The snow has finally melted, seemingly weeks overdue – and underneath it lies a blanket of fresh green grass growing lush and thick. It is spring. And for as many years as I can remember, it is the longer days and warmer winds of Spring that I have always looked forward to. Spring. Spring means summer is right around the corner.
Spring means that my daughter and I get to escape the musky batting cages and exchange it for the pitching rubber in my backyard. Spring means that the bow-net will become a permanent fixture in the backyard. Spring means that Saturday mornings come early and good weekends lead us into Sunday play, and I get to be a friend, father, coach, confidant, leaning post and cheerleader for my little girl. Spring means more late night meals at Waffle House than at home.
But this spring will be different. Very different.
This spring, I pulled up the garage door that leads to my workshop, and pulled the dusty and mildewed cover off my boat. Pieces of vinyl dry rotted from years of neglect floated like feathers around my head. The fishing poles still neatly tucked into the side of the boat were dressed with rusty hooks, and the lures I spent years collecting, looked like artifacts in my tackle box. The tires on the trailer sat flat against the ground, and the sunlight revealed years of abandonment.
Just last spring, or so it seems – my daughter and I would take off early Saturday mornings, her stuffed into a life jacket, to spend the day trolling our local lake. She would splash her feet in the water, scaring away any chances of me catching fish, and would drink more sodas in one day, than her mom would have normally allowed in a week. After a few hours, her mom would pick her up and it would just be me on the lake, in my boat – relaxing and hoping to catch enough fish for a nice dinner. My well deserved break for a weeks worth of hard work.
And then, softball took over. First it was rec league and I was privileged to coach her and her friends. Then when the competition got fiercer and her game improved, I was on the sidelines as her biggest fan. When she jumped into pitching, I officially traded in my seat on the boat for a seat on a bucket. And that was a decade ago, and we have been going strong ever since. Winters weren’t welcome breaks and I spent every year looking forward to Spring and the start of softball season.
At first, giving up my boat for softball was a bit of a struggle. But it didn’t take long before I realized that there really was nothing better, nothing more relaxing, nothing more confirming or meaningful than spending weekends with my daughter and watching her play. Sometimes, my wife and I would joke about the boat, and how much we missed it. We would say the only thing really worth getting up at 4:30 am on a Saturday for was fishing. But today, I realized that the truth is, we will miss softball more.
With my daughter aged out and now at college, this Spring is different. The green grass doesn’t feel welcome. It was easier to hide my denial, and how much I miss my kid under blankets of cold and snow. Unveiling the boat for the first time in what seems like forever is not a welcome new beginning. At least not today, as it pulled the cover off the raw emotions of what it feels like to be a parent to a daughter who has grown up.
Today, I would give anything to be pulling out the bucket with the worn out seat cushion, and dragging it into the yard, and taking my place at the other end of the dirt tracks in my backyard, still left behind from years of her pitching. I imagine soon, even the grass worn from years of our backyard pitching practice will begin to grow back.
But today, I am taking the cover off of my boat. As I pull the boat out to give it some sunlight, I am hoping to clear my own head. I wash off the dust and dirt with a hose and my mind is like a highlight reel reliving and smiling about the last 11 years of my life I spent with my daughter on the softball field. I can still see the twinkle in her eye, still hear her cheering on her friends, still see that funny little look she would give me when she struggled on the pitchers mound, can still feel her arms wrapping around me after she hit that walk off hit some 5 years ago at the World Series.
For a moment, I wonder if it’s time to finally empty the trunk of my truck, and place her bat-bag, and the bownet, and the two expensive chairs I finally broke down and bought for my wife and I, and her favorite bucket of pitching balls, in the corner of the garage where the boat used to be. To chase down that ball that has been clanking around the back of my truck for the last two months and put it with the rest. But the truth is, I am just not ready yet.
See, the truth is….I would give just about anything to draw the cover over top that boat, that boat I bought long before my daughter started playing softball, that boat I had thought I had missed, if I could have just one more Spring on the softball field. Just one more Spring…..