What I Learned Playing Softball In Dakar

Me and my gorgeous valentine ❤❤❤

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Being a baeless singu pringu, I had no qualms signing up to join a ragtag team to go play softball in a social tournament in Dakar over the valentine weekend. This team would be made up of colleagues, friends of colleagues and families of friends of colleagues (don’t ask). There was a healthy balance of males and females on this team. This team would also be made up of former athletes, softball aficionados and people who had never played or even watched a baseball or softball game in their lives (I fell into this last category. Lol). Lastly, this team was made up of grandparents, middle aged folk and young adults who were mostly meeting each other for the very first time. Basically, there was tons of diversity going on.

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Ogas at the Top

Only a week earlier, I donned a baseball glove for the first time ever. At that point, I couldn’t decipher between baseball and softball. I didn’t know how either was scored or won. Couldn’t tell when a batter ought to swing at the ball and when to not. I had no idea what the positions on the field were besides the pitcher and the batter. There’s a lot I didn’t know about baseball/softball that Sunday. I only had a fair idea of what a home run was and why it was so special. I knew there was a home plate and then there were first, second and third bases. And that was pretty much it.

On the day before valentine’s, when we played our first game, I still didn’t know half of these things and I wasn’t the only one. Some team mates had to scream what “the play” was at different points in the game for the benefit of those of us who were there primarily for the experience and still had no idea what the heck we were doing. Haha. Needless to say, we lost our first two games. Again, haha 😥 Well, we did win our third game. Haha! 😀 Before we lucked out and dropped out of the competition after losing our 4th game. Ha. Ha… 😩

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The gorgeous Ebbets Field… on which we never played. Because we never advanced far enough 😢

These are the things I learned from that experience.

It turns out baseball was originally a Red Indian pastime, which would explain why it’s so deeply rooted in the American culture. It also explains all the leather involved in the sport and the superior craft work that goes into creating a baseball glove. Those things are a work of art.

Softball is the far less aggressive form of baseball. It’s less of a contact sport, the pace is slower and the clearest definer is the slow pitch, in which the ball must be thrown up into an arc towards the batter. Softball is the version played in children’s, all-female and recreational/social leagues. There are also competitive all-men softball leagues but, as expected, these are quite aggressive and the only real difference from baseball is the slow-pitch which ensures it’s less likely for folk to get hurt, seeing as the players are probably not professional baseball players.

I must point out something here. A softball is farrrrr from soft. I learnt this the hard way… no pun intended. Actually, it’s the same very hard balls used for baseball that are used in softball. You wonder how these Americans then came up with the term SOFTball, don’t you? Me too… Me too.

A lot of the terms I’ve become familiar with in everyday [American] speak are actually adapted from baseball. Everyone is familiar with the sexual connotation of “getting to 1st, 2nd or 3rd base” so I’ll just slide right by that one. There’s “bring me home, [name of batter]” used by a runner on 3rd base when (s)he’s hoping to make it back to home plate and score a home run. I finally came to understand the original context of “3 strikes and you’re out”. That one I was first introduced to in a John Grisham novel in relation to the justice system and how offenders are given 3 chances to commit misdemeanors before they’re really locked away. I became familiar with the term “heavy/hard hitter” in mafia films and novels. Turns out the term was originally used in baseball to qualify batters. The one baseball movie that really impressed on me growing up was Angels in the Outfield, which starred a young Joseph Gordon-Levitts. I finally came to grasp what defined the outfield. That’s the area beyond the only curved line on the field. The rest of the field is the infield.

Interestingly, there are probably a few terms used in baseball which are adapted from elsewhere. One that comes to mind is the dugout. This is the area the team which isn’t “playing the field” (another baseball term now used in other ways) sits in while they field batters. The dugout is kind of like the sub bench in football. Well, the term “dugout” was originally used in the 18th century for canoes/boats that were made by the indigenous people of the Americas who would literally dig out a tree till the canoe shape was derived.

Beyond the technicalities of the game, some of the best lessons I learnt were the social and cultural ones. In the American culture, sporting is not only for the young and the athletic men (as is the case in the Nigerian culture). Everyone is encouraged to be a part of it. Part of the rules of playing in the social league was that each team had to sport at least 3 women. And there were no age restrictions on who could or couldn’t play. There were also rules put in place on the field which help balanced things gender-wise and ensured men respected the women and their presence on the field.

My team, the Ogas at the Top, was a potpourri of folk of both original genders and with an age range of late 20s to early 60s. We played and witnessed other teams made up of several generations. One team we played was called the Leftovers and was basically a single family spanning three generations. They had players with papa pizza, day-old pizza, guacamole, etc scribed across their backs. Another team was made up of only women, also of many ages. These ones were aptly named the Cougars. Haha! These people were a very creative bunch.

The thing that struck me hardest playing on that field was the acceptance and support on display. People of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and leanings were playing together… against each other, but also together. Because we were in the social league and not the competitive league, there were many a folk who knew jack squat about what they were doing. No one hassled us or put us down for making mistakes or being slow. Everyone was patient with us and very encouraging, at times, even our opponents. Something I heard quite often was “Good hustle” said to encourage a person when they’d tried their best but it wasn’t good enough or they’d just been rather out of luck. It was most often said to one’s teammates but I also heard it said a lot to members of a team that had just suffered defeat and even to the vanquished by the victorious team. The spirit of sportsmanship was strong and that in turn encouraged a sense of belonging despite the many shades of skin, textures of hair and choices of ideology that were on display.

A culture of inclusion is something I’ve always believed in and I’m all about a society where no one is made to feel like they are somehow inferior to others or that they do not belong. I truly believe all humans are equal regardless of race, gender or creed. It’s just tragic that some human societies have ensured their equality is more deeply rooted and far stronger than others.

In Nigeria, discrimination is the order of the day and the lines across which we are divided are all too obvious and are constantly being highlighted, justified and entrenched. One party is endlessly trying to distinguish themselves from and establish their superiority over the other(s) and when they have done so, the individuals in that group proceed to find other divides along which they will separate themselves and on and on… until each person stands alone upon their little island, completely isolated from everyone else, even if only in their minds. Tragic.

We can do so much better as a people. So much better.