Walking onto Central Park's Great Lawn on Thursday morning, to watch theSouth Pacific softball team play Guys and Dolls in a Broadway Show League game, I was full of sympathy for SP's once-a-week warriors. Since the season began, in May, they have been rained out five times, and, this week, the skies threatened once again. Just before I reached the field, however, I walked past the Delacorte, and my sympathy for the team deflated a bit. At that outdoor theatre, where the lines for free tickets approached those of a Michael Jackson memorial, the actors doing Twelfth Night have had to put up almost nightly with drips and drabs and, occasionally, torrents of ark-requiring proportions. At least the South Pacific cast can PERFORM inside.
Yet as soon as I reached the ballfield my admiration for the South Pacificcompany returned. From last year to this, the team has engineered a turnaround of near worst-to-first magnitude. During the 2008 regular season, we won exactly one game. This year, as Thursday's match against Guys and Dolls, began, the SP record was 3-1, good enough for fourth place in a 14-team division. Taking a look at the SP players on the field, in their "Bali H'ai Bombers" shirts (designed by George Merrick), I wondered: How to explain the improvement?
For answers, I turned during one of our sessions on defense to the guy sitting next to me on the sideline bench, Christian Delcroix, who is the team's captain. (Delcroix has been rehearsing for a South Pacific changing of roles next week: he's moving from Yeoman Herbert Quale to the Professor). He offered explanations just as SP shortstop Nate Johnson -- an actor and the husband of SP's Laura Osnes -- was gunning down a baserunner at first.
"Last year," Delcroix said, "the season got organized just as South Pacificopened. We didn't have much time to put things together. We got stuck in the 3:30 league, which is full of ringers and crew members. This year, we play at 11:30, which is a little easier. Which is not to take anything away from how talented our team has been."
"Yeah," I replied, "last year the team had a pretty porous defense" - dropped fly balls, line drives dribbling through infielders' legs in Buckner-like fashion. "There's a lot less of that now," observed Delcroix, who is one of the Philadelphia Phillies fans sprinkled through the South Pacific's more uniformly Yankees-and-Mets-loving cast. "We're a lot more cohesive."
As South Pacific knocked the stuffing out of Guys and Dolls (final score: 17-10), and there was laughter and cheering and high-fiving throughout the duration of all the muddy-field play, I gave Delcroix one more reason why I thought South Pacific was doing so well this season: winning is just more fun. "It sure is," Delcroix said.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com.