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My Turn: Hey, batter batter batter, heal!

Playing softball brings relief to a chronic back pain sufferer.

April 04, 2011|By Forrest Brakeman, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Forrest Brakeman finds that playing softball has helped strike out his back pain.
Forrest Brakeman finds that playing softball has helped strike out his… (Kristen Brakeman )

I love baseball. But only recently did I discover that it has healing powers.

A couple of years ago, while helping my elderly parents move all their things outside for a garage sale, I threw out my back. Apparently, I'm too old to carry an entire life's worth of belongings to the frontyard. I was laid out to the point that my wife had to help me to the bathroom. For better or for worse …

After a few weeks of painkillers, chiropractic visits and company doctors delivering the diagnosis of "Uhh, I dunno. Maybe a disk? Here, take these," I finally returned to work, but my back was in horrible shape. I wore a back brace all the time, and worse, I couldn't play Tackle Daddy with my 5-year-old.

For two years I tried core exercises and stretching, with little improvement. A round of golf required two heavy doses of Advil. Yeah, I know, it was that bad.

Then, out of nowhere, a friend called saying he needed a guy to fill in on a coed softball team for a game, and could I play? Wow. I told him I was old, I was over 50, I hadn't played in over 20 years, and how many people did he call before he got to me? Apparently, he just needed a warm body.

I wasn't new to the game. I played all through my childhood and in softball leagues through my 20s. But long ago, I hit one of those forks in the road I thought only existed in songs or unsold screenplays. I had three balls in the air: love, career and softball, but only time for two. And since not a lot of guys get drafted to play for the Dodgers out of Burbank Rec League softball, I turned left and retired from the game.

But now my kids are older. I have a little more time available. I also have an expanding waistline, plenty of character lines on my face and lots of wisdom born of experience packed into my brain that I can conveniently ignore every so often at my own peril.

So I defied logic and reason and found myself on a softball field in brand new softball pants and cleats, back wrapped in a brace, playing the outfield and having a blast. It wasn't pretty. I broke in on one fly ball that dropped 30 feet behind me. I dropped another one. But I did get a couple of hits and ran the bases like a kid. And made a couple of plays after they took pity and moved me to second.

I started playing every Sunday and taking 15 minutes of swings in the batting cages once a week. Then the most remarkable thing happened.

My back got better.

I realize this makes no sense. How could playing a kid's game that fills the emergency rooms on the weekends fix an old guy's back? It's impossible. But it happened. Maybe the swinging of the bat somehow realigns my spine. Maybe it's the joy of playing. I just don't know.

What I do know is if I don't play for a couple of weeks, my back gets stiff again. But just an hour on the field, and 15 minutes in the cage, and I am as good as new. No back brace. No ibuprofen. No chiropractor.

Baseball fixed my back. Play ball!

Brakeman is a freelance sound mixer living in La Canada Flintridge whose family is constantly amused by his big league dreams.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail health@latimes.com. We read every essay but can't respond to every writer.

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