By Bobby Calise
About six years ago, a young and ambitious salesman at Petry Media Corp was preparing for a job interview with CBS, which at the time would have been a big step in his nascent sales career. To help himself stand out among the other candidates, he asked his colleague and veteran salesman Marty Rosenberg to put in a good word with the hiring manager at CBS, whom Marty knew personally. Marty had played with the hiring manager 12 years earlier on the Petry Pilots company softball team and was happy to help. But instead of just a “good word,” Marty dug through 30 years of old softball scorebooks and tracked down the box score from the CBS hiring manager’s best game as a Pilot, made a copy of the page, and gave it to the young salesman. An unorthodox but clever tactic, the young salesman paper clipped the box score to his resume and brought it on his interview. He got the job.
I met Marty in 2005 when I was hired by Petry, my first real job out of college. With a meager starting salary and a two-hour commute each way, the position really only came with one perk: the company softball team. I had a brief tryout, after which Marty put me in the starting line-up and I never relinquished my spot, mostly for fear of being “Pipp’d.” (When someone misses a game, Marty admonishes us repeatedly with the tale of Wally Pipp, the Yankee first baseman who sat out a game in 1925 and was replaced by the “Iron Man,” Lou Gehrig, who went on to play 2,130 consecutive games as Pipp’s replacement.)
The Petry Pilots 2011 softball season begins on May 3. It’ll be my seventh season, and my fifth since leaving the company in 2006. About half the guys on the team no longer work for Petry, which has seen several rounds of layoffs over the last few years. But we continue to show up to play for Pilots every Tuesday at 6 pm. We drink cheap beer, tell and retell stories from back in the day, and occasionally make a game winning (or losing) play. Our team is unique in that there’s no actual league, no season standings, and no first place trophy to hoist above our heads. Marty simply sends our permit application off to the parks department every January requesting 16 spring and summer dates at Heckscher field 6 in lower Central Park, and we figure out our opponents later.
The roster looks a little different than it used to. Last summer, our star shortstop Joe got a job on Long Island and had to stop playing with us midway through the season. I campaigned for a chance to fill in and Marty, preferring that I stayed in the outfield, begrudgingly agreed. I had a banner day at the plate, cracking four homers and driving in 11 runs—but I also made six errors at short and cost the team several unearned runs and a lot of patience. I knew Marty wanted to scream at me and yank me off the field around error #4, but he didn’t. He felt that we’d have a better chance of winning if he just left me alone to mishandle every routine ground ball and sidearm all my throws up the first base line, as long as I continued to hit well. We won the game handily, 20-13, and in his recap email the next day (he always sends one) he praised our team’s effort, not even mentioning my nightmarish play in the field. But even in victory I felt like I had let the team down. I responded to his email: “How magnanimous of you to leave out my defensive struggles!” He replied: “Truly one of the greatest offensive performances I’ve ever seen. Your offensive surge far overshadowed your play at short.”
This season will be Marty’s 34th as a Pilot. He’ll turn 67 years old in July but still pitches every other game for us in addition to managing the team. He still fields his position like a Gold Glover, still changes speeds and mixes in a knuckleball, and still gets pissed off when he gives up a big hit.
Our schedule has softened a bit over the years. Some of our formerly bitter rivals have evolved into just-for-fun coed squads that were built more for an extremely casual ZogSports league than to play against a taking-it-way-too-seriously team like ours. (In my seven seasons we’ve only had one female player.) A couple of times a season we’ll face a team full of veteran ballplayers who want to snatch the off-season bragging rights away from Marty. If we jump out to an early lead, Marty tells us we still need more runs; if we fall behind, he questions our effort. In my first season I was 24 and out to prove myself to my new teammates and to Marty. Back then if Marty yelled at me about a mental error I had made, I’d defensively yell back. Now, he yells a little less and I make a better effort not to get so riled up.
I know, I know, it’s only softball. Every year I tell myself I won’t take it as seriously as I used to. There’s no need to leg out a double in the first inning, or to try to nail a runner at the plate when we’re already up 15 runs. But once I step onto the field for the first time each spring, I can’t help myself. I don’t want to let my teammates down. I don’t want to let Marty down. And most importantly, I don’t want to ever get Pipp’d.