Meeting Mrs. Judy | softball is for girls
If you’ve spent more than 30 minutes at a softball tournament, then you know first hand that it’s pretty easy to recognize the team camps. Usually set up in the early hours of the day, and dedicated by team colors, these camps move seamlessly from field to field during the day. By midway through the day, you know who is rooting for who, the family members of the opposing players, which young sibling playing happily in the middle of the park belongs to whom, and have certainly claimed your community comfort zone with which to spend the day in. It’s a beautiful thing, this being able to fit dozens of team families into small spaces comfortably and make it work.
Every once in a while, you come across a floater. A person that you aren’t sure who they go with. Maybe they are a coach recruiting, maybe an anonymous or quiet fan, maybe a distant relative who just doesn’t seem to fit well into the camp life. And then, if you are really lucky, you come across Mrs. Judy.
We first saw Mrs. Judy at a softball tournament. Sitting in a fold up chair behind home plate at field 2. She cheered for both pitchers, seemed to notice every amazing thing every player did. She had a small cooler filled with water and snacks and a shade cover over her chair. Half of her legs and arms were tan, and she adorned the go to footwear for softball Saturdays….flip flops. She wore a weathered and comfy t-shirt with the number 55 on it.
When our shortstop snagged a zinger that was just certain to make it through the gap and threw the runner out at 3rd ending the inning, she jumped up in the air spilling her popcorn and screamed “You go girl, that was amazing…” as if she was the kids mama. When a girl from the other team battled in the box being served 11 pitches before taking one deep to center field, she squealed with excitement once again bouncing from her chair. When she saw the pitcher struggling to claim the strike zone, she lovingly coached and encouraged her from her seat. “You got this kid. Just take a breath,” she almost whispered making eye contact and instantly calming the girl down. When she threw a strike, she celebrated the break threw with a toothy smile and big thumbs up.
No matter which team played on Field 2, Mrs. Judy was there. It wasn’t long before parents started wondering who she was. The next weekend, we went back to the same park and at 8:05 am, Mrs. Judy came walking down to Field 2 setting up her solitary chair, behind Field 2.
I had the pleasure of running into Mrs. Judy in the long restroom line. “You know, we could probably just walk to the woods and get this done faster and CLEANER,” she said to me with a wide smile. She was right of course. Later that day, I ran into Mrs. Judy several times and eventually during a break before the championship game, I finally got the courage up to see who she was cheering for.
“Oh, I am cheering for everyone,” she exclaimed with excitement. “I love this game!” She didn’t have a daughter or niece or grandchild on the field playing, but she used to. Her daughter, Brit, used to play on this same field – and she told me how she spent her Saturdays much like we all do, chasing Heaven by visiting softball fields one at a time.
“Where does Brit play now,” I asked? And her eyes glazed over as she said, “With God.”
Mrs. Judy went on to describe her daughter. Full of energy and love for the game. She used to be the scorekeeper for her daughters team, and she was just certain that her daughter was going to play in college. It was her daughters dream. Her daughter was small and spunky, pitched and played short stop and centerfield. “There was nothing her daughter couldn’t do,” she said with pride. She was fast and mighty, and loved the game of softball more than life itself. Mrs. Judy said she had not missed one game her daughter played in all the years she played softball. Not one.
Brit died in a car wreck just weeks after her 17th birthday. A junior in high school with a promising future, she dreamt of playing softball to get her through nursing school… Mrs. Judy explained to me that on the days she misses Brit the most, she finds her here…on the softball fields. She explained to me that she never visits her grave site, where she is in death – because she prefers to visit where she was in LIFE! The last game she played, was at this very park, on this very field, and Mrs. Judy visits often to be close with Brit and the girls carrying on this game.
She says she sees Brit in the ALL the girls that play. She recognizes her daughter in our daughters. The laughter, the giggles, the cheers and high fives. The dropped shoulders, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat – all things that her and Brit experienced together. Whenever she sees a girl who needs encouragement, or who doesn’t have anyone cheering for her – she CHEERS for them, as if they were her Brit. She said she knows that is what her daughter would do, and would want her to do. Brit was apparently a fan of the underdog, and loved seeing girls push their limits and break through their confidence barriers on the softball field. And Mrs, Judy loves it to. Sometimes, she admitted, she will follow a girl to the concession stand just to tell her how awesome she did, or what a great play she made, or offer random words of encouragement if she seems down. And sometimes, she will go up to moms and dads who look distraught or who seem mad, just to remind them how awesome their daughter played. “These small reminders, help you know. Remind people what they have.”
She went on to describe all the ways that these girls and their parents are being blessed through softball. Although she admitted that sometimes she didn’t see it then…she sees it now. The tent cities, the coming together for a name on the front of a jersey, the early and late weekends that enable (or force) you to see sunrise and sunset. The sting of wind and sun on your face, watching the girls grow up together from one season to the next. The joys friendships, the struggles that push the girls to meet their limits. Just how much this sport, this atmosphere – pushes the girls to be better (player and person) than they were yesterday.
She points to a little girl playing on a 10U field just a field over. “See her?” “Two months ago, she would walk up to the plate head hung low and strike out only to be back in tears in the dugout. Now, she’s the leadoff for her team.” “The girl that pitches for that team over there, she almost gave it up but instead worked harder and has come back this season as a dominant pitcher.” “These girls, all of them, they are just so amazing and steadfast,” she told me. “It’s such a beautiful thing!”
She says if we look closely high above the fields when the girls play, you can see the big, beautiful, combined dream bubbles coming from the girls and gathering high above the field in the shape of a halo. “If parents would just calm down long enough, they would see it too,” she sighed. “And right above that, is my Brit, #55, looking down, watching the game, and cheering on the girls who play.”