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Pleasure Dome Thunder BW

Direct Hit

2018 — I served as softball umpire for a men’s game between Homespun and Makomonisi at the Crafford softball fields in Pretoria. The latter team often lacked gear, and we gladly shared ours with them. That day Homespun was first at bat, awaiting my call to “play ball.” However, we were delayed as the Makomonisi catcher nervously fumbled with the fasteners of his loaned protective gear.

Catchers are in the line of fire, with a batter standing between them and the pitched ball. Even though softball may have originated with an actual soft ball, the balls we play with today are hard, weigh around 200 grams (7 ounces), and fly at around 95 km per hour (60 mph); a powerful projectile known for inflicting severe injuries.

When the batter fails to hit the ball, and the catcher misses the catch, they rely on leg guards, chest plates, full-face helmets, and abdominal guards for bodily protection. This final piece of equipment is critical for men; the protection it affords having very little to do with the lower abdomen and everything to do with . . . below the lower abdomen.

The umpire wears similar protective equipment. I take position behind the catcher, but slightly off to the side, partially exposed to the pitched ball. I value a good pitcher and an excellent catcher to help keep me safe; however, balls missed by the catcher, or which glance off a bat, do hit me from time-to-time. Sometimes they miss my armor, instead hitting my unprotected thighs, arms, or shoulders.

Back to this game. The catcher eventually got his guards strapped on, and proceeded to take a few warm-up balls from his pitcher. At this point I noticed the pitcher’s aim was erratic, with the catcher struggling to catch his balls—already taking some body hits. I was about to start the game when the catcher approached me. The nervous young man was embarrassed, politely pleading for a spare abdominal guard.

In that moment, understanding for his dire predicament flashed in my mind. I quickly asked our catcher, but we had no spare guard. They were all in use, safely tucked away in private places. Staring from his dark, sweating face, his nervous eyes still pleaded for a solution. I turned my back to the field, loosened my belt, extracted my private guard, and handed it to a visibly relieved catcher. In this dangerous situation, he had no qualms about using my private gear.

As I took position behind him, a thought crossed my mind. What if, after loaning my guard to this catcher, I get hit in my now-exposed nethers?

That thought motivated a heartfelt prayer for protection. The pitcher delivered his first ball, which skipped across the ground and rolled to the catcher; a rookie pitcher.

God spoke to me then, confirming His protection, which I received with gratitude.

The pitcher’s second ball was higher, but still low. Coming in fast, it slipped below the catcher’s mitt, hit the hard ground between his legs and sprang up for a direct hit on my unprotected privates.

Those who understand the semi-crouched stance of a softball umpire right behind the catcher should understand the trajectory of this ball hurtling upward between the legs.

I jolted upright, yet without any pain. It was as if I hadn’t been hit at all! However, I distinctly felt the brush of the ball on my inner thigh adjacent to my crotch—confirming the direct hit. Several people on the field voiced their dismay at seeing where I had been struck.

I responded with a genuine smile and called for the game to continue. All was good, so good!

Deep gratitude, mingled with amazement, fueled my repeated thanksgiving to God right there and then.

This was not the first time God had protected me from experiencing the physical effects of a severe impact. How He does it in that split second, defying physics and biology on a cellular and tissue level, is a profound mystery, but it speaks volumes about His fantastic abilities. He may have rather prevented the ball from hitting me there in the first place, but He had something else to prove—not just to me, but also through this testimony to you, my dear reader.

To avoid danger we might consider it best to not participate in the game, but then we’re not in the game. And, even then, spectators do also get hit by errant balls. Rather, it’s about being in the game, trusting that God is with us, and actively seeking His help in all things, even . . . uh . . . private matters.