, a few days later:

Sorry for the delay in responding. … The first thing you need to do is to join usta and self rate on the usta website. The computer will likely rate you at 4.5 as you are a former division 3 player under 36. Then click the appeal button to appeal down to 4.0. You highlight the factors in your background to make your case here, i.e., haven’t played competitively in 10 years, lost almost all of your doubles matches in Division 3, any injuries? I think the appeals committee meets on Tuesdays. If you are bumped down to 4.0 then I can consider you. There is alot of interest in our team so no promises yet. Once I find out that you are rated  a 4.0, we’ll regroup.

He was the one who reached out to me! Also, I was somehow too good (I needed to appeal to the USTA to decrease my rating) but also not good enough to be given a spot on The Captain’s team. What?

My initial reaction was to send him a scathing email–how dare he ask me to jump through these hoops just to be considered for his team! Instead I spoke to my tennis braintrust–two of my college teammates, and my father-in-law–who convinced me to “play the game.” The Captain was a little fanatical about his tennis, but maybe he was just being passionate. If I made the team, it could be a pretty cool experience competing for a regional or national title.

Gritting my teeth, I sent my reply:

Thanks for your detailed reply. … I’m happy to take the appropriate steps towards getting my USTA rating to make sure I’m qualified to join your team. But before I do, I’m hoping you can share your thoughts on whether I’m the right fit for your team.
As you noted, right now I’m a stronger singles player than doubles player–but I believe my doubles abilities will come back the more I play (I’ve also joined a ladder to get some extra strokes in during the week). Are you concerned about my flexibility to play both singles and doubles if needed? Or about my ability as a singles player? As I said I’d be happy to hit with you … this weekend as a second tryout, and if you’re still not sold on me I’ll withdraw from consideration for your team.
If you are seriously considering me for your team, I’ll go ahead and follow the steps you laid out re: getting rated a 4.0. But if you’re thinking I’m not a great fit without needing to see me play a second time, please let me know.
Thanks in advance for your candor.
If the team was not going to be a good fit for me, that was fine. At this point I wanted to know I was on the team, or to check this off my list and move on. The Captain replied:
Here is the situation. I run and play on a DC team 18+ and a [Maryland] 18+ team. Both teams are excellent. The DC team advanced to sectionals the last 2 years. The MD team advanced to state regionals the last 2 years and fell just short of advancing to sectionals. We think this year it will happen. Both teams are competitive and no one knows what will happen with either team until the matches are played. Both could advance or neither. Last year both of my DC 40 and MD 40 teams advanced to sectionals. In DC, the scoring is based on total courts won in the season so every court played counts. In MD, the scoring is based on total matches. So if a team won 3 of the 5 courts played in the match, it counts as 1 match won. You have nice strokes, but are still rusty and it will take some time to groove the strokes again and get back to your regular game. With the season starting so soon, I can’t take the risk in DC of losing any courts while working on consistency. In MD I can take the risk of losing a court in a match during this period of working on consistency because the team is strong enough to win enough other courts to win the match. As the season progresses, you will eventually be back in the groove. This enables you to get back in the game with competitive match play with no pressure. I might have one slot open on the MD team. If you are interested in the MD team, we can talk about that. Both seasons are during the same time frame starting in April. 
“I might have one slot open on the MD team.” We never once had spoken about playing for his team in Maryland! Rather than assuming this guy was baiting and switching me this whole time, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s managing so many tennis teams that he mistakenly did not inform me that my chances of joining his team were slim, and that he would likely end up having me compete for a possible (but not guaranteed) spot on his team in Maryland.
As you might guess, at this point I replied to let The Captain know I was no longer interested in pursuing a spot on any of his teams. If the right situation presents itself later this spring, I’ll consider it. But clearly it won’t be with The Captain.
Whatever. I bet his team isn’t sponsored by a gentleman’s club…
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In February 2005 I started at my first post-college job at Petry Media Corporation in Manhattan. The sole perk of this position, besides being gainfully employed, was the company softball team.

