Tagged: Ball Busters

The Central Park Game

The last time I played softball in Central Park was on August 21, 2016. My team, the Ball Busters, had just won the league championship.

Four years ago today, I played my last softball game at Central Park.

My friends and readers of this site know that playing softball each summer has been a big part of my life for almost as long as I have lived in New York. This summer, however, I haven’t played a single game—partly due to the pandemic cancelling my leagues, but also mostly due to other emotional traumas that I’d rather not discuss here. Not playing softball feels weird, but only in moments like this when I reflect on how it is gone.


Starting in 2005, I started playing on Sunday afternoons in Central Park with The Bandits. We had moved to a Central Park league after playing a year in a league run by EMTs that played weeknights in Harlem. The league was a terrible experience, not least of which because of the sound of gun fire that I would occasionally hear during our games.

Playing softball in Central Park has a unique magnificence to it. Photo by me, June 5, 2005.

Playing in Central Park each Sunday in the summer was a singular experience. I loved having throngs of tourists watching us play, especially Europeans who posed many questions about our peculiar game. However, being on the Bandits was a tough experience. We were not a very good team, consistently finishing at the bottom of the standings. The only exception was in 2009, when we recruited a few players from my Brooklyn league and finished in second place and lost in the finals to the top-ranked team in a three-game series.

Despite the great finish, I was disappointed that we lost in the finals to a team I felt we could have beaten so bailed on the Bandits. I switched to a different team—the Ball Busters—run by my friend Johnny in the offseason. The Ball Busters finished 7th on 2009, but, as I looked at their schedule, I saw that they had lost a lot of one-run games. Three factors aided my decision: I had been pitching in McCarren Park for a couple of years and wanted to pitch more, the Bandits didn’t let me pitch, and the Ball Busters didn’t have a full-time pitcher. I figured that if I could pitch, I could help turn a few of those loses into wins. Indeed we did. In 2010, we finished in first place but lost in the first-round to the Bandits partly because I missed the game to attend my friend’s wedding in Connecticut.

The Ball Busters posted a winning record for several years, never finished lower than the second seed. We even won two titles: once in 2012 and again in 2013. I pitched almost all of our games, including the playoffs. I loved the pressure of pitching in big games, especially when I had pitched every inning of a triple-header. It took a while to learn to pace myself, but once I did, I relished the exhilarating combination of exhaustion and pressure. : why can’t I do this in the parts of my life where it matters.

The Ball Busters after our second championship. Photo by me, August 18, 2013.

After the 2015 season, my friend Johnny announced that he was moving to Florida and that the team would be run by Hermes, an affable teammate who quickly passed on the management to someone else, a guy everyone calls Cano.

The 2016 season was very different than the others for the Ball Busters. First, many of our teammates left for various reasons. Some went on extended vacations, some moved away, and others cut down to playing on Saturdays in a different league. Second, we had many new players that the new manager brought to the team. The biggest difference for me was that, after pitching in nearly every Ball Busters game since 2020, I didn’t pitch a single inning in 2016. I played a bit in the outfield and was the “extra hitter,” a unique softball position created to allow someone to play but not really play.

Our new manager took our team in a very different direction, including the new pink team shirts. Photo by me, April 10, 2016.

The 2016 Ball Busters were a force. We lost only three games in a twenty-four game season, but I didn’t factor in many of those wins (or those losses). We swept our opponents in the quarterfinals and in the semifinals, and if I played in those games, I don’t remember. I certainly didn’t pitch a single inning of these postseason games.


The finals were scheduled for August 21. The day before I had bought some oysters from the fishmonger at the local farmers market. In those days, I ate raw oysters all the time, and I even fancied myself a capable shucker. But this weekend, I think I failed to keep the oysters sufficiently cold. The next morning on the day of the 2016 finals, I woke up feeling sick, lying next to a puddle of vomit on my pillow. At first I thought I was hungover. I did drink quite a bit the night before, but after a while, it was clear that the oysters made me sick.

