A few years ago, I played on a softball team organized by my friend Carmen, an impish native of Malaysia with boyish good looks and zany sensibilities. Carmen collects friends the way other people collect saltshakers—the only requirement being that they are cute, colorful, and odd. As a result, our softball roster was a weird mishmash of the wildly different factions of the lesbian community. Our pitcher was a member of a Black Pride poetry club. First and third bases were covered by Orthodox Jews from the Or Chadash group. And a few anemic creatures from the Vegan Society stumbled their way around the outfield.
Carmen had never managed to befriend one decent athlete and our team suffered as a result. The closest we came to winning a game was when we played a team of overweight asthmatics who spent the game alternately sucking on steroid inhalers and filterless cigarettes. We played them on an ozone-alert day, which worked in our favor, but we still lost by five runs.
Early in the season, a woman wearing crisp athletic shorts and a whistle showed up at our dugout. She stood with her hands on her hips surveying the team. And then she gave the whistle a loud, extended blast.
'I have one question for you, ladies. What are you made of?' she demanded. We looked at each other in confusion. We had no idea who this person was or why she was asking us existential questions this early on a Sunday morning.
Just then, Carmen trotted to the sidelines, giggling into her hand mischievously. 'This is Delores, our new coach.'
Delores accepted the introduction with a curt bow. 'You can call me Coach, ladies,' she said, getting a faraway look in her eyes. 'And I'm here to make you into a winning team!'
Coach would show up at the field hours before the game started, checking out the competition in the dumb hope that she might be able to teach us something that would help us win a game. She'd present complicated playing strategies while we sat listlessly on the sidelines, chatting about what we did the night before, exchanging recipes, or napping. At the end of her lectures, Coach would open the floor to questions. The only question we'd ever ask was why we weren't allowed to use Coach's lucky bat, the precious piece of wood she carried to every game in a leather satchel. Coach would never answer the question. Instead, she'd nod her head earnestly and harkened back to her own glory days on the field, slipping into some strange fantasy world populated by women that she mistily referred to as 'the girls.'
The fact that none of us paid any attention to her didn't bother Coach in the least. And her demented fantasy that we were improving under her care could not be dimmed by the fact that we continued our aggressive losing streak. Coach would prowl the sidelines, clapping her hands and cheering us on manically as we fumbled balls, swung at the dirt, and yawned our way through the game.
After we finished the season—in dead last place—I assumed that Coach would abandon the aptly named D Division for a more competitive flight that would appreciate her excessive enthusiasm. But last week I spotted her shaking her lucky bat meaningfully at a group of pale, flabby women. And I felt a brief stab of nostalgia for those dreadful Sunday mornings spent disappointing the Coach and praying that the other team would put us out of our misery by beating us by the slaughter rule.