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Donn King's Articles in Walnut Creek Senior Club Newsletter

March 2024

Creakers Softball

The 2024 Creaker softball season began in February. 150 Creakers assembled in the Heather Farm meeting hall to get information about new rules, drink coffee, eat donuts, be introduced to current Creaker leaders, and most importantly, meet their managers for the season and see who their new teammates will be. It’s kind of like the first day of school at the end of summer vacation. I am reminded of the anticipation of getting new books, smelling the books, wearing new clothes, finding out who my home room teacher will be, and who will be in my classes. There is a fresh, new feeling in the air, an expectation that never gets old.

This was my eleventh year as a Creaker, consequently my eleventh General Meeting, and this time I was struck by a particular observation. As I looked around the room I noticed how many of the men and women in the room whom I could call by name, and reciprocally, how many who I was sure would know mine.

Many seniors have trouble with retirement and the aging process. Depression and early demise are well known risks for retirees. Leaving a career often strands a retired person without purpose and deletes contact with people. Therefore lucky is the senior  citizen who falls in with Creakers softball! Often it happens by accident. Looking for something to do, the fortunate recruit hears about senior softball from a friend, or in my case, the spouse of a friend. Often it’s been decades since he or she stepped onto a diamond but now here they are, plunged into a community of 250 active, congenial, sports-minded people in their own age group. Of course it doesn’t happen overnight.  In any group there is an integration process; you have to hang around and pay your dues, but Creaker softball is fertile ground on which the seed has fallen. Most new Creakers come to play ball without realizing the sociability and congeniality that awaits.

All of this was going through my head last Friday at the Creaker General Meeting. Who knew what a find Creaker softball would be for me? Practically a career in itself and no time to wonder how I would occupy my days in the last third of my life. There are jobs and assignments if you like to contribute and work in a well run organization. Oh my goodness, I almost forgot to mention the game.  True, softball is the reason we all got here, but after a while the game becomes secondary to the social community in which you find yourself immersed.

February 2024

Creakers Softball

In Northern California we are fortunate to live in a climate that has potential for 12 months of outdoor softball activity; however, there is a variable in our climate that limits this activity in the Winter months: Rain. Not only is playing in wet conditions harmful to the fields, it can be dangerous. In fact, softball players have an ambivalent attitude toward wet Winters. We miss playing the sport we love and meeting our friends regularly to play, but we hope for the rain because rain is so necessary to the well being of the population and the land on which we live.

Rain also provides respite from the hectic round of warm weather activity. Wet weather makes it impossible to play softball, therefore creating space for our inner lives.  We can refresh and recharge our psychic batteries in preparation for the onset of “nice weather” stimuli. For me this is a very welcome time. Among other interior activities, rainy weather provides the opportunity for reading. I enjoy reading and since the New Year is often a time for lists, here is a list of ten of my favorite books. Enjoy your time off!

Underground Railroad, Colin Whitehead. A novel about the network that helped slaves escape from the South.

Harlem Shuffle, Colin Whitehead. Fiction set in Harlem, NY in the 50’s.

Elon Musk, Walter Isaacson. 600 pages but easy to read.

Last Train to Pakistan, Kushwant Singh. Fiction.  A classic, set at the time of Partition near the India—Pakistan border.

This Naked Mind, Annie Grace. Arguments and methods for controlling alcohol intake.

Thursday  Murder Club, Richard Osman. British, clever, quirky but serious and smart. There are three other books in this series.

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder, David Gann. Non fiction, high seas adventure in the 1700’s. Can’t put it down.

La Brava, Elmore Leonard. Crime fiction set in Florida. One of the great modern crime authors.

Blue Highways: A Journey Into America. Great travel non fiction. Also, River Horse, by the same author.

Patagonia Express, Paul Theroux. The author boards a local streetcar in Boston and rides the rails to the tip of South America.

December 2023

Creakers Softball

Athletes have been using guided imagery to improve performance for decades. Guided imagery, or visualization, is a sports psychology technique that can be employed at any skill level and at any age. The techniques are simple but profound and senior softball players can make very effective use of visualization to solve performance problems or just plain get better.

