Statistics in baseball are what make the game so interesting to fans. You can look up batting averages for players and drill down to discover how that batter performs against left-handed pitchers, right-handed pitchers, day games, night games, real grass or artificial turf, with the count in his favor, with the count not in his favor, and on and on and on. You can do the same for pitchers, of course, and for defensive players until you know just about everything that has happened to a player in a particular situation on a given day with the temperature at such and such when the moon is full and the fried chicken is churning in his stomach. No wait, he had pasta for lunch—go check that stat!
Less known is the list of disabled players who are hurt or injured and are waiting for their maladies to disappear. The acronym for this list of unlucky players is the DL, the disabled list. (It’s a wonder in this modern age of political correctness that it is not called the “Challenged List” or, CL for short.) In any case, in Major League Baseball you have a 15-day DL for minor injuries—a bruised hand, a sore arm, or a slight pulled muscle and the more significant 60-day DL for major injuries—recovery from surgery, separated shoulders, or broken bones.
Senior League Softball is quite different. The prevailing statistic, after wins and losses for the team, is not your batting average, or number of home runs you’ve hit, but the mind-numbing DL list with its length and breadth of its injuries. Team managers are obsessed with your personal statistic of injuries per game, or IPG. Any player in Senior League who keeps his injuries per game below one is statistically at risk to encounter a swift downfall, figuratively and literally. Before each game, the manager sends out a list of injuries incurred that often makes the team seem like frequent flyers at the local Urgent Care facility.
Injuries in Senior League can happen anywhere, but the most likely and most common locale is that place called the batter’s box. With adrenaline flowing like Margeritas at Spring Break, a ball slapped to the outfield sends emergency signals from the brain to the legs to accelerate toward first base. That sudden explosion of chemicals in timbre-challenged thighs can rip muscles at the first sign of motion. A half step toward first and players collapse under the failure to communicate clause in their anatomical contract. While the brain demands, “Full speed ahead!” the hamstring responds, “What? Are you kidding?” The collision of wills is not easy to watch as a septuagenarian lies sprawled on the ground writhing in agony, or sometimes crawling to first base. In this league, because of fading arms, a crawl to first is still a possibility for a base hit. (Note: In lieu of “Run it out, run it out!” you often hear, “Crawl it out, crawl it out.”)
Personally, I’m in great shape. I am not only a member of Planet Fitness, I actually go regularly. In preseason I was told to start a stretching regimen that I faithfully added to my routine. I am able to bend over easily, move quickly, and still have good hand-eye coordination for slick fielding and fair hitting. My weak spot is my arm that never was that good in the first place. I assume it’s no worse off than before only now it seems more appropriate for my age.
So, how’s my season going? Or, more pointedly, what’s my IPG?
Embarrassingly, in my first game, my IPG was 2 for 1. That’s right, two injuries in one game. I not only pulled a groin muscle turning to accelerate and catch a ball hit over my head from my shortstop position, but an inning later I pulled a hamstring rounding first base, hobbling into second. I had turned what thirty years ago would have been an inside-the-park home run into an advanced-age, close play double, hopping into second on one leg. I called for a designated runner to take my place limping off the field.
I taped my legs with fresh adhesive bandages for my second game feeling like a mummy under my baggy gym pants. It limited my motion which was the intent, but I opted to play second base feeling that the shorter range required would suit my limited mobility. I practiced not running hard at each at bat and also, defensively, convinced myself that each pop fly was probably intended for someone else and to stay put. Essentially I was deftly covering an area about the size of the mound—but flawlessly. Until IT happened.
One thing you should know about senior league players. They may be old, they may be limited in agility and mobility. Their arms may embarrass the smallest little league players. But, they can all hit. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure how. But there is hardly a hitter in the league who can’t pound a softball in one direction or another. No hitter can be taken for granted.
In my case, it was a hitter who hit a scorching line drive that exploded at my feet. I scooted myself into proper position squaring my body to the trajectory of the ball, leaned over and put my glove on the ground, blocking any path for the ball. My arms were extended full length with my elbows firmly against my mid-section just waiting to catch this ball and throw this guy out. The ball and my glove met the ground simultaneously, but the momentum of the ball forced my arm backward in an unnatural direction, hyperextending my left arm. It took only a fraction of a second for the tendon on my bicep to snap like a roller shade up into my arm, completely severed from the radius. I felt the ricochet from my shoulder to my fingertips as I picked up the ball and tossed the guy out at first. My arm dangled at my side as I scampered off the field.
It’s called a bicep tear, although the bicep is not really torn at all. It is the tendon that connects the bicep to the bone that has been torn. It happens in about eight per cent of men, and almost never in women. (I wonder why that is?) The result of the tear is to have the bicep stay in a bunched up position, or the ‘Popeye formation’ as the tendon no longer stretches it out. It’s quite impressive from one angle, people giving my bulked up arm an approving look until they see my other “normal” arm, lean and decrepit, point to my good limb and ask mistakenly, “Oh my god, what happened to your arm?”
There are two courses of action: 1) Do nothing and live with one Popeye muscle, thereby giving up about 20-30% of arm strength. Or, 2) Surgically re-attach the tendon to the radius with Kevlar string and a titanium screw. I couldn’t possible go on having people point to my good arm and ask what third-world malady afflicted the poor thing, so I opted for the surgery. Recovery takes about twelve weeks for the bone to fully heal around the screw. I’ll keep you posted.