Friday, June 17, 2011

Softball: A memoir chapter 2 "A Winning Strategy"

            The team we played in the co-ed finals was good. We had a better game than they did, though they were a more solid team. The most effective strategy for winning a co-ed softball game is to have strong women on your team. Understanding that for most of the co-ed softball teams, the experience is the goal, not the competition, one can understand how weaker athletes can find their way onto otherwise strong teams.
            This is due to the way most co-ed softball teams are formed. A couple of guys who like baseball will get together and form a team for fun, then one of them will have a girlfriend who will want to play, so they put together a co-ed team. One or two more girls will trickle in; a single girl who works with one of the guys and maybe a friend of the girlfriend or a sister who doesn’t really have any hobbies and isn’t looking to date but wants some exercise and a way to entertain herself on nights when the bachelor or america’s next top model isn’t on. The point is, the men are the impetus of the team, the girls are just there as filler.
If you want to win, find strong girls to play for your team. Tennis players usually work. They can hit from either side of the plate, have developed the necessary hand-eye coordination for placement hitting and even a good deal of power, and they are agile as all hell. Ex-softball players are also excellent source of talent. Most girls growing up have played some softball, if they weren’t into soccer or gymnastics, especially if they had an older brother or any brother. Beyond tennis and softball, any athletic background will do. Our team had a tennis player and an ex softball player and the third female who was the girlfriend of one of the guys.
So the first part of a winning co-ed team is competitive males. The second part is strong females. The third part, and this is what separates the winning teams from the teams who just want to go out in matching outfits and have fun before going out for pizza, is the exploitation of the other team’s weaknesses: their female filler. A smart team places its weakest woman as a catcher to minimize her negative impact on the team. The pitcher covers home on throws to the plate so her entire contribution is throwing the ball back to the pitcher on defense, and standing in the box with a bat hoping for a walk on offense. If the only weak point on a team is the catcher, that is a strong team, but it can be exploited by making the pitcher cover. There will be a lapse in judgement or if the pitcher is tired or not expecting a play at the plate there are runs to be scored then. It’s not technically honorable, but softball is a sport and the point of sport is to win.
The second spot to look for the weak female is right field. I hate that this is still true. The much more practical position is second base so the right fielder can back up and the pitcher can shade over and front her, but more often than not, the second weakest player is placed alone as the last line of defense in right field. Aim here to score runs and the fact that the pitcher is covering home instead of the catcher wont matter. A smart team will play with three outfielders and a rover, making the rover the second weakest spot and kind of ignoring it as a position. I think this is a less intelligent move than second base, especially when there is no fence in the outfield. A four person outfield is much more efficient when considering the nill contribution the rover makes and the potential for extra base hits when the gaps are exposed.
The third weak spot, if there can be one, is first base. This is where the strongest female player should be if all three are weak. If she can’t catch a throw directed at her, you’re team is fucked. If she is better than one of the guys on the team, she wont be at first base, he will. If she’s playing shortstop, don’t hit it to her, she’s got chops. Or she’s banging the manager – hit it between her and third base and see how her back hand glove work is.
Exploiting one or all of these weak spots effectively will almost guarantee victory. If you are there to win, like we were, you will sacrifice the long ball for the sharp line drive to right field, you will try and take second on ground balls through the infield and you will pretend to stop at third until they start their throw, then sprint for home while they double-cock and flub the throw or hit the cutoff weakly only to have him turn and look for the pitcher to be covering but he’s still running in and at that point it’s a foot race but he still has to catch the ball and make a tag and all you have to worry about is whether you want to dive headfirst or slide traditionally.
Playing for fun may mean opening yourself to losing and not caring, but not for me. Competing and losing is the opposite of fun for me. Winning is the most fun there is in sport and if you disagree, I genuinely think you aren’t giving yourself enough credit or you haven’t had a proper taste of victory. Winning is important. I have won many more games than I have lost throughout my life and it has never effected my ability to relate to people or make friends. If you think you have to lose to people for them to like you then you need to win more than anyone. Winning is not all there is, but it is the reason for sport. I would never hurt anyone to win. I do not advocate aiming at people, taking people out with slides, or any other “accidents” that some sports are okay with. What I am saying is that if you want to win, challenge the weakest people on the field, and to do that you need to know where they put the weakest people on the field. Alternatively, to win you need to find original and effective ways to compensate for your weakest players to avoid their being exploited by an opponent with as much time and analytical fire power as we had on “Algo” when we developed the following strategy.
We won the championship because our women were better than their women. We had a clinger and a girl with self esteem issues who was fundamentally capable at the sport, but unable to perform under pressure. The clinger was the catcher. She was weak, that’s where weak people play. It was no secret. I remember her hiding in the dugout for close plays on very many occaisions. She understood her role. A person who overestimates their ability is as much a detriment to the team as someone who is just plain awful. The girl with low self esteem played second base. She was fronted by the pitcher and backed up by the right fielder. She made some plays, but she was usually counted on for an error, if the ball got to her. Our pitcher was a beast and tried very hard to keep the ball away from the second base person with the low self esteem.
