In 1988 I was living in Long Beach, California. A young man named Richard moved in next door with his wife and son and we became instant friends. Once I got to know Richard better I learned that he became instant friends with every person he meets.
He knew I was from "out of town" and he showed me around the South Bay. I met his entire family and they also treated me like a member from that first day.
In August of 1989 I went with his family to their "Family Picnic." There are about 200 people at these annual events and they are amazingly organized from the food to the games and prizes for the kids and adults. They even have the volleyball game where the uncles play against the nephews. This family although flawed like any other family, is truly filled with love and respect for each other. As an outsider, with a family that is spread out, it was something to behold and admire.
So after a great lunch (where Richard, without question, is the head cook) the guys all got together on the softball field, divided up teams and played. We had a great time and headed back to the picnic area to hold the raffles. Then every one sits around and talks for hours, I'm not kidding. The picnic lasts from10am (a lot earlier if you're on the setting-up crew) until the sun goes down. Everyone helps cleanup, they never disrespect the park.
So the next evening after work, Richard comes over and asks if I'd be interested in playing on a softball team with his family. Apparently after the picnic a few of the guys started talking about putting together a team and getting into a league. Richard knew they had some athletes and lots of enthusiasm, but not enough experienced league softball players.
I join this new team, the Cousins, as the right centerfielder and the leftfielder Bobby and I were the only two not related on the team. Bobby grew up with them all so they didn't realize he wasn't family.
Our first game was October 6, 1989. Though I am not a home run hitter, I homered in my first at bat as a Cousin. It really eased my self-inflicted pressure of trying to prove I belonged. I now realize that these guys trusted Richard's opinion so if he said I belonged, then I did. He was our captain and best player and simply knows the game.
Now anyone who's been to a softball game knows that on a real good team, 3 girlfriends and 2 kids is great attendance. The Cousins had at least 20 people in the stands every game!
After that first game which we won, we were standing in the dugout talking and I ask one of the guys, Art, about these two young ladies who are standing about 30 feet away with their backs to me. I tell him that I'm going to marry the one on the left. Art thinks I'm always joking anyway so he says he'll marry the one on the right. He then calls them over and says, "Let me introduce you to my little sister, Liza and her friend, Lisa"
They almost notice me for a second and go back to talking to each other. I found out later that it was Liza's birthday and they were discussing where to go celebrate.
Anyway, after every game 30 people went to Dominic's Pizza and sat for a few more hours. Week after week of clever innuendos finally started to sink in and to make an already long story shorter, Cousin Ralph stands up at the table and says, "It's obvious you two are attracted to each other, just ask her out already!"
So I asked, she accepted, we went out December 18th, spent most every day together after that and announced our engagement the following February.
But getting back to softball, I have to tell this story because it still makes me beam to this day.
In this league, the winner of the first half plays the winner of the second half for the championship.
In the first half, we beat two teams, lost once to the Pirates and won the other game on forfeit when that team didn't have enough guys. That was their only loss so they were also 3-1. The Pirates only lost to the guys that forfeited to us so it was a three way tie. Got that? And sorry, I can't remember the name of that other team.
The team that only lost a forfeit to us won the second half, beating us 20-2.
So now they have a coin toss to decide who will play the tie-breaker game, with the loser being eliminated. We end up having to play the Pirates who don't think we deserve to even be there.
We had not even had a lead in any game that season against either team so we figured we had nothing to lose but to give it our all. We got out to a 6 run lead in the first inning and 8 runs after two. The Pirates started arguing with each other and we knew we had them. We won that first game 16-6. Well that other team is now ecstatic to know their only competition was just sent home and we have to beat them to be first half champs and then beat them again to be overall champs.
We scored 7 in the first inning of the second game and we stayed in front and won that game 14-11, but those guys just weren't going to worry about us. They were the best hitting team by far.
In the third game (yes of that same night) we had a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the 4th when they loaded the bases with one out. Everyone on both sides could sense that "here they come" feeling. Their next guy hit a bullet towards left center, but our shortstop, Victor, leaped and backhanded the ball. He then doubled the runner off of third and the inning was stunningly over. I will swear until the day that I die that Michael Jordan never jumped that high. As you can imagine, all the air went out of their team and we were flying high back to the dugout. Then on the first pitch, our batter Jeff hits a home run! Now we're feeling pretty darn good and they are finally starting to take us seriously, but it was a little too late.
The next inning we each scored 3 times, but we'll take a standoff for sure. It's 9-4 with 2 innings to go. We didn't score in the 6th.
In the bottom of the 6th inning their first hitter hits a drive to right field and our right centerfielder (yes, me) makes a diving catch! Five outs to go. The next two are out easily and we are one inning away.
Last inning and we get 2 more for insurance. They need 7 runs, we need 3 outs. They weren't about to just roll over and they came out swinging, but could only get 3 and we won the game and the tournament. It's not always the best players that win, but it's almost always the best "team".
Each Cousin won a windbreaker, the second place guys got sweatshirts and the Pirates refused to pick up their t-shirts.
That would have been December of 1989, just over18 years ago and these memories are with me as I wore that jacket to work today.
We played for 3 more seasons before too many of us started to move away or jobs interfered.
Sadly, Liza and I separated in 1997 and divorced in 2000, but we have two of the greatest kids God has ever granted anyone. Richard and I don't live by each other any more, but we still get together once a year or so "on the rock" (Catalina) and he still introduces me as his cousin. He still makes friends with every single person he meets.
I see some of the guys around the South Bay and they all still call me cousin. My daughter Melannie keeps me up to date on all the family news and events. It was and is an honor to be a part of that family and the Cousins softball team.