Using Electroencephalogram (EEG) and other brain activity tracking modalities, science has proven that our brains learn patterns of behavior regardless of whether our experience is actual or imagined. In other words, imagining adjusting a batting stance to hit to the opposite field is the same as physically practicing that adjustment. Imagining making a successful throw to home plate, if imagined over and over, is an effective way to teach ourselves to make that throw in a game. Our brains can’t tell the difference. Imagining achieving the desired outcome is the same as physically practicing to achieve it. The brain becomes comfortable with the new or improved behavior and is therefore more readily able to tell the body how to behave.

Imagining an outcome you wish to change or achieve involves employing all of the senses in the imaginal exercise. Using the example of learning to hit to the opposite field, start at the beginning. Imagine sitting in the dugout waiting for your turn at bat. Picture yourself putting on  batting gloves, and the feeling of your hands in the gloves. Now picture standing in the on-deck circle, loosening up and watching the pitcher pitch to the current batter. Smell if you can the dirt, or your gloves if they need a wash. In your mind, listen to the sounds of the other players, teammates, and the noise of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove. Now see yourself standing up to the plate and notice your adjusted stance, and how your feet dig into the dirt to get the footing that you want. Picture the timing and the angle of your swing. In other words, visualize every single detail of the process, including the feeling of the ball hitting the bat, the sound of it, and the feeling of watching it arc and fall into the desired location. Imagine how it would feel to successfully get that hit and run to the base. It’s important to picture every detail and include all of the senses: smell, touch, sound, sight, and emotion.

This imaginal process can and should be repeated over and over. Just like with physical practice, the more repetitions, the better. The techniques can be performed with eyes open or closed. Guided imagery is not limited to sports. The techniques of visualization can be used to affect outcomes in any field of performance including work, music, art, relationships, etc. Guided imagining is an adjunct, not a substitute, for physical practice. Practice, practice, practice, both physically and imaginatively. Both are necessary to change and enhance performance. Repetition is important and success doesn’t necessarily come on the first try. With repetition and perseverance, visualization, used in conjunction with physical practice, has been scientifically proven to change outcomes.

November 2023

Creakers Softball

Recently I was inducted into the Creaker Hall of Fame. Lucky for me, this is an honor that is granted for service, not softball prowess. I was always a wannabe athlete, but my skills, and probably more importantly my confidence, weren't well enough developed to play varsity sports when I was in school. In my 60’s I discovered the Creakers and Senior softball. It was a revelation. I realized that because of age and maturity I could persevere and not be as daunted by “failures.” I knew that I could learn from mistakes and get better, and actually enjoy myself as an athlete.

In my early days as a Creaker, as soon as I started to become aware how the organization was organized and run, I knew that I wanted to be a contributor. There was something that I recognized in the Creakers: a demographic, an ethic, a tone, a spirit. I knew it was a match for me. I wanted to be a part of the whole, someone who in some way helped make the Creakers function, a contributing member in a top notch organization. There were plenty of exemplary people to emulate. As much as I could I wanted to be one of them.

My first Creaker job was working in Equipment. Then quickly, I found myself on the Rules Committee, which was ironic because I have always been a “just go out and play” sort of person, not that concerned with details and rules.

Because I had a medical background and had worked in cardiology, the First Aid/AED committee chair was a good fit for me. A year or two later, Keith Takata and I took over running Fall Ball/Winter Ball. That was my biggest Creaker job up to that point. It involved organizing actual people, moving them around, and making decisions about structure and systems. Then came Placement, one of the most serious and time consuming of all the Creaker roles. On Placement I made it my business to meet and know the names of almost every Creaker. Leadership was next, the natural progression after Placement. Those two committees constitute  the heart and soul of the Creaker world.

Currently I serve on the Senior Club Advisory Board under Fred Rentschler, and write this monthly Creaker article for the Senior Club newsletter.

