He’d played a lot of positions over the years. Today, he was a pitcher. It was more a testament to his willingness to be a good teammate than his talent. His curveball was non-existent, his knuckler average, and his fastball wasn’t all that fast. But he worked quickly and threw strikes, valued skills on a Sunday in the Westchester-Putnam (N.Y.) Men’s Senior Baseball League. The MSBL is an 18-and-older organization whose motto is “Don’t go soft, play hardball!” The national website claims more than 45,000 members, and it’s one of several amateur adult baseball programs to form over the past several decades. Nationwide, there are perhaps as many as 100,000 grown men still playing baseball every week.
“I don’t go to court thinking I’m Clarence Darrow,” Birbrower told me this summer. “But I hit a ball in the gap and think I’m Don Mattingly.”
For the past 20 years, Birbrower, a lawyer and divorced father of a son with autism, has played ball for teams like the Alleycats and Robins, the Smokers, and now the Braves. He was the guy who’d talk about at-bats from as far back as Pee Wee League. He had stories about everything: plays the scrubs made, wise cracks from guys on the bench, what the third baseman’s father yelled at an ump. But he loved nothing more than talking about himself. Anyone who has hit a ball on the sweet part of the bat knows it’s one of the greatest feelings you can have with your pants on, and Birbrower knew that rush as well as anyone. When he was a sophomore in high school he once hit five home runs in one week. It changed the way he saw himself. He wasn’t a regular guy who had gotten lucky; he was a star and now expected more, from both himself and the game.
“Until recently, everything was exaggeration,” Birbrower said. “If I went for a run it couldn’t be a nice run. I would be like, okay, I should run a marathon. I should write a book about running a marathon. Fuck it, I should write the best book about running a marathon that’s ever been written.”
Hope you like one. It’s about a kid who has become an admirable man.