I told Megan that I was going to skip the finals games in Central Park that morning. I felt sick and didn’t have the energy to leave bed, much less take a five-mile bike ride to a game in Central Park. She tried to coax me to the game noting the magnitude of the game: “but it’s the finals!” But more important, as I remember telling her, it’s not as if I would play anyway. After a while I mustered enough energy to get out of bed and bike to Central Park. This was I could at least cheer on my teammates and sneak in to the team photo if we won.

The finals were to start at 10:00 am that morning, and I arrived on the field at about 11:15 or so. I figured that I had missed the first game and arrived in time for the second. I asked someone on my team for the score. “We’re up by a couple,” he responded. When I asked for the inning, he informed me that it was fifth inning of the first game.

“Wait, didn’t we start at 10 o’clock?”

“No, the fields were closed because it rained. We started really late. This is the first game”

The Ball Busters held on to win the first game. We lost the second game, meaning we were tied in the series and had to play a third game. Hermes pitched the first two games. He was drenched in sweat and looked wiped out, and I told our manager, Cano, that he was “done.” Cano looked around to see who could pitch the third and deciding game. He asked his wife, who is a really solid pitcher. “Nope,” she declined. Again, our manager continued to scan our bench and looked at me. Holding the ball, he twists his wrist, now palm-side up, and shows me the ball. “You ready?,” he asks me. Without saying anything, I take the ball and walk to the field.

As I watched the first two games, a guy named Tommy came to watch our games. He said hi to me, and asked if I wanted a steak taco. He had cooked the steak at home, packed hot tortillas into a styrofoam warmer, and even made a “cilantro pesto” for the tacos. The tacos settled my stomach, which had been wrenched the day before by rotten oysters and too many whiskey shots. Tommy was like the mythical Saint Bernard that nurses lost explorers in the unforgiving arctic conditions. Except here, he nursed me back into playing shape.

As I walked to the pitching plate, I realized that this was the first time I had pitched all year in Central Park. The Central Park fields are a bit different than others in the city. They are in much better shape and they also have a real pitching rubber that’s dug into the ground. But also, the infield dimensions are different than the infield at, say, McCarren Park: I think the distance from the pitching plate to home plate is about fifty feet, about five feet further than it is at McCarren Park and most other NYC softball fields.

It took me about a dozen warmup pitches to get the ball to reach the plate, and then several more to find my location. This league is a modified, fast-pitch league, meaning I can throw the ball hard, as long as my hand doesn’t go above my shoulder in the wind-up: no slinging or side-winding is allowed. As the game started, I was still struggling to throw strikes and to locate the ball. But I knew that this was a big game and that the batters would be as nervous to face me as I was to face them. I decided that instead of throwing hard, I would throw the ball as slow as I could.

Except for a sneaking in a few fastballs, I pitched as slowly as I could, and it worked. The batters all seemed very anxious and for the most part, didn’t hit the ball square. There was however one home run. Our team managed to scratch across three runs, but our batters didn’t produce much. The previous two games apparently wiped them out, too.

The game ended with a weak flyout to the outfield. As the ball was caught, I pounded my fist against my mitt and met all my teammates in the middle of infield for the obligatory celebration “on the mound.” We had just won the league championship.

It took three games, but we won the best-of-three final series to take the 2016 Heckscher Cup. August 21, 2016.

We celebrated for a bit on the field, drank a few beers and, yes, I ate another steak taco or two. Afterward, I biked Williamsburg to meet Megan and share my news with my Brooklyn softball friends. I remembering getting stares from everyone from looking soaking wet from sweat, drizzle, and who knows how many beers.

As I told the story, I began to realize that this might be the best softball outcome I could imagine. I had spent over a decade playing in Central Park—underneath the magnificent Manhattan skyline—and capped it off with pitching my team to a 3-1 title-clinching game. It was my third title with the Ball Busters, and I had pitched in each of those deciding games.

