This week's topic was suggested by Ramana. It is something that in September of 1970 I willingly became - a weekend athlete. That is when my school sports days came to an end because of a disagreement with a football coach. Weekend athletes are the natural progression for those of us who love sports, want to stay active and grow our previous sport legends in our own minds.
At the time I was a PE major planning on eventually becoming a football coach. I was taking a soccer teaching lab and became fast friends with a Dutch student named Walther. Whenever I played goalkeeper in our class activities I did fairly well and Walther convinced me to join him and his team on a Saturday as they had lost their goalie. Thus began my 2-season career as goalkeeper for Hayward United in the East Bay Soccer league. Talk about a fish (whale?) out of water - LOL. Plus, the season was in progress and I could not register as a new player so I assumed the identity of the previous goalkeeper and before every game when the referees were checking the player passes (photo ids) I was always warming up at the opposite end of the pitch. The mostly English players on the team got a kick out of the giant keeper who played angles like a hockey goalie and tried to be helpful. One game got completely out of hand and multiple fights broke out. The opposing keeper - a large Dutch gent named Hans sprinted my way and when he got close enough to swing started laughing and said "No frickin way are we going to fight. I'm Hans" and stuck his hand out. We shook hands and watched the officials sort things out. After the game we went for beers - a necessary component of weekend sports - and realized he attended the same JC as I.
The makeup of the team was fairly similar to every weekend sports team of which I was a member - several older (40s) players, mostly 30s players that formed the core of the team and a few younger players.
I was working at Sears at the time and there was a softball team made up of players from the store. I talked to the guy that ran the team and he was frankly not interested in a 290 lb first baseman so his team was always without an opening. As luck would have it there was a weekend when several players were unavailable (also a regular component of weekend sports) and I got a shot to play. The field had a left field fence with tall, full trees along the fence and across the street was a 4 or 5 story apartment complex. The fence was 275 or so feet away from home plate, really a bit short. The first 4 times I batted I hit 2 balls against the apartment and all 4 over the fence and trees. Jack - the guy that ran the team just kept shaking his head and laughing. I should interject that consistently hitting a slow-pitch softball a long way is tougher than it sounds as the balls are pitched with very high arch. I'm tall enough that the arc does not effect me much. Long story short - I was the regular first baseman for that team until 1976 when Lynn and I moved to Connecticut when she was offered a job transfer. As luck - or fate - would have it, we were not having much luck meeting other young couples until after a discussion with the local(liquor store) package store owner lamenting the need for a first baseman
on his softball team. Our social lives improved greatly when my teammates realized I could hit a softball over 300 feet fairly regularly. Suddenly being from California did not mean quite so much in conservative Rocky Hill CT.
We moved back to California in 1977 but it was southern California. I did not participate in sports there although my bonafides were confirme inadvertently when once during a lunchtime conversation one of the salesmen was bragging about his softball team. They were exceptional and included an ex NFL player who hit monster home runs. He told me the fellows name - Ed Galigher - and I smiled and said to tell Ed hi for me. Les was somewhat incredulous as he knew I was from Northjern California and Ed (6'5, 275 or so) was a UCLA alum. Turns out Ed and I had been friends since Little League as we were both from Hayward, we played JC ball together at Chabot. We had been friends and competitors since he was 11 and I was 12. Ed is the best football player I ever played with or against. I may still have the bruises to prove it. The next day Les - the salesman - had a different opinion of me - LOL and relayed Ed's greetings back to me.
At the end of 1977 we made our way back to Northern California and I continued to play softball util my late 40s. I also regularly played raquetball and handball as well as the odd weekend football game. For several consecutive Thanksgivings a large group of us played a game on Thanksgiving Day aptly named the Turkey Bowl.
Unfortunately, the weekend athlete typically does not have access to medical care and eventually that takes its toll. I am now paying for those decades of fun by living in constant pain. Both knees are shot and I gimp around on crutches. While suggested several times I have a thing about knee surgery and refuse to have it. Knee surgery ranks right up there with flying as shackman no way in hell things. My right shoulder hurts so much I occasionally cannot hang my shirts in the closet. That said, I would do it all again. Someone once called sports the opioid of the masses.
They certainly were that for me. No matter what happened during the week, Saturday or Sunday game time found me with a big grin on my face. Just playing the game was good enough to perk us up.
One of my last job assignments at RadioShack was copywriter for web content. My boss was a former tight end at TCU who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. Brian and I had seveal conversations about sports in general and he asked me why I quit playing. I said that while I enjoyed playing I realized that after two years playing JC football, the second on a nationally ranked team, I simply did npot love the game enpough to keep up with the effort it would take to continue playing. He smiled and said that when the 49ers drafted him they wanted him to play for Barcelona in the World league to rehab his injured ankle. He came to the same realization - he simply could not give the level of effort required to continue playing.
Perhaps if we'd known how much money would be involved down the line we'd have felt different, alas we made our decisions. Weekend athletes encompass a broad swath of personalities and are simmply a cross section of any culture. There are some competent athletes, some who were never particularly successful athletes and a myriad other reasons but they all share a desire to play. In many ways weekend athletics offer the fun of a sport with much less pressure. The exercise is good for you and the camaraderie is great. Game days are easily turned into family fun days with picnics, parties and more. I'd definitely do it all again.
Be sure to check Ramana's Musings for his take on the subject.