It’s a good list of work, and it adds up to a lot of powerful memories but there are Creakers who have done so much, much more. To be inducted into the Creaker Hall of Fame sets the bar very high; it’s a lot to live up to. In fact, it’s a lot to live for. I intend to live, play, and contribute in the Creaker community as long as I can. It’s one of those things that keeps me going, and actually forestalls my aging process. I am grateful for this great honor and for being allowed to work with and for Creakers this past decade.

September 2023

The Creakers: Career Extenders

As Creakers we deal with the inevitability of physical decline, so we have to ask ourselves how long can we play? What can we do to prolong our time on the playing field? How can we continue to be effective? I think of my time as a Creaker as a career, and I want to postpone retirement as long as I can. Of course, no one wants to be foolish and stay too long. There comes a time when it will be time to hang up the cleats, but there are ways to stretch out our careers. Hitting is the last thing to go. Legs start to slow and fail, arms lose throwing speed and distance, and reaction times decrease, but many players, even with physical defects, can continue to hit well. Therefore, it’s important to look for a defensive position that can accommodate age.

Look for a position that is appropriate for a body that is less in possession of lightening reflexes. Let’s be clear: on the diamond every position is essential. There are no defensive positions that are not important. Every position when played well contributes to the machinery of a highly functioning team. However, there are some positions that are more friendly to diminished reaction times.

One of these is the most important position on the field, the absolute focal point of the game: the pitcher. Pitching requires finesse, intelligence, and stamina, but you don’t need to run or make long throws. Pitching requires hours of practice and a steady and experienced hand. Pitching is a very good career extender, maybe the best one.

First base is another. The first baseman must be able to catch the ball. That means apprehending throws that may be hurried, and arrive high, low, and wide. But the position is less busy with ground balls than other infield positions and doesn’t require a particularly strong arm.

Counterintuitively, third base may be a good career move for a player with reduced mobility. Yes, the ground balls may come fast and hard, but there are fewer of them than at other infield positions. The third baseman doesn’t have to have as much lateral mobility either. It’s a long throw from third to first. but a straight throw that bounces once or twice to get to first will beat many runners in senior softball. Second base is another possibility. There is plenty of action to make that position interesting, and the throws are shorter.

Finally, consider catching. The catcher handles the ball more than any other player. He or she must be able to get the ball back to the pitcher, be nimble enough to catch a pop-up foul ball, and be ready handle a ball thrown home to put out a runner attempting to score.

The position that you came up with, the one with which you most closely identified, may not be where you will be playing in the closing act. In order to keep playing, a player must be realistic and flexible and be willing to make the adjustments that will extend his or her softball career. It’s not so bad. You’re still in the ball game.

August 2023

The Creakers: Umpiring

Umpires and umpiring are the most contentious and emotional elements of Creaker softball. Umpires represent the human element in sports, the personal touch. In the 21st century big league baseball is gradually phasing out human umpiring. Electronic graphics that define balls and strikes are already common, and allow everyone to second guess every single pitching call at the plate. (Umpires must hate that.) Replays are common. Lasers, cameras, and software can easily be employed at the bases to make safe or out calls. In the minor leagues I believe these electronic techniques are even more advanced. But somehow, human umpires hang on tenaciously to their role in the game. (Maybe they have a strong union.) It’s hard to imagine baseball, and softball, without them.

In Creaker softball, there are two umpires on the field, both supplied by the team that is on offense, the team that is batting. These are team members who have no formal training as umpires other than their years of experience in softball. There are reasons why we cling to this system. It’s inexpensive, and that allows members’ dues to stay low. Some leagues hire professional umpires, but there is not an infinite pool of for-hire umps out there. Creakers currently play eight games a week and that would require 16 umpires per week, a significant cost. Another reason for our umpiring system is it’s casual, in keeping with the Creaker ethic: come out, play, have a good time, and don’t be too attached to winning and losing.

That all sounds good in theory, but when there is a tight play, a rule that is contentious or not well understood, and the game is close, upsets may  occur. Emotions sometimes take over, and arguments occasionally ensue.