An athletic guy who played sports all his life, I thought I’d automatically be given a spot on the team. (What an entitled millennial I was!)

Instead, the manager and starting pitcher for the team, Marty, explained that the team was highly competitive, dating back to the 1970s, and that if I wanted a spot on the team I’d have to try out for it.

When the season started a few months later, I was given an opportunity to get into a game and show Marty that I could play. I barely passed my audition, managing four infield singles and solid defense in the field. But Marty was impressed with my speed and glove, so I had earned my spot.

After that tryout, I started on Petry’s team for 11 consecutive seasons until I recently moved from the New York area to just outside of Washington D.C.

Now, I find myself, at 34, trying out again, this time for the local softball league. There’s no such thing as a résumé or references when it comes to joining a softball league. I can regale the head of the league with stories about how I once hit four home runs in a game (leaving out the part where I committed seven errors at shortstop in the same game), or how I hold virtually every team record for the Petry Pilots (again, including most errors in a single game), or how my lifetime batting average is around .450.

But none of that matters. I’m starting from scratch. I’m just some not-that-young guy who is looking to keep the last of his competitive fire alive, meet some good people and make some friends in the process, and maybe have some fun and win some games, too.

After asking too many questions for the league commissioner, he eventually informed me that there would be an open tryout on March 12 at noon at the local field for “free agents” (i.e. prospective players without a team) like myself, and that I had the opportunity to showcase my talent (if I had any) to any of the team captains and coaches who chose to attend the tryout. If they liked what they saw they could select me from the free agent pool and add me to their rosters.

I hadn’t had to try out for a team since 2005* so I didn’t really know what to make of the situation. I had to put my feelings of entitlement and indignation aside and focus on showing these guys what I had to offer to their teams. (I also had to get used to the fact that despite my improved play at shortstop—that seven-error game was years ago, so lay off!—there was no guaranteed I’d get to play my favorite position.)

*I’ve interviewed for many jobs since 2005, which were all effectively tryouts to some degree. But sports feels a little different.

And so I went out and gave it my best without being too flashy. My defense was solid, though I didn’t get much of a chance to show off my arm. My hitting was passable for not having hit a softball since last August. All in all I gave them enough to judge me as a guy who could add value to most softball teams.

During the warm-ups, the scrimmage game that followed, and after we ended the official tryout, several coaches approached me to ask me what night I was interested in playing on (each league was assigned a night, much like the Petry Pilots had all their games on Tuesdays since, I think, the beginning of time), as well as what position I was interested in playing (and which other positions besides shortstop I would be open to). They also told me about their own teams, trying to put their own best feet forward. “We won our league last year,” or “We’re a fun group of guys,” or “Do you like burgers and beer? We’re partially sponsored by a local pub.”

I played tennis in college but had walked onto the team without being recruited by any schools, and so this feeling of someone actively pursuing me based on my athletic ability was new. None of them offered me a sports car or illicit cash in an envelope, but they were certainly jockeying with each other for the best possible players for their roster. And by the time I left I had given my contact info to four different team captains. (When I left I said, “Okay, well that’s enough speed dating for me!” No one laughed.)

Though a full-time position as shortstop is not guaranteed on any of their teams—just like I had on Marty’s team, I’d have to earn my position—I ultimately decided to play for Frank, a retired military guy I met during warmups who reminded me a lot of Marty, my former coach.

Frank has a first-place caliber team who lost a few guys during the off-season and is looking to reload his roster. He brought one of his teammates to the tryout, who hit a couple of home runs during batting practice, so it was clear they had at least one guy who could swing the bat.

The first game will be in a few weeks, and that’s really when my tryout begins. Will I be able to secure playing time on Frank’s team throughout the season, and prove him right in selecting me for his roster? (I use “select” loosely as he group emailed me and four other guys after the tryout about joining his team.)

Maybe Frank’s team will be a bust, or maybe I’ll play 11 seasons for him. Either way it’s a fresh start in a new place, and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to be playing competitive softball again.

I should only hope the tennis team tryout I have next week goes so well…

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