Farewell Faithful Cleats

When I got these softball cleats, Ronald Reagan was president. The valley girl look was in style and Born in the USA was album of the year. Shoulder pads were all the rage. I watched Miami Vice on Friday nights, and my parents were thinking about replacing our Betamax with a VHS.

Back then I earned an allowance and I couldn’t afford my own clothes or shoes. I’m almost certain that Dad took me shopping; we went to Herman’s — a sporting goods store that’s now long gone.

These Nikes carried me through middle school — my first years of serious softball. And two years of JV and varsity in high school. I remember driving our stick-shift Volvo station wagon and struggling to find the friction point on the clutch with those cleats.

When I shed my braces at 17, I discovered that cleats and a softball jersey (with the name of my dad’s law firm or my mom’s office team) got me into bars. Without a fake ID. After evening games I’d file in with my team, settle into the booth and brandish my mug. Those cleats click-clacked across countless bar floors, sticky from beer.

I played on the grassy lush expanse by the Washington monument where teams jockeyed for real estate and dodged camera-clad tourists. I played on shabby fields in rundown neighborhoods where sliding into second meant picking glass shards and pebbles out of your shins.

In college my glove and cleats made the Volvo pilgrimage from home to school with my entire summer/winter wardrobe, a cheap halogen lamp and a bean bag chair. Through a transfer in college and grad school.

Since then I’ve continued to play ball with them, every May through August, despite obvious advances in athletic gear. I’m sentimental. And superstitious. I thought that if I replaced my cleats, I’d guarantee a torn ligament or broken ankle.

But last Thursday night, my stride felt slow and mushy, as if my heel was stuck to the ground. And it was; the nubby, cleated sole had separated from the shoe.

To be honest, the cleats actually fell apart the previous week.  I tried to crazy glue them back in place.

But on this night I accepted the passing of my 26 year old shoes. I tugged off my cleats and my sweaty socks and ran barefoot into right-center field. At bat, I dug my toes into the fine dirt nestled around the plate.

I felt light and fast and liberated.