Saturday, February 21, 2009

From Paul G., a Diggers Teammate

Michael was a Digger from the beginning. We both came out to the Yorkville League’s tryouts, and were put together on a team called the Replacements, which was composed of all the new people who wanted to play in the league but didn’t have a team. Our coaches’ name was Ray, and we did ok that year. At the end of the season our pitcher, Purple, asked me if I wanted to be part of a “competitive team” the next year? I said sure. She suggested we get all the best players from the Replacements, find some new folks, and form a new team. As our trusty Short Center Fielder with the reliable bat, Mike was on the list of invitees.

As that winter went by I hadn’t heard from Purple and had to decide if we were going to form this new team, and what to call it. I wanted a name that spoke to both baseball and radical politics. I thought of the Bombers, but that name was taken, and had Yankees’ connotations. Walking along McCarren Park in Williamsburg against a late February wind, I thought of the name Diggers, as a reference both to digging out a ball from the dirt, or running hard around the bases, and to the direct actionists of the 1600s who claimed the common land for the people after the English Revolution. Mike was one of the first people I called to ask if he would like to play for this new team. He said Yes, and became one of our steadiest and most reliable players.

Mike was always there in the early days of the Diggers, a pre-email, pre-cell phone era when fielding a complete team was a sometimes difficult task. Several times we’d come up short on the required number of women players needed. In those instances we’d play the other team anyways, just for fun. Purple would never stick around if the game didn’t count, but Mike always would. He just loved to play.

I was manager for the first few years of the fabled Diggers’ franchise, and towards the end of my tenure, after Purple and her awesome younger cousin had moved on from their pitching duties, Mike approached me and said he could pitch. For the first several years of playing as the Diggers, Mike was our amazing Short Center Fielder. He both embodied and defined the position. Some managers will play four outfielders across the outfield, but Mike made an excellent case for playing three across, with him roving the area behind Second Base. He was very fast, and made more shoe-string catches than I can count, always running hard and coming out of nowhere to make the out. It was truly incredible to watch.

So when Mike, our awesome Short Center Fielder, approached me wanting to pitch, I was skeptical. Being a softball manager, one hears all sorts of things, often about how great a shortstop someone really is, or how they can play Third Base, or should really be hitting Clean Up. Then, in a game situation, one finds out the harsh reality of that players’ need to stay in Right Field, or further down in the order. We were desperate for pitching, and I thought Mike was just being nice to offer. But we started to work him in for a few innings, and it became obvious that he had some ability. In time, Mike would develop into one of the greatest softball pitchers many of us have ever seen.

Those of us who had the fortune to know and play with Mike remember him as both a fierce competitor on the field, and a very gentle, caring person off the field. He always exhibited a genuine concern for his teammates well being and personal lives, while playing every game as if his life depended on it. We will miss Mike, for the rest of our lives. He was a friend and a teammate, and a Digger for life.

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