My New York Obsession

A League of My Own

You don’t have to play the game to love the Prospect Park Women’s Softball League.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

The score is tied. Bases loaded. Tension as thick as the humidity. Staring down the other team, our pitcher rolls her shoulder like a bull pawing the dirt: The pitch is coming, and it’s coming fast. I look nervously from side to side, my heart pounding in my chest. This is it. This is everything.

Man, I think, taking another sip of my iced caramel macchiato, I sure hope we win!

Wait, did you think I was one of the players? (If so, good. I was trying to trick you. Our relationship is founded on a bed of lies.) Nope, my partner is on the team, not me. When it comes to the Prospect Park Women’s Softball League, an instructional league that plays in Brooklyn every spring and summer, I’m there as a fan—the first time I’ve ever actively supported a sports team in my life. I’m already a die-hard.

I never really understood sports, and I mean that quite literally. My only sporty endeavor growing up in suburban Massachusetts was cross-country, mostly because the rules are understandable even by a cavewoman: Move feet fast.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t glean excitement from watching grown men run around a diamond made of dirt.

Although this athletic illiteracy hasn’t caused me any problems since gym class, I’ve always regretted missing out on the community that comes with caring about a specific team. When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, I remember seeing my home state lose its collective, Dunkin-fueled mind and feeling my first pang of FOMO. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t quite glean the same excitement from watching grown men run around a diamond made of dirt.

Enter the PPWSL. My partner, a lifelong softball player, joined the league soon after we started dating. Since then, many of my summer days consist of grabbing iced coffee and a bagel, meandering over to Prospect Park, and finding a sunny spot on the grass to settle into. Joining me on adjacent beach towels are other players’ families, friends, dogs, and the real MVPs: babies wearing the tiniest softball jerseys you’ve ever seen. Between chants and cheers, we chat about our day, share food, and pet each other’s pups. I don’t know the dictionary definition of idyllic, but this has to come close.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

The other side of the dugout is a little less tranquil. Save your cross-team friendships for the league’s karaoke nights—on the field, these PPWSL ladies are in it to win it. Stand too close to the fence and you’ll hear fierce strategizing between innings, the players dusting off their skinned knees and muddied uniforms before heading back out into battle. During one game last summer, a vicious rainstorm suddenly swept over the park. While we bystanders ran for the trees, bemoaning our ruined beach towels, the competitors dug in their cleats with renewed resolve.

You’d be surprised how much of an appetite you work up sitting in the grass watching other people play softball.

After each game, the teams retire to various local bars, their freeloading loved ones like me tagging along. You’d be surprised how much of an appetite you work up sitting in the grass watching other people play softball. (Shout-out to the Battle Hill Tavern on Sixth Avenue and 21st Street, whose pizza selection is out of this world.) If the bartender feels like giving out a round of free drinks to the team, I’m usually included, which is flattering. (Not to get into lesbian stereotypes, but with my current haircut, I definitely look like I play softball.) Raising my unearned drink aloft, I join in toasting the team’s hard work, the recipient of the game ball, and the promise that we’ll do it all again next week.

So this is what I’ve been missing out on for all these years, I think, somehow still sipping that iced caramel macchiato from before while also nursing my free haircut beer. Should I have stuck with that fourth-grade soccer team?

I mean, maybe. I probably wouldn’t get winded while walking up the subway stairs if I had. But my favorite part about hanging out at PPWSL games is the come-as-you-are attitude, for players and spectators alike. Since the league is instructional, people of all skill levels are encouraged to try out, working on their own goals for self-improvement throughout the season. We onlookers filter in and out, picking up snacks or handing off the care of a pet. Often, passersby with no connection to a team stop by to watch for a bit, asking about the score and joining the cheers. I don’t blame them. Watching people play softball is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon in Brooklyn.

 

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

And—it’s free! Almost nothing in New York is free. I pet my cat this morning and she charged me a gratuity.

With the weather getting warmer, you might be looking for a good excuse to spend some time outside. If you can find it in your heart to trust me again—I’m sorry for tricking you earlier; I’ve changed since then, I promise—I recommend swinging by a PPWSL game sometime soon. Nothing says summertime relaxation quite like watching other people go through rigorous physical activity. And if you need to know where to get a good iced caramel macchiato, email me.

Christine Aucoin is a New York–based freelance writer and playwright. She’s been meaning to set up an Instagram account, but she assumes she would then be crowned an “influencer,” and that’s way too much responsibility.