Mushrooms in the Outfield

Two nights ago, my softball team (the Cyclones, a.k.a. Cyclowns) began our fall season here in the Norman city league. We took the spring and summer off because so many of our players were rotating shift workers and/or storm chasers and/or gone for large chunks of the summer. We’ve had trouble fielding whole teams in the past because of this, so we’ve gone to all-fall ball.

It was a great night for the season-opening doubleheader too: temperatures in the 60s, moist, with abundant dew already on the grass by the start of game two. As an outfielder for the past 20 years, I like this, because it slows down the ground balls. [Wet ball throwing isn’t too much of a problem for me since I have large hands.] The abundant dew resulted from an isolated rainfall max the previous night of over an inch, directly atop the ball fields; most of Norman had less than half an inch. Unlike during summer’s ferocious drought, when the ground turned lumpy and brick-hard, the earth finally had some “give,” helping both running and fielding.

The rain had another interesting result too. We switched fields for the second game, and a peculiar presence greeted me in the outfield: large mushrooms! Dozens of them poked through the grass in center through right-center, some already stomped and kicked to shreds, others somehow whole despite two games having been played on that diamond already. I’ve been on those fields off and on since the late 1980s, and never have seen mushrooms on them. Nor have I ever observed them on any softball field.

One lone mushroom survived the final game. Rather stately as fungi go, it was healthy, symmetric, firm, young and well developed. I took special care to avoid it during play, and the other outfielders didn’t kick it aside either.

This may be a “who gives a damn” phenomenon for most folks, but it caught my interest — enough so that I went back the next morning after a night shift, to take some photos in the sunlight. The lone mushroom still stood, sure to drop spores before either the grass gets a badly needed mowing, or next week’s games are played. Much of the shredded debris that I and others kicked around the outfield still lay among the clumps of crabgrass also.

The neatest thing, though, happened when I got down on my chest for some zoomed views of the solitary fungal tower. Getting up close reveals beautiful little worlds to the observant and appreciative, and this was no exception. Every dew drop, each one amongst thousands upon thousands in that field, sparkled with a hue that seemed to be plucked at random off the color palette, a wholly natural twinkling of offseason Christmas lights in miniature, in a suddenly astounding abundance. Some of the reflections were vivid enough to show up in the photos. I didn’t mind getting my shirt and pants soaked on one side in order to lie there in the dew and appreciate the tiny spectacle unfolding in the little world underfoot, a realm that ordinarily sees only the slamming rubber soles of fast moving shoes.


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