I don’t wish to deter potential Creakers, but I want to be realistic in describing Creaker life. Furthermore, contention is not necessarily a bad thing. Aggression and passion are a part of our wild, human natures. We find ways to keep these tendencies at bay so that we can live in community and not rip each other to shreds.

Electronic umpiring will not come to Creaker softball in my career. I am sure of that. Meanwhile, given our subjective umpiring system, we must learn to live with close calls, wrong calls and sometimes just plain terrible calls. Perhaps that is the challenge and the goal: in community, figure out how to live with anger and aggression, manage it without repression, and without the personal damage of harmful language and destructive actions. Come out on the other side of contention, stronger and more balanced.

Once again, it looks like Creakers are on the cutting edge.

July 2023

One of Donn’s Greatest Hits - Confidence

This month The Senior Club Newsletter Creaker column will include a previously published article. Summertime activities have taken up my writing time. The article is about a subject that I believe is fundamental to softball and sports in general.

One of the most important attributes for a ball player to possess, if not the most important, is confidence. Confidence in one’s abilities, on and off the playing field, is essential to successful performance. A player who believes he or she will be successful, is far more likely to perform well than a player who lacks the surety that he or she can deliver what is necessary in a given situation.

However, confidence can be very elusive. It's one thing to say an athlete must have confidence, and quite another to truly possess that confidence. To build confidence in oneself a player must play well, but playing well requires confidence.

Certainly, some athletes seem to possess an innate confidence in themselves. Perhaps these players received more support and attention growing up. They enter into situations on and off the ball field believing that they will succeed. Of course, there is such a thing as genetics. Talent is not distributed equally, and some players just have a lot more of it. Even so, talent, and belief in one’s own talent, is probably more about the messages we tell ourselves, than the talent we actually possess. If you think you’re going to be good, then you probably are. If your head is full of self-talk that tells you you’re no good, no good is what you will be. An old friend of mine used to say, “Argue for your limitations and they are yours.” That includes arguing with yourself.

Confidence can be somewhat fragile. Even a player who believes she is good might only be a few small failures away from a slump. Slumps are common in sports and are a product of inconsistency. Because we are human, we are not consistent. This fact of humanity is what is responsible for ups and downs in performance. Ruth Gordon’s character in “Harold and Maude,” said, “Consistency is not really a human trait.” There is no clearer example of this truth than in sports. At every level, including the highest professional levels, inconsistency is a part of the game and the game would not be interesting without it. If you knew a player would always produce the same high level results, there would be no drama, and the game would not have to be played. We need failure to appreciate our own and others’ successes.

In softball, you see players suffering through crises in confidence, in hitting, throwing and fielding. Whole teams can go through slumps. It’s not unusual to see a team that doesn’t believe that it can win, and sure enough, it can’t. How do you get out of a slump? Sports psychology is packed with solutions. Positive visualization, hypnosis, acupuncture, acupressure, EFT (tapping), talk therapy, and meditation are all strategies for dealing with slumping and crises of confidence. Sometimes these methods work and sometimes they don’t but probably a dogged determination to succeed is most important factor. Don’t quit! Recently I overheard one of my teammates advising and consoling another teammate about his hitting slump. He said, “I absolutely guarantee that you will come out of this slump. What I don’t know is when.” Hang in there ball player, don’t ever give up.

June 2023

Life in the Dugout

There is something missing in Creaker conversations and relationships. It wasn’t obvious to me   at first. Think about it: what do people usually talk about when they get together? Sports, babies, and homes of course, but the conversational default in the adult world is often about  occupation. What do you do? What is your work? And yes, how much do you earn? We largely relate to each other through our jobs. Occupation is monumentally important. It’s what we do to keep ourselves and our little family ships afloat in an uncertain, precarious world. In the Creaker world that topic is almost completely missing.

It makes sense: Creakers are almost all retired. For many, but not all, work was a necessary evil, a chore, something to be tolerated in order to support a house, buy groceries, buy clothes and shoes, and put kids through college. It is refreshing, liberating actually, to no longer be concerned with these onerous obligations. However, occupation plays another role, less quantifiable but just as fundamental. Occupation provides identity, it tells us and others who we are, and gives us uniqueness and a sense of self.

