One of the Guys?

When I moved here, I vowed to myself that I would be more active.  I said I would work out more, eat healthy and all that good stuff.  The fact that running is straight up boring means that I have to find other ways to be more active.  My go-to activity to accomplish this is basketball.  There is a wonderful court downtown that I liked to play at when I could, but I needed more.  At the court I would have to depend on good weather and good competition.  Last year Swedie's uncle told me that I could come to his team practices every Wednesday to get in a good run.  They play in a gym and there would always be good competition because they are getting ready for their games.

Practice was fun.  The guys are a bit older than me, but skilled.  The game is more physical in general here.  The first time someone sets a pick on you, you know it.  You might think that the guy doesn't like you.  But that's just how they play.  More elbows and shoves.  I play pretty physical, so it didn't bother me.  I just had to remember that nobody is trying to fight me.  It's just how they play.

I got to know the guys over time.  My Swedish was gradually getting better so I was learning the basketball terminology.  It's still entertaining to hear someone yell out defensive instructions in Swedish and then English to make sure I get it. We were a team.  It was fun being a part of the team.  I didn't play in any of the real games because I hadn't paid to play and it was already mid-season, but still.  I was a part of something.  These were my guys!

Towards the end of the season, the captain/coach told me that the practices would now be exclusive to the guys that play in the games.  What he was really saying was:

       - You're not going to be freeloading off of us any longer.  Pay to play!

I talked to Swedie about it because that's what I have to do these days.  Talk to my wife and ask permission to spend money.  She thought it would be fun.  She's always so supportive.  Now I was going to be a member of the team for real!  I was going to help them win games.  This was going to be like the good old intramural basketball days from the Air Force.  Those were good times.  No more people calling their own fouls.  We would have referees now.  And a clock.  And someone keeping stats.  And substitutions when we're tired.  This would be fun!

I joined this summer and started attending practices.  Things were the same as usual.  Some drills, physical games and then shower and say farewell.  I would go catch my train and reminisce on the evening's practice and be thankful for my new teammates.  It would be fun to actually go into battle on the court with these guys.

The first game day came.  I went directly from work, so I missed the warm-up drills.  No biggie.  I would warm up in the game.  I got in the game to give someone a rest.  It felt good running up and down the court.  The other team was not as good as us.  They were smaller guys and I play a big, physical game so I knew I would have a great game.  My teammates kept getting me the ball close to the basket.  My eyes would stretch in excitement as I knew I was going to dominate.  I took shot after shot and missed shot after shot.  It was so frustrating.  My teammates had seen me in practice against bigger guys.  They knew I was the advantage.  They kept reassuring me that I was getting good looks and that the shots should fall.  Just calm down.  I nodded and agreed.  I was beating myself.

The entire team was having a bad game.  We were making defensive mistakes and getting turnovers.  Good thing the other team was way worse.  We ended up winning by 15 points.  I only hit one measly shot on a great pass from Swedie's uncle.  I missed every single shot that I am used to taking.  It was an embarrassment.  I did make some good passes that lead to scores, but I was nowhere near my best.  I'm so glad my teammates supported me.  We had all gotten close since last year.

In the locker room after the game one of my teammates that has been on the team way before me said,

       - Hey Jon, after every practice and game we always go to the bar by the train station and have a beer.  Would you like to join us?
       - You do it after practices too?
       - Yeah.  Every practice.  And every game.

I don't think he understood my surprise.  I had never heard anything about beer.  I like beer!  I like camaraderie even more!  How come nobody told me about this for over a year?  I shook my head in amazement.  I couldn't wait until Swedie's uncle came back from the showers to ask him about this.  He can't be a part of this.  He would have at least invited me.  Right?...

       - Hey, they said they're going to a bar after here.  Did you know about that?
       - Yeah, we do it after every game and practice.  I won't go today, but I normally go.

Even he was in on it!  I thought we were all so close.  I thought I was one of the guys.  I would say it was about the money, but we've had practices since I officially paid.  I don't know what it is.  Maybe they wanted to make sure I was going to actually play in the games.  I'm still baffled by the whole thing.  Who does that?  Swedes, man.  They've got the social thing all mixed up.  I'm glad to have been invited now, of course.  But it still makes me think that all that time last year when I thought I was "one of the guys", I was dead wrong.  I didn't make it out to the bar last week.  It was too short notice considering NOBODY EVER TOLD ME ABOUT IT.  But I made it out tonight.  Ice cold beer, a game on the big screen and some story swapping with my teammates.  Now I'm "one of the guys".  I guess it was worth the wait.  Until next time...

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