“Mom, can I play softball this year?”
Honestly, I didn’t really register The Girl’s request earlier this winter because I didn’t believe she’d stick with it. She’s never been my athlete. Wait, let me clear that up. She’s never been very interested in sports. It was evident from the first minute she stepped on a stage that she was athletic, not to mention every time she wanders into the yard to play with her brothers she hits harder, throws straighter and does just about everything better than either boy for the six seconds it holds her attention. She’s just never been interested in much beyond acting, singing and whatever else can be done under lights in front of a crowd.
Then this year she joined the school running club, but I dismissed it as wanting to belong to the only club she was allowed to join. It was fun to take her on runs but I figured this would end when she was old enough for cheerleading next year.
Then she asked to play softball and the Bruce Springsteen song, Glory Days started playing in my head.
I considered it a blessing that my little doppelganger was never interested in sports. I loved the idea of never having to watch as my spawn followed directly in my footsteps. It was so stress free to watch her dance or act or sing as the only mistake I’d ever made in those arenas was to not try them enough. She was breaking new ground and I just got to bask in it.
Now, she’s playing my sport. Mine. The only one. Yes, I played others and yes, my whole family played softball, but no one older than me excelled the way I did. No other Ritz made an All Met team. No one pitched. With five (ok, four) extremely talented athletes to come before me, having something that was my own meant more than anything. I still have the old newspaper clippings and stat books. I wasn’t the best of the best, but I held my own and had the pleasure of playing on an excellent team with some of the greatest girls you could hope to know. Softball, all these years later, is sacred to me and sharing that part of my life with the parent part scares the heck out of me. I was able to dodge it for nine years, even after her brother played baseball she had no interest. I thought I was home free.
Then my Girl announced she wanted to play and I worried that I’d be too hard on her. I worried that I’d try to make her love it like I did. I worried that I’d over-parent or worse, be under-impressed.
I had no idea how amazing it could be.
The first day we got her glove we played catch in the yard for hours. I dug out my old glove, complete with band-aids where it used to rub my wrist, and tossed the ball with She and The Middle One all afternoon. They asked a million questions. It’s rare they see their mom play a sport so it was like they were meeting someone new. In sharing my history with them I was reminded of all that I learned from the sport. I don’t just mean a fastball and how to slap-bunt, but I remembered how much the women on that team taught me and how much I adored our coach.
I grew up on softball fields, where life can play out in seven (or sometimes 13 ) innings. There is commitment and teamwork and perseverance. There’s heartbreak and triumph and learning how to bite your tongue when you beat a team full of a**holes. There’s goal setting and humility and learning to forgive yourself when you realize your greatest competition is so far ahead of you (like Guinness Book of Records ahead) you’ll never, ever be her match. Second best is a tough pill to swallow and still hold your head high. The best part of this sport is that there are nine of you so no matter how well you play, you have to learn to rely on eight other people to do the same and you can never claim credit alone. Of course, that also means that no matter how bad you feel or crappy you play, you can’t hide because you’ll be letting down eight other people who count on you and show up for you every day.
I remember each and every girl on that high school team. Two catchers that, on that field, knew more about what was inside my head than sometimes my own husband does now. I think they may be the only two people in my life I listened to unconditionally. The women in the field that I was certain would pick everything up that came their way, so I never felt like I had to carry the entire load. We were a good team (almost really good) but the wins aren’t the memories I keep all these years later. It’s the women on the team that are still in my heart. They all played a part in who I was and in some ways, who I am today. And the girl on the pitchers’ mound? I guess she still has a lot to teach me too.
I hope beyond hope that my girl has the same kind of experience with this sport as I did. As I watched her walk off the field yesterday with her good friend, hand in hand, I was reminded The Team is the best part. Seems I was worried for nothing. This one’s a win.
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Thanks for the memories… I too loved softball and always played (many of my friends switched to soccer.) I think my love for softball is one of the reasons why my husband married me. He is a huge baseball fan and has coached for 20 years. He now coaches both of our kids… our daughter started playing this year with softball. She loves that it is fun and all girls. Like Mother Like Daughter.
Funny, baseball was the one sport “The Husband” wasn’t really into when I met him. I’m certain the athlete part helped my case though.;) I’m hoping she sticks with it as it’s been way more fun for us both than I ever imagined!