It was a breezy and cool Thursday – March 12th to be exact, playing on my high school field during our second region game (meaning it counts), and it, my last at bat was UGLY.
6th inning, down by one run, two outs with two of my teammates on 2nd and 3rd and me at the plate. It started out as a decent at bat, and I held a 2-2 count fouling off several balls against one of our region rivals when I swung out of my shoes at BALL high in the zone, probably close to my forehead for strike three. I smiled that smile that comes with years of playing softball when you know you were just ‘handled’ by a pitcher.
UGGLY!!! “I’ll get it next time,” I thought.
I am 18 years old, and have been working on being disciplined to lay off those high balls forever (just ask my dad). Man, they look so good. I was thinking home-run with hopefully a walk off hit. Not that time. I shrugged it off, got my glove and took my place back on the field…
That was my last at bat. My very last at bat. Possibly ever.
I just didn’t know it at the time.
But I do now.
We all know the story from here. Schools closing, seasons cancelled, virtual graduations, all in the blink of an eye – my entire lifetime of hard work on and off the field wiped away. My cap and gown were mailed to me, we had a drive through drop off to return our uniforms, the #45 uniform I had worn for 4 years and would never ever wear again. There is a small red stain on the back from a region championship game during my junior year where my teammates and I dyed our hair and it stained my jersey. Man, my mom was mad.
Just when I thought there was hope of finishing out over a decade of travel ball, week by week that too has drifted out of sight. I started playing at 6 with a group of my friends, my dad coached us and 6 of us have stayed together the entire time. The others that have come and gone have become lifelong friends, some still playing some not. I was never some stud – I could hold my own, but basically I have been just a girl who loved softball, who spent 12 years growing up on that field with my softball sisters.
And now…it is over, and what I am left with is my last at bat. And to be honest, I am pissed about that. And I am tired of being told I am being selfish for being angry.
I know it doesn’t erase everything that came before. I know it doesn’t take away all the good years, my friends, everything I have gained or lost along the way.
I know that people think I am spoiled, or being selfish for being angry that I am left with my crappy last at bat. I know my pouting won’t change anything. I understand what is happening. But it is not fair. It is not okay with me.
I hear so many people saying, it’s just softball. It’s just baseball. It’s just a sport… They write us kids off as if our ‘work’ isn’t important and that what we do is just about being entitled. I hear people saying “it’s just the parents that want to play, the kids have their lifetime ahead of them to play.”
Well, you know what, I don’t. I am a senior, I age out August 1st, and there is no softball in sight in my state. It’s just over. No apologies, no goodbyes, no more chances, no redemption for my shitty last at bat…
And let me tell you a little something about my softball “hobby”
When my parents got divorced, the softball field was my therapy. My softball sisters were there for me. I could take my stress out on that field during practice. No talking or one person in the world could have helped me OVERCOME the way softball did.
When my grandpa died when I was 15, a man that always, and I mean always sat in centerfield to watch the game – playing ball made me feel close to him again. Every game since then, I felt like I had an angel in the outfield.
When my thighs were too thick and my body too big to look cute in the dress at my 8th grade dance and I felt ‘less than,’ I knew those same thighs made me long strong on the softball field. And when I had on softball pants, my body size never mattered.
When I struggled with friends in middle school and was trying to find my place, I always knew and felt like I belonged when I was with my softball team. I have made my truest friends in that dirt…
The first place I ever drove myself to, alone, after I got my license was softball practice.
Standing on my school field has always given me the same feeling I get when I walk in the front door at my house. Home.
My family goes to church. I pray. I prayed before.We say Grace. But last year my best friend who is a pitcher took a line drive to the face. Luckily, it skimmed her in the chin, but in those moments when I knelt on the field and she was laying there, I felt what it means to truly be brought to your knees, and to truly see the hand of God working in real time.
When I started getting too big for my britches and having an attitude, it was my coaches and teammates that reeled me in and held me accountable. The first and last time I rolled my eyes at an umpire, I was benched for the remainder of a tournament. I learned a lot of lessons the hard way, out there on that field.
When one of my friends became a better short stop than me and played OVER me (yes, my dad was the coach) I learned that it is on ME to work harder for what I want and that nothing worth having comes free, no matter who you are.
In 9th grade, I started slacking off in school, my grades slipped – and my parents showed me real quick what softball meant to me, by sitting me out fall travel ball season until I raised my grades and improved my work ethic. Sure did learn how to prioritize and do what I am supposed to do, to get what I wanted in life.
One day after my mom and I had a big argument, huge… we didnt talk for several days. I said some really horrible things. I had a tournament that weekend and I figured she wouldnt show. But there she was sitting on the bleachers cheering for me like nothing had ever happened. Softball showed my what it means to show up, and what family is all about.
I walked dogs in my neighborhood and cleaned up peoples yards to earn enough money to buy my first composite bat. My parents told me I had to come up with half of the money. Man, I took care of that bat. I even cleaned it after practice and games. I learned what it meant to earn something, and when it broke a month out of warranty, I learned what what that felt like too. We are not rich, and I have always had to work for the extra things. I assure you that my level of appreciation and gratitude has certainly been improved.
My sophomore year I was invited to a party. I had a tournament the next day so my parents would not let me go. I was pissed. That night two of my friends drank beer and got in a car accident. I would have been with me. I wonder now how many times “having softball” has saved me from a negative alternative.
I learned how to win and how to lose. Both with grace and humility. I learned that I had to hate losing more than I loved winning – a mindset that reaches far beyond the softball field and will stick with me throughout life.
The softball fields taught me that not everyone is going to like me, and I am not going to like everyone – but sometimes we are on the same team, which means we have to work together.
It was on the softball field that I began to know what CONFIDENCE FELT like…People can speak confidence all they want, they can tell you how to be confident, they can tell you what it means but UNTIL YOU FEEL it for yourself, no matter how many people believe in you, you will never believe in yourself.
During my first job interview, I realized if I could stand in a batters box in front of tons of people watching me, then talking to one person face to face really wouldn’t be that hard.
My last at bat taught me about resilience. The kind of resilience that gets you to the winners circle when you are 6 runs behind late in a game.
This could go on forever. The thing is to me, and to my friends, and to my team, and in my life – Softball means a whole heck of a lot, and not being able to play feels like punishment.
But maybe, just maybe the most important lesson I have learned to date – is to never take any moment for granted. To stay PRESENT in all moments. To never assume you will get a do-over, and will have a chance to redeem yourself. Nothing is ever guaranteed. So my last at bat, sucked eggs – and maybe by the Grace of God I will get to step into the batters box a few more times before it’s all over. But if I don’t, and if that is how I am going out of this game – I know I am stepping forward with a knowing that today, this minute, this sunset, this silly drive to the thrift store with my best friend grabbing coffee at Dunkin’, this post, it all matters…and it is totally up to me live in these moments, fully aware that at anytime – life can change.