There’s Danger in Those Fields

Mayhem, Mishaps Strike Often

Posted June 2, 2009 at 2:51pm

There is often debate about which sport is the world’s most dangerous. Some point to daring stunts like competitive bull riding or cross-country horse racing, both of which are known to be frequent causes of life-changing paralysis. Others cite high-speed motor sports or skydiving, which can bring death with a single slip of the hand. No one can be certain.

But one sport that is almost always completely excluded from this discussion is Congressional softball. The atmosphere seems fun and friendly enough, but don’t let this game’s recreational nonchalance fool you. Playing softball around D.C. can be a dangerous endeavor for players, bystanders and car windows alike.

Gary Caruso, commissioner of the Congressional Softball League, knows the risks all too well. Whenever an in-game injury occurs that is serious enough to warrant an insurance claim, he’s the guy who has to sign the paperwork. The injuries are by no means rampant, he said, but the serious ones tend to happen once or twice a season.

“Last year there was this guy who collided with the catcher sliding into home plate,— he said. “He chipped several different teeth and ruined some of his caps.—

According to Caruso, repairing the oral injuries cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000. The player was covered by the league’s health insurance, but that isn’t always the case.

Two years ago, one nonprofit fielded an intern who got a broken nose after being “line-drived in the face,— Caruso said. Since the nonprofit hadn’t registered the player, the insurance company couldn’t cover medical costs.

Yes, the game does come with its health risks — and not just for the players. The league holds most of its games on the crowded National Mall. And although the Mall is safe most of the time, some tourists have learned the hard way that viewing the Washington Monument isn’t the only good reason to look up.

“A few years ago, someone hit a foul ball and knocked out this Central American tourist,— Caruso said. “He had to be taken away in an ambulance.—

The House Softball League has also seen its fair share of injuries, Commissioner Anthony Reed said. In fact, Reed experienced the pain of the game firsthand in 2002, when he ruptured a disk in his back.

“I bent over to field a ground ball, and when I stood up, I felt my entire back pull,— Reed said. “When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t move and I had to be taken to the ER. I had to walk with a cane for like a month.—

Reed said he isn’t the only one to have encountered back problems on the field, but the most common injuries are to the hamstring.

“You have some people who haven’t played a whole lot,— he said. “Especially during the colder months early on, you see a lot of pulled hamstrings.—

Caruso said serious injuries are very rare occurrences. A much more frequent victim of Congressional softball is a shiny glass window. One year during the league’s annual tournament at Beulah Park in Alexandria, Va., a home run came off the bat of a player and the parking lot beyond right field was just a little too close, Caruso said.

“Someone had backed their car into a spot back there, and a guy hit a home run,— he said. “It went right through the back window and made this perfect circle hole. It was the funniest thing.—

The ball, hit during the championship game of the 2003 tournament, came off the bat of Jonathan Vissering of the Search for Common Ground’s Resolutionaries. The damaged car belonged to his teammate, Malcolm James. According to Resolutionaries coach Philip Hellmich, everyone involved took the incident in stride. The team, Hellmich said, “defeated the IRS Revenue Raisers, 14-4. We hit seven home runs in that game, including the one that went through the car window.—

But balls hitting cars aren’t always a laughing matter. In a similar incident, when a home run dented the hood of a Mercedes, the car’s owner confronted the team angrily. “When he confronted the coaches, they said, Well, you shouldn’t have parked there.’— Caruso admits it probably wasn’t the smartest way to defuse the situation.

Despite the occasional mishap, the games are fun and reasonably safe, Caruso said. He reiterated that notable injuries and accidents occur very rarely. That may be the case, but as tourists stroll along the mall, they might be wise to look twice when they hear the crack of a bat.