I have stopped naming names for this chapter. Chances are nobody will read this or remember what position they played, but if they do I’d rather keep it between them and I as opposed to making it a public thing. I’m not sorry for thinking and saying these things, and I’m sure there would be a brief discussion as to why I thought the way I did, an explanation from me and an acknowledgement and that would be the end of it. I’m not naming names to save myself the pain of having this conversation in the future because it sounds boring and I’d much rather do anything else.
Our secret key was a big one that formed my views of softball strategy forever. Our third girl was the pitcher. Pitching is either able or not able. In softball you just have to throw it a certain height and have it bounce on the strike zone twice out of five times. This can be taught and is pass/fail. Throwing it higher or with spin is a marginal advantage at best and even that can be developed by a capable female in practice. Our girl pitcher was good enough and that’s all we needed. Softball is designed to let the teams hit, so why waste talent at the pitcher’s spot when they could serve a better purpose in left or right center? Think about it. I don’t expect you to thank me, but think of me when you hold up the trophy.
We won that day because the weak points on our team were shored up as efficiently and effectively as possible. There was no sure-spot for the other team to hit and so they fell into the old softball trap of wasted effort called the long ball. It is a frustration reaction and it happens to even the best softball players. A stifled competitor will almost always react negatively and if you’re prepared for that reaction you will win the game or whatever you’re competing in.
Plus the other team was really drunk. Visibly drunk and drinking on the field, in the dugouts, parking lot, stands, wherever. They lost to us and invited us out for beers. To be fair and honest about my team’s strategy and skill, I must add that the team we beat that night was the drunk team – meaning they played every game drunk and were probably under the impression that a proper level of drunkenness enhanced their play. Looking back from several years later I can now say that they were better drunk at everything, which is common among certain types of alcoholics.
I can say they were alcoholics because this story is clearly going in the direction of me and a couple of the guys from my team joining their team to make a competitive all male team. I drank with them, after them and in new and alarming ways that would change the face of intramural softball at UCR for years to come, which will be visited and revisited later, and it all started with Algo’s victory over them in the fall of 2002 using the strategy outlined above.
Now entering caviat town. I am sure there are very many women who are more than capable athletes. I can name hundreds that are better than me. I’d estimate that there are millions of females on this earth who are very talented athletes. I’d also estimate, and fear, that those women are very upset now and possibly googling my name to find out where I live so they can come shove these pages down my throat. Relax, ladies. Uncle Greg is just merely playing the odds. I’ll go against Dr. H.S. Thompson’s advice and explain.
Chances are if you are a talented athlete you’re playing the sport you’re talented at for a living, excluding you from being implicated in the discussion above. The next tier of athletes, the former competitive athletes that rejoined normal society likely still play a competitive version, albeit amateur of their former chosen sport. Assuming no women went to school on rec-league softball scholarships, there are no women from this category playing rec-league softball. If you are one of these women, you should pitch for your rec-league softball team, unless you’re a better position player than a male. Third tier athletes, like me, probably play rec-league softball. You should pitch too. See how much it benefits your team to save a position like that.
I realize that this chapter is one of the more sexist things you can imagine. Me too. If men and women were comparable athletes, you would be able to tell me who won the last two women’s world cups without using google, name more than three WNBA teams, or show me a professional women’s softball or football league. The fact is, men are better at sports than women and that difference in skill translates to entertainment value, which translates to popularity and money and markets. Am I better than women at sports? Some of them, sure, but not all women. This is not an absolute. There are exceptions, notably dancing, ice skating, gymnastics and lacrosse, all feminine sports because they require grace and diligence more than kinetic abilities and hand-eye coordination.
To me it is a fact that men posses a different skill set than women. This is not a quality judgement. For every thing men are better at, there is a thing women are better at. Rec-league softball is just not one of those things. Be mad if you want. It is my opinion that I am right about this and if you disagree that’s on you. If you want to be angry at me for noticing something about reality and writing it down, so be it. If you want to win at co-ed softball, hit at the weak women.


  1. You went too far on this part:

    "There are exceptions, notably dancing, ice skating, gymnastics and lacrosse, all feminine sports because they require grace and diligence more than kinetic abilities and hand-eye coordination."

    Greg Boytos - you realize I could beat you at any sport that requires sprinting abilities for extended periods of time or physical violence, right?? Must I remind you that you have been tackled by me on several occasions? Also, must I remind you of the high intensity interval training class where you couldn't walk the next day and I was fine even considering I freaking dominated every male in that class? *sigh* it is not true that you can only be beat at girly sports.

  2. BUT with that said, I will admit, I'd target the weak females too.... I'm tired of defending my entire gender when clearly I get annoyed by the sissy ones too.

  3. haha you should definitely read the rest of that paragraph where i qualify that statement heavily and even admit that a lot of women could beat me at a lot of sports.

  4. well, maybe I just want all your friends to know your gf is tough as shit! :)