The zone

Burgers to order -- rare, of course -- at Marin Brewing Company

CHEAP EATS I believe it's called "garbage time." Can't speak for soccer, but in American football it's when the team in the lead runs the ball up the middle, again and again. The game is decided. It's just a matter of letting the clock wind down.

That's where we were at. In this case, my team, the good guys, had a big lead. The other team, the bad guys, had just scored but it was way too little, way too late, and we were going to win the championship. In 40 years of playing team sports, three different ones, three cities on two coasts and a cornfield, in two pretty different bodies, it would be my first championship. Well, second. My first since I was 11.

I'm 46. Just to give you some idea how great everyone else on my team is. To win it all, with me on your side, takes 35 years!

My team is an old team, the oldest in our league. We don't have a lot of subs, none for the women, and it was our third game of the day. The other team had played three games too. You have to, in a tournament, if you keep winning. So everyone on the field was in a similar boat. Outcome decided. Garbage time. Tick. Tick.

I thought: if ever I was going to score a goal, now would be the time, while everyone else was sleeping. And as our goalie returned the ball to midfield, I sneaked myself from my usual position (fullback), right up there too, along the left sideline. I leaned in a slightly droolish way that let our forwards know exactly what I was thinking.

One tapped the ball to the other, and there was my pass, the pass, the one you wait for all your life, perfect and perfectly unexpected by everyone on the field but me. Nobody was there. The ball rolled like a lullaby on a green sea before me. Nobody, nothing, between me and it, and the net. Even the goalie seemed gone, as I hoofed and huffed and entered into "the zone." You know that zone where athletes go, where they are the ball, where the roar of the crowd, the elements, everything else just peels away and you can pretty much do whatever in the world you want?

This wasn't that zone. It was a different, dreamier one, where everything peels away, including the ball and the goal. I realized in that moment what an intensely, insanely sociable creature I have become. I felt lonely. Actually lonely. Where was everyone? It just seemed all wrong all of a sudden.

What I did ... I stopped running and stood there, and the ball just dribbled slowly away from me and over the end line. Then I turned to face my incredulous teammates and the whistle blew. Game over. Winners!

I didn't know, though.

I touched hands with the other team and said, "Good game, good game," and they said so too. I posed for the team picture. I took off my uniform and put on my jeans and my new championship T-shirt. I checked my cell phone to see if President Obama was trying to call or anything. (He wasn't.) And then I got in my car and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Brewing Company, because that's where the team was going to meet for pitchers of not-cold-enough beer and overdone, overpriced hamburgers.

It was three in the afternoon, and I had just played three soccer games on basically a bowl of oatmeal and some cherries. So you can imagine my hunger. Are you imagining? The reverberating weirdness of that breakaway loneliness moment, with all its psychological and philosophical implications — on an empty stomach!

And the guitar duo out on the patio, where we sat, played "Amy," and "Sweet Caroline," and worse.

Boasts the menu: "The Marin County Health Dept. is of the opinion that any meat cooked below medium-well (157 degrees) is undercooked. We proudly prepare your burger to any temperature you request."

"Rare," I said. (Are you still imagining my hunger? My excitement?)

It was one of the deadest burgers I ever ate.

Also from this author

  • Three! Out!

    Baseball in Italy? Oh yes, it happened.

  • Three! Out!

    Grosetto, Parma, Scalera, and Hedgehog: In the Game goes to Italy

  • Fire fight

    Police versus fire department versus pig with mustache versus Pinkie (a basketball story)