In the offseason, I told Hermes and Cano that I was not returning. I mumbled something about not wanting to play games so close to Trump Tower, but actually it was because I didn’t want to start all over—at the square one—to recreate this feeling of joy and accomplishment. Experiencing that was truly special, and it would be foolish to attempt to find it again.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is to appreciate those special experiences—be it a warm summer day, a well-made meal, a firm hug from a friend or relative, a smile from your true love—because just as sure as you found it, it will be gone. And you’ll be wasting your time trying to find it again.

That Time All Three Summer Softball Teams Went to the Finals…and Two Won!

It only felt like it took us 108 years to win.

It only felt like it took us 108 years to win.

What a difference a year makes!?!

Two years ago, I was ready to give up on softball. I had become more enamored with cycling, and the postgame conviviality—hanging out with teammates and rivals for hours on end—helped contribute to the end of a long-term relationship because Sarah was not part of that world.

One year ago, there were a few health issues that made playing difficult. First, after crashing my bike on East Third Street in March 2015 and banging up my knee, I was unable to sprint for about six months, meaning I was unable to play well for the entire summer softball season. Second, that nagging ingrown toenail surfaced again, causing great discomfort for a few weeks. Ironically, cycling didn’t aggravate these issues. I often joked that although I could cycle for 100 miles, I couldn’t run to first base.

But this year, I found a renewed excitement for playing. My injuries were gone, and I was able to contribute more than in the past. It also helped that all three of my summer softball teams went to their respective league finals.1

Ball Busters… Champs!

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This year’s Ball Busters was an entirely new team, and I found myself playing a greatly reduced role throughout the year. I didn’t complain because we amassed an impressive record and made it to the finals. My biggest role on the team was pitching the third and deciding game of the finals, after not having pitched at all for that team all year. We won that game, 3-1, and won the league title for the first time since our “franchise” did so in 2012 and 2013.

Gibson Robots… Not Champs

I’ve been on this McCarren Park team since 2004, and it’s been a very successful team in terms of making it to the finals. We have done so eight times. Winning, on the other hand, has not been easy. We’ve only won once in 2011.

This year, we struggled throughout the season, barely amassing a .500 record. However, we played well enough to get a sixth seed, and when the playoffs started, we upset the #3 seed and the #2 seed in the first two rounds, allowing us to advance to the league finals. However, we got off to a rough start, giving up five runs in the first inning, and then not producing at the plate. Although I settled down during the game to keep them off the board, I went down in the fifth inning with a strained calf. I could barely stand up on two legs, much less play. I came out of the game and watched helplessly as my team lost 11-5 (or something like that).

Librarians… Champs!

This is the most unique teams I’ve ever played with. Our games are in the middle of the week, during the day, and over the years, since I took over the team, I’ve stocked it with a lot of players from Williamsburg.

I’ve been with this team since 2007, about the time I started dating Sarah. At first, she thought it was cute that I played softball in the middle of the week, during the day, but by the end, she was less enamored with the idea: “you loser! Why are you still playing softball in the middle of the day!?!”

But running this team is very challenging because the games are in the middle of the day, and I have to find people that either have flexible schedules or can take a day off work to play. Also complicating matters is that we need three women to play. And in addition to those challenges, the competition is very good. One of our players once noted that this league must be very hard because the players we have are really outstanding but the team can’t win a championship.

Of the teams I’ve been with, this is the one I’ve been with the longest without winning a league title.

That changed on Friday, after we beat the defending champions, The Wolf Pack, in four games in the best-of-five series.

We started the series last Friday. We lost the first game, 7-4, but won the next two, 4-3 and 5-4, coming back late in the game, despite trailing the entire time. We played the fourth game a couple of days ago, on Friday, and won that game decisively, 12-1.

It was a true team win. We all played splendidly in the field, and although we struggled at the plate in the early games, we battled to remain competitive and win each game. It was heartening to watch the team play the entire game and not give up until it was over.

And now, in early November, summer softball is finally over!


