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The Old Man and the Pitch


It might have been in the second half of my son's youth soccer match, watching him dive to stop a shot, oversized off-color shirt flapping in the breeze when it hit me. Maybe it was a day or so later, when I watched a crowd of thirtysomethings knocking it around the same field. It could have been the constant reposts of the speech from Rocky Balboa about life knocking you down. I became aware of an emptiness inside, a twinge in the pronounced belly. I want to play again.

I was never a jock. I played high school throwball in that I let the rest of the team beat the hell out of me five days a week and hoped we'd be up enough or down enough to make a guest appearance on the field. I didn't fall in love with the beautiful game until years later, as recounted elsewhere, during the WC run of 2002. I didn't think twice when I overheard some shipmates putting together a base league team from my submarine. I can run, I can assume an athletic position. What else is there?

Quite a bit, really. Apparently dribbling isn't just something that your foot knows how to do. Passing I actually got a good handle on early and got fairly good at. I am forever cursed, it would seem, with a polarity of body that turns my off hand and foot into extraneous lumps of skin that make my appendix seem useful. I can jump about a foot and a half. And I played in Rec Specs. But damn I had a good time. Sure, I was the guy who blocked his face with his hands on instinct and got a pk called (GK saved it). I might have gotten gassed early and often. I may have been a stalwart of the RB position because there wasn't much reason to put me anywhere else, but I also could defend. We made it to the playoffs that season, but we also had half the team on duty for the first playoff game and lost. It was my last year in the navy and I haven't played since. It's been ten years.

So I got with the local men's league, put myself out as a free agent in the rec-coed league and got a phone call. I am now a member of the Formally In-Shape All Stars and a more appropriate name I couldn't begin to come up with. I am a hair shy of 40, I am carrying about that many extra pounds and to top it all off, when running a month or so ago, I began to feel a twinge in my foot. Plantar Fasciitis, the doc calls it. Knitting needle pounded through the bottom of my heel is more apt. I can run on it, but I pay for it.

Would you like to come on this journey with me? I am pretty excited about playing again at any level. I am curious how my body will react to it. I am curious if I have learned anything from watching and kicking the ball around in the years between now and then that will help me. I put the old boots on today and ran around and kicked my new ball with my boys and it felt pretty good. Even did a few gassers for old times sake. Feels kind of like cramming, though. First match is in a few weeks. I'll keep you posted.

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