By Michael Gold
The field stretched out and away from the backstop, a carpet of green dividing the Saw Mill Parkway from the Village of Pleasantville.
Two half-circle American flags, red and blue with white stars, hung proudly from the chain link metal fence.
Lime painted the dirt on the first and third base lines a solid white, then continued on into the outfield, marking off the boundaries of fair and foul.
The elements all added up to a night of softball at Parkway Field.
The sun lowered toward the west, and the temperature cooled. Clouds puffing up to the top of the sky, their ragged edges lit orange by the setting sun, hovered overhead, but threatened nothing so terrible as even a drizzle. The brown infield dirt was indented with the impressions of fielders’ shoes from pre-game practice.
The Expendables were fighting it out in a doubleheader with the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in the Pleasantville Men’s Softball League.
The league has nine teams. Besides the Expendables and Captain Lawrence, the teams are Foley’s, P-Daddy’s, the Nomads, the Free Agents, Craft, the Soul Brewing Company and the Moonlight Grahams, which sounds like a really delicious cookie, but is in honor of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who appeared in a single game in the Major Leagues without getting an at-bat. It’s a story popularized in “Field of Dreams.”
An observer could guess every pitch – a sinker. The pitches came slow, but in tricky arcs. The big, fat softballs looked like easy targets at first, but they could fool anyone.
The batters swung at the pitches, rotating grapefruits, that had to hang in the air just long enough for their bats to connect with the ball.
For the men on the teams, the game was the chance to forget about work or household chores for a few hours and think about nothing but hitting a softball floating toward the plate or catching it as it came racing through the infield or flying into the outfield.
Softball reduces everything in your life to reflexes. How fast can you swing a bat to meet the ball? How quickly can you get your mitt down to dig a grounder out of the dirt? Can you snag that fly ball quickly soaring past you?
It seems that playing the game can liberate you from your worries, at least temporarily.
Mark Markarian the founder, manager and captain of the Expendables, started the team to have fun and meet some new people.
“From 18 to Way Old to Rock & Roll,” announced his hot pink flyer, posted on dozens of houses in the neighborhood a few months ago, when he was recruiting players for the team.
Markarian, who lived in Queens for decades, had a lot of trouble getting into a city softball league. Many of them are closed to newcomers, unless you have a personal connection.
Markarian moved to Pleasantville, in large part because of the sense of community he found here.
“I moved because of the Pleasantville Music Festival,” Markarian said.
A town that could organize and gather enough people to fill Parkway Field was a big draw, he said.
Pleasantville is “a real home town,” he explained.
One member of the team said he was there because he’d “been dragged into it by a friend,” but he seemed quite happy as he went to bat and took the field. Other team members talked about why they joined. The words “fun” and “meeting new people” and “community” came up a lot in conversation.
The Expendables are scheduled to play 16 games, all as part of doubleheaders, throughout the season, which started in late April and ends late this month. The seven-inning games move pretty fast, unlike Major League Baseball.
Alex Lepre, an Expendable, wearing a tee-shirt that said, “I Am the Big Dog,” lined a single toward first base. A teammate popped out to shortstop. Markarian turned a grounder he hit down the first base line into a double.
In the third inning, the lights came on from the tall stanchions looming over the field. Gnats swarmed around the players’ heads, and they tried to wave them away, unsuccessfully.
Gnats are attracted to people, in part, because of the carbon dioxide we exhale. The gnats seemed to be enjoying a carbon dioxide feast of gigantic proportions.
A Captain Lawrence batter hit a soaring fly far out into the outfield, but the Expendables center fielder, Henry Heredia, plucked the ball out of the air as it came just a few feet away from landing, almost a shoe-string catch. Then Heredia threw out the tagging runner at second base.
The second game started almost immediately after the first game ended. As I walked away from the field to go home, a Captain Lawrence batter slugged a fly ball over Expendable Mike “Blatt” Rosenblatt’s head in deep right field. Rosenblatt ran after it and grabbed the ball over his shoulder at the last possible second before it would have fallen for a certain extra base hit.
The score didn’t matter. The real winner was Pleasantville. And the gnats.