John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs I came across an old pair of softball cleats the other day while cleaning out my garage. Just the sight of the well-worn shoes brought back memories of the days when I used to play in Steamboat Springs’ adult recreational league.
Back then the shoes were a regular part of my wardrobe — at least for one night a week. The black leather still shows the signs of the many miles they logged around the bases of Howelsen Hill’s diamonds.
The place where the leather is starting to pull away from the toes reminds me of all the close plays at home plate, and the thin layer of dust from the infield brings back the taste of diving into the dirt for a hard-hit ground ball.
The shoes have seen better days, but for some reason, they still sit in the corner of my garage. I can’t tell you why they haven’t found their way to the trash can despite the fact that I haven’t played a softball game in years.
Maybe I can’t throw them away because I never dreamed, after years of spending my summers on the softball field, that putting that pair of shoes in the corner of my garage would mark the end of the road for me — the day I stopped playing the game, forever.
I had planned to take a small break from softball, but now, it’s starting to hit home that the break has turned into retirement for this recreational player.
The sad thing is that I don’t really miss those summer nights under the lights or the next morning when I had to pull my sore muscles out of bed to go to work.
Sure, I miss the feeling that comes from smacking a ball with the bat, but I can’t say the feeling of pouring hydrogen peroxide on the cuts and scrapes that accumulated after back-to-back games has any real appeal for me now.
I guess what really bothers me it that the game of softball slipped into my past, and I never really noticed. It’s kind of like age crept up on me one night while I was sleeping and stole something I loved, and I didn’t even notice.
Then, one afternoon I found myself cleaning out the garage. And it hit home — softball is something I used to do.
I’ve met a lot of older people who have refused to give up the games and activities they love. These folks should be admired, because I’ve learned that as I get older, keeping our bodies in motion becomes harder.
I played softball with a guy in his 70s, and I have written about a couple of older guys who still were racing bikes or playing tennis in their late 70s and 80s.
Now that I think about it, I guess I’ll hang on to those shoes for a few more years. Who knows, they may still have a few more trips around the bases left in them.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.