4.6.12

THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

The Games People Play and Why Sports Matter 

Everyday Baltimoreans row, run, box, pedal, skate, scrum, shoot hoops, swing a bat, and desperately strive to score goals. What's the meaning of it all?

Houston Colt 45s vs. Oakland A's.
American Legion Post 38 Ballfield
Dundalk Ave., Dundalk
Sunday, 11:30 a.m.

Some old ballplayers jokingly call leagues like this the "Geriatric Little League," but the level of play in the Eastern Baltimore County Over 40 Baseball League is pretty good. For Brian Weir, 51, the ballfields are not just about fun, but also healing. On his back is number 23—his son Josh's number.

On the bench are guys Weir has played with or coached in all kinds of ball for the past three decades. Josh would surely be there, too, in a few years, except he wasn't lucky enough to grow old. Cancer took the former Baltimore County police officer's life.

In those darkest of days, the leather and ash community supported Weir, and while Josh lay ill he could look around his room and see gifts of appreciation from major leaguers who had heard of his plight and reached out to one their own.

Josh is gone, but to Brian the game lets him live on. It is a connection to good memories and simpler times, a thread that Brian may be more conscious of than most but which lives in everyone on this field. And maybe that's why this field exists. It didn't, a year ago. Nor did the league, three years ago. Both came into being because Brian and a few of his graying, baseball-loving friends—Mike Lockett, Eugene Beres, Don Smith—decided that Dundalk, which had been such a hotbed of baseball in the days when Brooks and Frank were Baltimore royalty, needed a hardball renaissance.

A gamble? Perhaps. But they built it. Four teams the first year, eight the second. And this new field the third, complete with outfield fences and a hand-operated scoreboard in left field. And as the last out is recorded and the tiki bar on the post opens for business, Brian's team, The Colt 45's, have taken the A's 8 to 6.

But the truth was Brian Weir won this game the moment he slipped on his jersey.
—Mat Edelson

Bad Ass
Leon Day Park
Franklintown Rd.
Thursday, 8 p.m.

Between the gasps, grunts, and shouts of "Grizzly!" and "Ruck! RUCK!!"—and that this cacophony is coming from a group of women—it's easy for an onlooker to feel like a stranger in strange land. In fact, it's rugby practice, arguably the second most-popular sport in the world.

Watching the Chesapeake Women's Rugby Football Club, now in its 39th year (this year's team motto: "Building The Legacy"), there's no doubt of the almost brutal physicality of the sport: eighty minutes of non-stop running, tackling, tossing—of the ball, opponents, and, yes, even one's teammates into the air to catch a pass—and sheer head-banging. "I got a black eye the first day of practice. From my own teammate," laughs Nicole Stich. "She said, 'Well, maybe you shouldn't have put your face there.' It was totally my fault; you learn real fast where not to put your face."

And yet between the busted legs, torn-up knees, and dislocated shoulders, there's camaraderie unlike that of any other woman's sport. Perhaps it's the unique nature of the outlet—especially for women: no pads, no helmets, just, as coach Jessica Hammond notes, a "mano-a-mano" struggle with fourteen teammates. Asked what hooked her on the game, Leslie Joyce says, "The tackling, honestly. Here was a woman's sport where you could tackle, and it was a dream. I'm more bad-ass than football players because I don't have pads."

In a sport built on exhaustion, it's no surprise that those left standing feel a kinship that goes far beyond the sidelines. "There's a whole rugby culture that's very much family," says Joyce, 30, who played club rugby at Texas A & M. "It doesn't even matter if you don't play anymore. If you go to a new town and contact the local rugby club, they'll tell you what part of town to live in, where there are jobs, the best places to eat, drink, hang out. It's an instantaneous connection. In the world, networking is now the number one thing. Well, this is an immediate network.

"And, of course, they'll always ask you if you want to play a pick-up game."

—Mat Edelson


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