The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra arrived in San Francisco ready to play. And not just music. Anticipating our arrival, and perhaps aware of the bands competitive spirit, a softball game was arranged between the band and the staff at SF Jazz.
We don't take these challenges lightly. Unfortunately, our schedule didn't allow us to practice, even swing a bat before hitting the field, and we heard the SF Jazz staff had a regular softball team. Seemed like the odds were stacked against us. But that didn't stop Carlos, Ali, Wynton, Victor, Jay, Chris, Marcus, myself and a couple of our friends from embracing the challenge.
The call time for the pick up was 10 AM but the van didn't get there until 10:45. There was a danger that we would start losing troops, as people ran off to get coffee and danishes. Making a large group of people wait always creates the risk of abandonment, but we were a loyal, dedicated bunch and when the van finally arrived we piled in.
Getting there also was challenge. Despite three people in our vehicle using GPS phone apps we got totally lost. Drivers were constantly in touch with each other about where to go. At one point we circumnavigated an entire park before discovering we were in the wrong one.
We finally found the park, parked the van and walked a quarter mile past little-leaguers, kiddie soccer games and picnics to arrive at the field we had reserved from 11-1.
Most of SF Jazz were there and were busy throwing softballs back and forth, doing light batting practice. We were clearly underprepared in many ways.
Since we were the visiting team we took the first at-bat. Jay led off with a base hit. Wynton was next and smashed a ball deep into left-center. The ball slid between a couple players and Wynton was able to make all the way home, bringing in two runs. I was next with a base hit getting me to first. This luck continued and at the end of the first inning we were up 6-2. But this is a critical moment. I read somewhere that when you are ahead something happens psychologically and you let up. This is particularly true for tennis players. I mentioned this to Wynton and he said "Oh, no. I always push as hard as I can, There is no letting up." At one point, as we watched a couple of our teammates score, widening the gap, Marcus turned to me and said "I feel bad."
The great jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson showed up and took a seat in the bleachers, cheering everyone on. Despite some health challenges he came all this way to be part of this fun, and we were all excited and moved to see him. At one point he looked at Ali, who was enjoying a beer and he yelled out "Is that one of those five-hour energy drinks?"
By mid-game we were well ahead, but things started to happen. Carlos, who had up to then been fielding marvelously all the line-drives, throwing them out successfully with Jay doing a great job at first base. But a ball took a tricky hop and Carlos, trying too hard to get to it, ended up with a banged up knee. Next, Ali lost sight of a pop fly that found it's way in front of the sun, and he ended up in the dirt. Jay, feeling particularly democratic, allowed someone with less ability take over at first and as a result of these incidents our lead was slowly slipping away.
During the 5th and 6th innings we had given back most of our lead. It was now important to hold on in this 7th and final inning. I was the pitcher and my arm was holding up, but the opposing team had a string of sluggers in the line-up and I had to be careful not to give them too many opportunities. I tried to keep my pitches a little high and inside, hoping to encourage pop-ups. The strategy worked a bit and although there were a couple solid base hits no runs scored. We were able to get three outs fairly quickly and won the game 11-9.