  1. I did sub on a few teams, but those don’t count, right? 

Ball Busters Win 2016 Heckscher Cup

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It took three years, but we did it! We reclaimed the Lower Manhattan Softball League’s Heckscher championship cup.

The team looks a lot different than the previous championship teams in 2012 and in 2013, and not only because we sport pink livery.

Johnny, our longtime manager and spiritual leader, moved to Miami last fall and bequeathed the team to another player. With Johnny leaving, a lot of our veterans left, too. Some moved away while others felt it was time to move on.

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As the team changed around me, I found myself playing a diminished role. Instead of pitching one or both games of the weekly double header, as I had done since joining the team in 2010, I returned to the outfield and batting as an extra-hitter in the bottom of the lineup.

I didn’t complain about my role, however, because the team dominated throughout the regular season, finishing 21-3. But by the start of the playoffs, we were losing players left and right. Some opted to play in other tournaments. A few key players were hurt. But we held on and rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The finals, on the other hand, were much more challenging. Largely because our regular pitcher, who dominated throughout the year, missed the finals because he was taking his family on a weeklong vacation.[^ family first]

Below is a game-by-game recap of the finals.

Game 1

After a lengthy rain delay, we played a very stressful first game against the Big Red Machine, the finals opponent we vanquished in 2012. It was back and forth until the sixth inning, when we broke through with four runs. We held on in the seventh to win 13-9.

Game 2

In the second game, we scored a run early in the game but fell behind shortly thereafter. We played a pretty sloppy game, letting in a bunch of runs, but the shoddy defense did not factor in the game as we never scored more than one run in the game, losing 7-1.

Game 3

By the start of the deciding game, Hermes, our pitcher, was gassed. Our coaches asked me to pitch the third and deciding game of the finals. The rest of the team seemed concerned because they hadn’t seen me pitch the whole year. I too shared some of their trepidation because I hadn’t thrown a pitch in Central Park all summer, but after a few minutes warming up, I found my groove.

We scored a run in the first inning and two more in the second, and our bats fell silent after that. But our paltry offense didn’t matter because our defense was impeccable. I gave up one run—a solo home run—on five hits and no walks. At just over thirty minutes, I’m pretty sure this was the fastest game I ever played in, largely accelerated to avoid the impending rain. We won the deciding game, 3-1, and were crowned champions shortly thereafter.

Ball Busters Win 2013 Heckscher Cup

Ball Busters 2013 Champs

We did it again!

The Ball Busters won the Lower Manhattan Softball League’s 2013 Heckscher Cup, sweeping two games against the Jackals in the best-of-three league championship series. We won six consecutive games to sweep the three-round playoff tournament.

I was a bundle of nerves on Sunday, but I pitched well enough in the first game to give us a 6-2 win. Although I hadn’t surrendered a run since the first inning of the first game of the first playoff round, the Jackals scored a run in the fifth inning of the first game, snapping my playoff scoreless streak at 16 innings.

The second game was a see-saw affair. Kevin pitched well but the Jackals got to us in the sixth inning. We were down 6-3 in the seventh inning and came down to our final out. But we didn’t quit. We put runners on first and second, and our designated hitter Chris hit a three-run bomb that tied the game at 6-6. We kept them Jackals off the board in the seventh, and we came back with six runs in the top of the eighth. I came in to pitch in the bottom of the eight but struggled with my command. The Jackals scored three runs, loaded the bases and put the tying run on first base. But I found my stride and retired the next two batters to clinch our second consecutive title.

It was a sweet win for our three newest players: Mark, Denis and Kevin. I played with the latter two on the Bandits, a team that underachieved every year I played with them except for 2009, when we had a second seed and lost in the finals. Denis and Kevin came to our team this year and helped us get this championship.

Ball Busters Advance to the Heckscher Cup Finals… Again

We did it again!

Last year, the Ball Busters played in the Lower Manhattan Softball League championship series and won the Heckscher Cup. This year, we finished in second place with a 19–7 record, just one game behind the top-ranked Big Red Machine, the team we beat in 2012 to win the league championship.