For Creakers, role and identity are now much simpler. We are who we are right now, in the present, not who we were or what we did for a living. We are our personalities today, the sum of our attributes in the present moment. We are the contribution that we make to the Creaker world, our congeniality, and yes, of course, our ability to play softball. Now, it is about how hard we try, the seriousness with which we take our obligation to teammates, how helpful we are and how much we give back - these are the things that define us now. Of course, as we hang around, and get to know one another over time, we learn who the accountants, the school teachers, the nurses, the doctors, and the blue collar tradespeople were, but now it’s incidental, not essential information. It’s really just a curiosity.

It’s interesting how big a role our former occupations used to play in shaping our identities and how small a role our occupational past plays now. It’s downright liberating. I know I won’t be judged in the after-game social hour because of what I did or didn’t do in the old world of work. Did I achieve my potential? Did I make a respectable amount of money? No one cares, much less in the dugout. Test out my theory. Notice how little interest there is in who we used to be. Check out how little you really know or care about what your teammates did for a living. Reflect on the paramount importance of who we are in the here and now in Creakerland. Now more than ever, we are the complete sum of our parts, not just a few attributes. Be yourself and revel in it.

May 2023

It Takes Time

To recap, Creakers is an over age 50, coeducational softball club, or league, and currently we are over 250 members strong. With that many members, it is safe to say, there is something for everyone, both on the softball playing fields, and off. “Off the playing fields” means the socializing, the friendships and potential friendships, that can arise from 250 souls playing, striving, winning and losing, and relating to one another over time. Technically speaking, you don’t even actually have to know how to play softball to begin as a Creaker. A desire to learn must exist, but if you have willingness and sincerity, and reasonable physical mobility, you can learn on the job.

The Creaker organization is well organized and well run, and there are mechanisms in place to accept and integrate new members. There is a high degree of friendliness and congeniality. Nevertheless, each new person who approachs the Creakers and wishes to become a member of the family must bring patience and a willingness to put in their time. This is true in wine clubs, bike clubs, and in occupations. It is normal to want to skip the dues paying phase of breaking into any social situation, including the social structures that grow up around work and play. Everyone wants to feel comfortable. The first day as a Creaker is similar to the first day on a new job. There are rules of behavior, mostly unwritten, that have to be learned, and that takes time. There is no way to hot-wire it. We are humans and humans look at each other, evaluate and yes, judge one another. We watch new members to see how they will fit in, what will they bring, and what are the sticky, difficult parts of their natures. That’s what we do. It’s not malicious but we can’t help it.

We become used to one another through exposure. Again, there is no way around this. Sure, some people appear to integrate more quickly; everyone brings different tools and starts from a different place. Some will integrate through their ball playing skills, others will bring verbal and organization talents, some will display dogged hard work. Don’t expect that feeling of belonging to a family to come overnight. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel it on the first day. It takes time.

The most successful Creakers, and I’m not talking about softball skills, will show a willingness to learn the Creaker ways. This can be as simple as where the bases go in the shed when they are not in use, how to chalk the field, or asking for tips on how to play a position. In the beginning, talk less, listen more, and ask questions. Keep coming back, as folks in recovery say. One day, probably unnoticed, that feeling of belonging will slip into your consciousness and you will notice that you are feeling comfortable in the group. Keep lacing ‘em up, keep stepping up to the plate, figuratively as well as literally. Demonstrate patience and the ability to hang around. It is written: you won’t be disappointed.

April 2023

The Creakers

Softball is one of those active sports that doesn’t really build or improve fitness, but relies heavily on a fit and mobile body in order to effectively perform the game’s fundamental tasks. Running the bases, chasing a fly ball, running up quickly on a shallow pop up, or moving sharply to the left or right to keep a grounder from leaking into the outfield are all movements that can be managed much more effectively by a strong, fit, conditioned body. But hey, this is Senior softball you’ll say, not college baseball, and you are right: it’s unrealistic to expect a senior to be able to move with the same quickness and agility of a 20 year old. Quickness, speed and agility, it turns out, are not absolute. Fitness is relative to what you are capable of now, not who you were when you were 20. I may not be as quick and fluid in my movements as the person playing next to me, but I can be as fluid as I am personally capable of.

