It's good for softball players to be big, and if they are as big as Mike Macenko so much the better. Macenko is six feet three inches tall and weighs three hundred pounds. He is broad rather than fat, with the husky build of a beer drinker who can hit. He looks like a cathedral door. If Macenko is not the best softball player who ever lived, he surely is the greatest at the games signature event-the home run.... He has hit ten in one game, sixteen in a double header, eight hundred and forty four in a single season, and, by his count six thosand three hundred and three in the course of a 25 year career that ended, three yesr ago, with his induction into three of the sport's Hall Of Fame..

New York City's Central Park

On a recent afternoon, Macenko visited the Heckscher softball fields, in Central Park, where the city's Corporate Sports League was wrapping up its regular season. Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which hadn't won a game all season, was playing Philip Morris. Some of the Pricewaterhouse Coopers men wore uniform shirts, and some wore baseball knickers. They all wore cleats. Macenko sensed that they were serious players, despite their ragtag appearance. "This looks like it would be a fun corporate league," Macenko said, his voice thick and a little wheezy. "I got no problem watching these guys play."

He'd brought along a duffel full of gear, but after surveying the tight dimensions of the fields he concluded that he'd better leave his bats in the bag. Given how far he hits the ball-he has smacked softballs out of Detroit's old Tiger Stadium-he saw that it would be safer for everyone if he just sat in the bleachers and observed the locals. They were, to his eyes, an exotic breed. "These guys have to work sixty, eighty hours a week," he said. "They got a life with the financial department. They don't have time to practice."

During his career, "Big Cat" Mike Macenko, who is forty-four, played as many as three hundred and fifty games a year, barnstorming for various amateur slow-pitch teams based near his home, the Cleveland suburb of Brunswick. These days, he spends most of his time promoting the game and posting swing tips and motivational credos on his Web site, www.Bigcat844.com.

As he watched, Pricewaterhouse's burliest player walloped a shot deep to left-a real bomb. "That was very impressive," Macenko said, nodding.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers went on to win. Soon, another team, representing the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, arrived for a game. As theywarmed up, Macenko was approached by a player who had overheard Macenko decline a challenge to launch a softball over a distant cluster of trees.

"How far can you hit?" the man asked."Four hundred feet," Macenko replied, modestly."Three-thirty I can believe," the man said. "But not four hundred.""I hit one out of Tiger Stadium," Macenko said.The man scoffed. "What, down the line?"

Macenko shook his head but said nothing. He lingered in the bleachers, watching the Pricewaterhouse men change from cleats to sneakers and listening as they talked about their evening plans. It stunned him that some of them were returning to the office.

"They work second shift?" Macenko said. "After a game like that in my home town, they'd go straight to the parking lot and if the beer wasn't there they'd go right to the tavern. They go together, the tavern and the game."

 

 
 
 
 

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