Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hobart Girls' Softball

I grew up playing fast pitch softball. Even at the age of eight, the pitchers were not throwing with an arc; they were hurling it as fast as they could across the plate. The arc was saved for the change-up. So, from the time I was eight until I was 11 (the Minor League), I had to hit a fast pitch, while still playing with slow-pitch rules: no stealing, no bunting, etc.

In seventh grade I moved up to the Major League which had girls from 11-14 years old. There is a huge difference between an eleven year-old and a high school freshman. Mostly, it had to do with maturity (temper tantrums, teasing others, but not being able to take it, being tormented at team slumber parties). I was chosen to play shortstop, much to the dismay of some of the 14 year-olds. Cue more tantrums and torment. I was a good player. Hard worker. Devoted teammate. The first two years our team finished in the middle of the pack of 12 teams. Then we had new coaches with older players and became a top team. As my coaches’ daughters moved up to the Senior League (15-18), I moved up with them.

After the Majors, most girls opted out of continuing to the Seniors, so there were only three teams that traveled and played other cities. We were tough. I would play shortstop, third, left field- wherever I was needed. The older girls had jobs and didn’t always show up for practices, and my coach would say, “Next year it will be your turn.” By the time I was in my last year, I too had many distractions. A job, coaching, a boyfriend, a musical and a Shakespearean play. I didn’t show up to many practices, but was always there for the games. My coach didn’t always put me in (which was confusing to me at the time), but I was there- always ready to do what he needed.

The second to last game of the season, I was playing shortstop. We were winning; there were two outs and a runner on first. For some stupid reason, the runner tried to steal second base. The catcher threw a perfect ball to my glove. Just as I was about to cover the ball with my other hand, the runner slid right into my hand and glove. Out! Game over! I tossed the ball to my coach and we lined up to shake hands. “Good game. Good game.” And then I heard the other coach say, “Looks like somebody got hurt.” I looked down at my hand and it was covered in blood. The runner had been wearing spikes (which was rare in those days), and her foot had gone between my middle and ring fingers splitting my hand open. My boyfriend happened to be at the game and drove me to the ER where I received Novocain (which did NOT help), several stitches, and had my fingers taped together. No big deal.

Our last game of the regular season had been pushed back due to some rain-outs. Some of the girls’ families had already made vacation arrangements and were unable to play. We had nine girls for 10 positions (at the time we had four outfielders). When my mother told me I couldn’t play because of my hand, it not only meant that we would forfeit and not be able to go on to the sectional tournament, it also meant that my softball playing days were over (cue crying, wailing and gnashing of teeth). I heard the phone ring about every fifteen minutes and several mumbled conversations. About two hours before the game, my mom came into my room and said I could play BUT I could only bunt and had to play right field. No problem! I was usually the lead-off batter or clean-up. Right field? Meh. Hadn’t been out there since I was eight, but it meant I was able to play and maybe help our team get to the next round.

First batter. First pitch. First beautiful bunt. High five from Tommy, our first-base coach. Next time up- the shortstop comes charging at me, and I drag bunt. The ball pops over her head and I make it to first. Sweet. Third time up- the pitcher and shortstop run towards me and I slash bunt. For real. And the ball rolls perfectly between them. Tommy just shakes his head at me in disbelief as I get to first base. Meanwhile, I had one ball hit to me in the wet grass of right field and I missed it. But when I picked up the ball to throw it in, it zinged across my fingers and flew in, stopping the runner at second. Not great, but obviously having my fingers taped was going to be something I continued after I healed.

Anyway, the fourth time up, everyone was ready for me. We were winning, we were going to get to the next round, and this was my last at bat. Two outs. Strike one. Perfect pitch. Now what? I remembered my dad telling me one time how great it would be if someone swung at a ball with all of their might, and then bunted with two strikes. I couldn’t believe he was saying this at the time. Two strikes? If you bunt the ball foul on the third strike, you would be out. “Yeah,” he said. “But imagine how surprised they would be after that kind of a swing.”

So I swung as hard as I could. The ball almost went out of the park, and was foul. The coach on third gave me the evil eye, but to his left, I could see the third baseman, the shortstop and the left fielder move way back. Waaay back. Next pitch. Plink. The perfect bunt, in the grass, stopping halfway to third. Out of reach for the catcher, and no hope for the third baseman or shortstop who were hopelessly surprised and off balance. Standing on first, Tommy’s mouth was hanging open. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” I said. When the game was over, Tommy told me he had never seen anyone play the way I did that day, and hands me the ball. In ten years, I had never seen any player receive the game ball. I still have it. It makes me smile when I see it on my shelf. I still have the scar on my hand, too. That makes me wince when I think about it. But then I smile.

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