Reaching that capability requires work, at any age. Arguably, for a senior it requires more work than it did at 20 and that can be discouraging. Many seniors throw in the towel. Oftentimes seniors capitulate to the aging process and give up trying to achieve something approaching their physical capability. There is a strong temptation at any age to pack it in when it comes to the work of maintaining fitness, but that temptation is especially strong for seniors. A person in their 70’s say, has been striving, kicking, biting, and scratching his or her way through life for seven plus decades. Understandably, it’s tempting to back way off, eat too much, look for comfort and pleasure, quit working out, and reach for the remote.

Here’s the good news: effort made to maintain physical fitness is it’s own reward. It isn’t about the virtue of activity; it isn’t about satisfying the inner voice that nags you to exercise. Physical fitness, even the senior citizen version, makes everything better. Food tastes better, sleep comes more easily and is more satisfying, and it’s easier to climb that flight of stairs. Depression, endemic to older citizens, is far less likely to intrude, and weight is more easily managed. Longevity may or or may not be affected by physical fitness, no one can predict that, but fitness and body confidence definitely make it more pleasurable to be alive.

This unusually rainy Spring has delayed the start of softball season and many of us lament that, but it’s actually an opportunity. The delay of the season opening gives us more time to be in better shape when the season actually begins. No, we aren’t getting any at bats to improve swing timing, and we aren’t practicing our glove skills, but there are plenty of off- season, dry- land activities that can help us get ready for the inevitable opening of the season. Cycling, walking, aqua aerobics, yoga, aerobic dancing, and stretching to name a few. The delay of the softball season can be put to good use. Make the most of free time.There was a sign in the barbershop when I was young: “If you’re going to kill time, work it to death.”

The best part of being in good condition? It makes for a better softball player and that makes softball a whole lot more fun.

March 2023

The General Meeting

Today was officially the first day of Spring in Creakerland. Every year, the new season is ushered in by the General Meeting, the day when Creakers are introduced to their new teams, informed of new rules, introduced to the Leadership and Placement committees, and turned loose to graze on coffee and donuts to their hearts’ delight. It always reminds me of the first day of school in the Fall when you found out who your homeroom teacher was going to be and whom you would sit next to for the coming year. Today I could almost smell the sublime odor of new textbooks.
To recap, the Creaker population is re-ordered into new softball teams every Spring. The teams of the previous year are disassembled, players are evaluated and re-evaluated, and new teams are created for the coming Spring/Summer season. The season is 20 or so weekly games long, starting in March and ending in August, with a round of playoffs at the end of the season.
It’s a very smart, democratic system. Teams do not exist in perpetuity. There are no dynasties. Every year we start fresh. If you hang around as a Creaker for a few years, you get to know almost everyone, but the configurations of the teams, i.e., who your homeroom teacher is and whom you will sit next to, changes every single year. Regardless of whether you were on a team that won every game, or a team that crashed and burned the previous year, you will be on a completely new team in the coming season. In this way everyone gets to know everyone, and we learn to live together. Of course, when that many Homo sapiens are assembled there will be controversies and issues to be worked out, but most agree that the Creakers is a very well-conceived and well-run organization.
Attendant to the General Meeting is a very real sense of anticipation, renewal, and discovery. It’s a Spring-like, re-birth experience. Maybe next year we should have a Maypole and dance around it. This year, 260 Creakers were sliced and diced and sorted and chopped and spat out of the Placement machine. Of those Creakers at least 150 came to the General meeting this morning. We met our new teammates and our new managers. We learned about new rules and had a thorough introduction to provisions for cardiac safety. We were reminded of the mechanisms for settling disputes. I allowed myself my annual one donut and savored every crumb. There are Creakers who have been Creakers for over 20 years. When I grow up, I want to be one of them.