The Last Game
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It’s chilly as I take my seat on the clinky metal bleachers, far enough away from home plate but close enough to get a perfect view of the pitcher’s mound, to watch my daughters game. It is this same seat, the seat that allows me to be right there, without really being right there – that I have taken for so many years now. Every once in a while, that seat is traded for a silent place along the outfield fence, or to the top of a hill where the softball field looks like an arena of magic underneath the field lights. The players sparkling, and the echoes of cheers, the clear sounds of bats and balls connecting, and whirlwinds of dust caught perfectly in the sunlight – all staged so perfectly and beautifully.
What makes today, this game different, is that I am acutely aware that my days of taking these seats, with my perfect view of the pitching mound are slowly but surely coming to an end. It’s senior night. And my daughter is a senior.
I see my daughter warming up, noticing the loud thwack when the ball hits the catchers glove. Her little strips of hair that won’t stay pulled back, flowing around her facemask, her blue eyes sparkling under the shimmering setting sun. I wonder the same thing I have wondered for years, what it is these players are thinking and feeling in those pre-game moments. I stand in awe and amazement of just how much courage it takes for all of them to go out there and do their thing, with so many people watching them.
She throws one high, into the fence behind her catcher during warm ups, and I see a small smile and hear a giggle that belongs to just her. My heart smiles a bittersweet smile, knowing just how much this reaction is the sure sign of just how much she has grown on (and off) the softball field. For that smile and that giggle, years ago would have not have been there had she thrown a ball into the fence. And suddenly, in my mind, I remember standing with a little girl, behind a sweaty ballpark bathroom one hot August afternoon 8 years ago, with tears streaming down her face, her swearing that she was giving up softball for good, after a particularly bad game. Me pulling those same stray hairs out of her wet eyes, and offering any words of encouragement that I could find, telling her how much I loved her, and this was just, in fact, a softball game.
It feels so much like yesterday, that I worry tonight she will be pulling stray hairs from my wet eyes.
On THAT day, I never would have believed that I would be here for THIS DAY.
The starting of the National Anthem snaps me back into reality. On this last home game that she would ever play, on her high school field, I watch my daughter run out to the field to join her teammates and friends, and place her hand over her heart. And once again, my mind is taken back to a dusty old rec field during her first year of softball, when she complained and wiggled and cried because she thought softball pants were itchy, and tight and quite clearly the most uncomfortable pants ever invented. On that same day years ago, she refused to wear cleats because they too – were uncomfortable. And today, in that little girl’s place, stands a poised young woman, tall and slender – with years of hard work wearing itchy softball pants and cleats under her softball belt that I used to have to help her fasten, preparing to take her high school field for the last time.
Her hair is braided back with a bow that seems to glisten like a firework. She stands comfortable now alongside her teammates, as small breezes whip her stray hairs around her face. Where a little girl used to stand, now stands a young woman; years of hard work, hours of lessons, hours of practice, and endless months and years of practice and games culminating into one single moment.
My mind drifts. I remember late nights after long tournaments driving many miles searching for a place to eat that is still open. Joyful post-game conversations, and laughter, friends and family coming together to join in on passion. The look of pride on her face, happiness and childhood in her heart. Endless weekends without sleeping in, vacations revolving around softball fields, Relationships along the way, whether good or bad at the time, seem to be suddenly seamlessly quilted together into the blanket that warms our shoulders on the chilliest of the evenings.
My mind wanders to the many miles driven over the years – the tons of money spent, the late evening after practice scrambles to get homework done and dinner prepared. Doing laundry at 1 am, the struggles and the successes all mingled together now to create one beautiful, perfect memory of life. Her tears and struggles and her successes – of which there have been so many of both.
I wonder as she, as they – stand there on the brickdust that has metaphorically made its way into every nook and cranny of her life, the brickdust that has been the amazingly fertile soil with which to grow a young girl into a confident young woman, the brickdust that she has cursed at least once in her life, that has been both the bane of her existence at times and the reason she exists at others, the brickdust that just a few years ago I had to scrub from her scalp, will be her friend tonight.
I wonder if she and the other seniors realize that the footprints they are leaving behind are so meaningful that they will never be erased, no matter how many times the field is dragged. If they realize that the brickdust beneath their cleats is mingled with the years of hard work, the sweat, the tears, the MEMORIES and the legacy that they will leave behind, and is permanently ingrained in the deepest part of their hearts.
As the National Anthem ends the girls return to their dugouts, chatting and laughing excited about getting to play the game they love. I scan the crowd and see the other parents of seniors, all of them somehow reliving and remembering the journey of just yesterday that has brought them to this place. All of them taking their places, bittersweet memories racing through their minds.
All the things that once seemed so large, that caused stress years ago, that created their love-hate relationship with the game of softball – quite small in comparison to seeing and feeling firsthand what it’s like to watch that little girl wearing a t-ball jersey who walks up to the plate on the wrong side, be replaced by a young woman who is about to take on her high-school field for the last time.
And I realize as the game starts, that no matter how much I thought was prepared for this day, I really wasn’t. And you my friend, won’t be either. So, all we ask of you today, is that no matter where you are at – you take it all in. You count your blessings to be such a huge part of your daughters life. That you smile, and laugh, and take your place at the field with an open heart and gratitude. That you don’t sweat the small stuff.
That the next time she plays, you go collect a little brick dust (or field dirt) and stick it in a jar, so you will always have a little piece of your daughters heart and soul, no matter where life takes her.
That you understand that while your daughters footprints will forever be imprinted on the field of fastpitch dreams, this time, this last game, comes to all of us.
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