I woke up from a 3 hour nap this evening. The good kind. I was so confused that I couldn’t decide if I was late for church on Sunday or late for work on Monday. I eventually figured out that it was 8:30 on Saturday night.
My day included rising at 4:30am, a drive to Ownesboro to watch the Lady Raiders softball state semifinal game, and a long, strange drive home that left me assured that no human in the history of driving has ever taken the same route that I took from Owensboro to Grayson (I got to see Taylorsville Lake after a gas stop detour in Bardstown…don’t ask).
For all the times I’ve been told, “Man, you’ve got to watch these girls play softball”, I’m ashamed to say that today was the first game I’ve ever witnessed. After so many years of year round travels to gyms, soccer fields, and tracks, I have given in to the easy temptation of spending some evenings at home the past couple of years. I’ve missed out.
When I sat down behind the right-center outfield fence today, I saw familiar faces on the field. Many of my son’s senior classmates. Some more familiar than others, a few of the girls that made up my 7th grade basketball team just a few short years ago (seems like only yesterday of course). Part of a group of young ladies that taught me so much about being more attentive to the spirit and habits of a young athlete than to their skills and results in a given moment.
In left field stood a young lady who had that basketball season cut short by a broken bone. I still picture her. Smiling, nodding, and making eye contact when I talked. Carrying out instructions to a T. Showing an elevated level of determination. Sending me home at the end of the day saying, “I love coaching this kid”.
I struggle to find the words to describe the spitfire that held down center field, other than confessing that she was always in danger exposing my complete inability to deal with matters of first aid and medical emergency. Playing with reckless abandon and such a high level of energy and intensity that she was often hyperventilating 3 minutes into a game. Absolutely no regard for her own body or safety. Not surprising that her career ended today in an ambulance after pushing her body far beyond levels of normal.
On 3rd base, another fiery competitor and gifted athlete. She had some great instincts on the basketball floor but seemed so well equipped to find success in other sports (and of course she did).
At first base, after a brief stint on the mound stood a player that’s hard to miss on the field. In middle school, she was an “I’ll give basketball a try” kid. Just for fun. Shining through her inexperience was an arsenal of coachability, confidence, competitiveness, great practice habits, and athletic ability. But basketball obviously wasn’t destined to be her sport. Most days, she was already on the softball field throwing pitches before we even got the gym doors locked.
In the dugout sat another senior player not in uniform. The bringer of fun. I don’t know if she had the same presence on her high school team. But in middle school, she had a knack for asking the right question at the right time to bring a laugh and remind me that I was talking about things that no one understood or using language that nobody could follow. In their final game, in a half that found us looking at a 28 point deficit, and the opposing coach calling a timeout in the final seconds of the half to draw up a play in hopes of making it 30, she had banked in a ridiculously long 3-pointer for our only field goal of the half. Pretty much our only positive of the half and a much needed mood-lightening moment.
Just another loss in a season of many losses. But the sentiment among coaches was clear: these kids may not be shining on the basketball floor yet, but they are competitors and gifted athletes. And it’s perfectly ok if the success they find isn’t in basketball.
7th grade to seniors. It really does seem like only yesterday to me.
East Carter softball’s season ended today with 41 wins and a 4th place finish in state. I watched from a distance as the players, parents, and coaches gathered on the field for an extra long time. I mostly thought of the senior parents and players and the sad finality of it all. That extra level of sadness, not because the season was over, but because the ride was over.
For the players, whose thoughts have been dominated through the years with this game, next game, this practice, next practice, and next year, the ending is abrupt. Emotions come quickly that most players aren’t expecting. They’ve all dealt with getting over tough losses before but none of them have dealt with the end before. Some will continue to play in college, but these moments are about the people that you play with more than they are the sport that you’re playing. Those coaches, teammates, and that large supportive cast of moms, dads, aunts, uncles, siblings, grandparents that have battled along side you, taught you, and supported you year round………they’re going separate ways without the mildly soothing theme of the hopes and plans of “next year”
For the parents, who just watched their daughters graduate last week, maybe they’re better prepared to deal with another final chapter. Their thoughts of “how did my baby go from diapers to graduate so quickly” are fresh on their mind. They may be prepared but it still hurts. We hurt for our kids. And we hurt for ourselves. Watching our kids compete in sports becomes a huge part of our lives. We hate to see it end. If you’ve ever told your kid, “I just love to watch you play”, I know you feel pretty lost when this moment comes. Those parents that you’ve sat beside for hundreds of games over the years, you’ll miss them. Heck, you’ll even miss the parents that you learned to sit far away from. But life goes on and you can be assured that their journey through high school sports has better prepared them (and you) for whatever comes next.
For the players, not just the seniors, there are some things that you may not realize, but you should. That small world of the familiar faces that you’ve seen day after day in your world of softball is much larger than you realize. You probably don’t know:
1) Just how many people in our community, that you’ve never seen at a game, follow your seasons closely. They celebrate your success. They’re so proud of you.
2) For every time you’ve captured a regional championship and fought courageously through full days of games in the losers bracket on the hottest days of the year, we have noticed. You have captured our hearts.
3) Just how many people sit at their desks at work, or in their living rooms at home, or in their cars, listening to your postseason games, hanging on anxiously for the result of every pitch (or refreshing James Collier or Kevin Colley’s Twitter every 10 seconds when we can’t find a broadcast).
4) The impact you’ve had on softball in Grayson and the influence you have on younger players. The success you’ve had on the field and the way you go about it makes you idolized by younger girls. They want to play the sport you’re playing and they want to play it like you do. Interest in softball is probably at an all-time high, and you girls can thank yourselves for that. I have trouble coming up with enough kids to make up a middle school basketball team right now, but I’m ok with that. Kids need to play sports that they love playing. And you girls make softball look like a sport that young girls will love to play.
Be proud of your success on the field. And be aware of of the positive influence that you have on those that aren’t even on the field with you.
Championships are pretty great. Celebrate them and be proud of what you’ve worked together to accomplish. But the memories you’ve created are even better. Appreciate them on this day. You’ll treasure them always.