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The same four teams played in the two semi-final series as last year’s final four teams: Awkward Times, Jackals, Big Red Machine, and the Ball Busters. Yesterday, we faced Awkward Times, a team with a very strong defense that held us to two runs. But our pitching and defense did an even better job at keeping them from scoring. We shut them out, 2–0, in the game I pitched. It was one of my best pitching performances all year. I faced only 24 batters, gave up only three hits and an error. No runner advanced past second base all game. Resting my back Saturday seems to have paid off.

We also shut them down in the second game, 2–1, in eight innings. That game was more tense as my teammate Kevin retired the first twelve batters but then wiggled in and out of jams for the rest of the game. As a testament to the pitching and defense, the first two runs of the game, one run by each team, scored on a bases-loaded walk and on a sacrifice fly. We scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning on a single. (Who said softball games are all high scoring?) The final out of the game came as Awkward Times had the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning. Their batter hit a deep fly ball to end the game.

The Heckscher Cup Finals are on Sunday, August 18, 2:00 PM, at the Heckscher ballfields in Central Park. It’s such a big deal for me that I’m missing a bike ride in California to play. All are welcome.

“Iron Man”

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The Ball Busters celebrated our first championship yesterday, prevailing in three games. The league commissioner wrote a recap of the series, which I copied and pasted below. As you can see, I was named the “iron man” for pitching three games yesterday.

The Ball Busters have been a good team for a long time, but in the last six weeks, we went on a tear, scoring a ton of runs and playing great defense. At the end of the season, we finished in third place with the league’s best offense and the third-best run prevention. And yesterday, we beat the top ranked team of the season to win the league’s championship.


Ball Busters Win 2012 Heckscher Cup, 2 Games to 1 over Big Red Machine

RECAP:

Game 1:

Big Red Machine jumped out to a 3-0 lead early, then added 2 more runs and never were tested as they cruised to an easy 5-0 win.

Game 2:

Ball Busters found themselves trailing 1-0 but rallied for to take a 6-2 lead after 3 innings. Big Red Machine tied the game at 6, but the Ball Busters jumped ahead for good after BRM’s defense let in 2 runs in the bottom of the 6th. Final score Ball Busters 8-6.

Game 3

Big Red Machine seemed out of gas as they fell behind 6-2 and then 9-4 after 5 innings. Ball Busters added 3 more and behind the strong pitching of “Iron Man” Juan Monroy who pitched all 3 games, the BB’s finished off the BRM by a score of 12-5 to win their first ever LMSL Heckscher Cup!

Kudos both teams for an exciting 3 game Heckscher Cup Finals series and congratulations to the Ball Busters—the 2012 LMSL Heckscher Cup Champions!

Ball Buster Margarita

Here’s a margarita I made for the Ball Busters team-building party last night. It was a hit. I wanted to use blueberries and basil from the Union Square farmers’ market, but I had run low on time and relied on the local supermarket instead. (Ironically, the basil and blueberries were significanlty less expensive at the greenmarket than at the supermarket when I went to check today. Go figure.)

Making the margarita requires two steps.

Sweet-Sour Mix

  • 12 ounces of fresh lime juice
  • 10 ounces of fresh lemon juice
  • 10 ounces of sugar

Combine and heat lemon and lime juice in a saucepan and add sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Pour into a quart-sized mason jar (or something similar). Refrigerate until cool.

Margarita

  • 4 ounces of sweet-sour mix
  • 3 ounces of silver tequila
  • 1 ½ ounces of triple sec
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 8 blueberries
  • 1 ounce of agave nectar

Add sweet-sour mix, basil, and blueberries in a cocktail shaker and muddle ingredients together until you’ve “squished” all of the berries. Add tequila, triple sec, agave nectar and ice to the shaker. Shake together. Pour into a twelve-ounce glass filled with crushed ice.

Garnish glass with a couple of blueberries and a single basil leaf.