Softball and Sports Culture

I asked Heather if we could take a photo together before her softball game, so we had this photo snapped for us by one of her co-workers. Heather is part of a softball league team with some of her coworkers from Olive Garden.  Due to difficulty in maintaining the league's requirements for male-female ratios, Heather wanted to make sure not to miss this game.  So, Monday night we went down to the diamonds.  I sat in the stands with other colleagues of hers, ready to cheer on my good friend.  Before the game started, a lean woman in a black t-shirt approached the stands, asking if any of us girls would be willing to join their team.  If they didn't get another female, they'd have to forfeit.

I literally jumped at the chance, before I heard someone in my midst say, "She's from the other team."  

"Oh, wait, I can't!" I exclaimed.

"What!" She turned around with a fierce look on her face.  I then realized that the game would be cancelled if I didn't join the opposing team's ranks.  So, counting it providence that I'd come to the game in my running shoes, I jogged past my friend's dugout to the opposing team.  

I was greeted with, "I'm gonna buy you a beer!" and other such remarks.  I was surrounded with lean and mean females and beer-bellied, beard-bearing, tattooed males.  They were very welcoming and before I knew it I had a glove and a place on the line-up.  I looked at the uniforms around me.  They all wore black t-shirts, with bullet holes trailing across the sides.  On the front was a stylized American flag with a giant white star in the middle and the text: Bill's Gun Shop and Range.  Below was the website:  I was going to be supporting a team from a gun shop.  Now, I won't launch into my views on guns, but I will give a few details to help you imagine what I must have been feeling.  I have shot rifles, shotguns, and handguns before.  Yet I have never shot an animal, owned a gun, or desired to own a gun.  My views on gun laws are more European than American, and I may be a bit of a pacifist.

My team was at bat first.  I was put on the tail of the line-up.  I could see my friend Heather playing first base clearly from the dugout.  I wanted to cheer for her but felt so conflicted as I stood among my  gun-handling team.  Not sure who to cheer for or how to spark up a conversation with my teammates, I mostly stayed silent.  Yet my teammates were friendly and ready to engage me in conversation.  One male teammate really wanted to get me a beer.  I wasn't very inclined (especially if I were to be handed a Miller or Bud), and made some comment about living in Europe and preferring their beers.  "You name any beer, and I will find it for you!" he declared.  

I said, "Radegast" (a Czech beer local to my region in the CZ).  He looked at me befuddled, and I figured I should shut up, considering I still hadn't figured out to speak to Americans.  As I quieted and observed all around me, I saw the friendly rapport among my teammates.  They encouraged and cheered for one another.  When I grabbed the bat and mentioned it'd been a while, they all encouraged me with, "If you weren't here, we wouldn't even be playing right now!" and I took to bat.  I hit a grounder and ran to first.  Though I was able to get a hit at each of my at bats, I scored no runs.  Another time at bat, my hit was quickly fielded and I was out at first; as I ran back to the dugout, my teammates greeted me with "nice run" or "good hustle!"  On defense at third base, I scored no outs.  It wasn't till the final inning that I fielded a grounder and tagged the runner.  The ump didn't accept the out though.  I wasn't too disappointed, it helped ensure the win for Heather's team.

I wish I had a picture with my teammates.  Though they were a bit scruffy and scratchy on the outside, they treated their teammates (as well as me) with respect and encouragement, and they had good attitudes towards their opposing team.  Moreover, when the game finally ended and I ran to the Olive Garden team, they thanked me for playing and some even gave compliments on the would-be-out.

All-in-all, the night reflected some of what I really love about American culture.  (Note, what follows is definitely not exclusive to only Americans nor is it exercised all the time, but I see it frequently exhibited in the USA.)  Sports culture in the USA can really bring people together.  Amidst practices and games, athletes encourage one another and are in constant communication for the betterment of the whole team.  From a young age in my community, sportsmanship was promoted in PE lessons and team sports.  

I particularly remember one track meet in high school, where a coach gave a strict talking to one fo the best male runners.  (This runner even ran at the state level with high results.)  He had won his long-distance race, yet he was disciplined by the coach.  This runner was chastised for having mocked another runner mid-race.  The coach didn't care that this runner had won with a huge gap between him and the second-place runner.  At the end of the match, what mattered is that the runner had disrespected another athlete.  I love the lack of tolerance for disrespect and the promotion of respect and fairness in sports culture.  I love the openness that can come from sports and how quickly people can be welcomed into a game or team.  So, thank you, Bills Gun Shop and Range.


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