With my back leaned against the pole in the dugout, I looked down at my cleats, dusty from the field but not torn. My socks covered my whole shin and came to meet the grey pants which fell just below my knee. I looked out from behind my metal framed glasses, beneath the baseball cap that held my wild, curly hair out of my face on the field. Our team was on base and I’d be up at bat soon enough. The dugout kept me safe for the time being, surrounded by teammates and mud caked cleats and thrown-around baseball caps. There was sweat, there was dirt, and we were cheering on each batter until our voices went hoarse. Just for that moment, time stood still.
I was thirteen and knew that moments were fleeting. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the habit of trying to capture them, take a mental photograph of the world around me. I’d stand back from the crowd, make myself aware of everything, and *snap,* I’d grab the moment to store in my memory.
These were my favorite parts of the game: the times of gathering together and cheering each other on. I wasn’t good at batting; I wasn’t good at my outfield position either. My dad likes to joke that I was very good at picking dandelions and doing cartwheels on the open field. For me, those moments behind the plate or standing on the yellow-speckled grass were filled with fear and anxiety: what if I make a fool of myself? What if the ball comes and I don’t catch it? What if the perfect pitch comes and I don’t hit it?
I went back to the game though, year after year. While my brother starred his tee-ball team and we went to the snack shop together to buy Big League Chew, I returned to the field for the family time, for the trophies at the end of the season, and for the feeling of being a part of a team.
Something different brings me back to the baseball field this time around. At thirteen, I hadn't considered the benefit of the exercise I was getting from the warm ups and the laps around the bases, I didn’t value the Saturday mornings outside in the sun. This time around, we’re here for the simple pleasure of sunshine and the dire need to move our bodies.
My brother, sister, and I pile into the car on a Saturday morning, toting our bats, gloves, and a bag full of softballs and baseballs. We drive to the park and find it quiet and the snack shop boarded up. Still too early in the season for Little League, we park and walk gratefully toward the empty dug out.
I’m up first to bat and that same anxiety grips my heart. I know I’m not any good at this. What am I doing back here? My brother starts to pitch and as we laugh and reminisce about the old park and these water-logged baseballs, I hit a few all the way to the grassy field. A few pop flies and even some fowl balls later, I’m standing in the dug out. The sun has warmed up the field and even this early in the season, we’re taking off our sweatshirts. As we guzzle our water, I lean my back against the dug out pole.
I’m thirteen again.
Suddenly, this whole thing doesn’t seem quite so scary.
I imagine myself reaching out to her. I stand here now in leggings and a t-shirt with my dusty walking shoes designed for arch support. My curly hair is pulled back into a ponytail under a ball cap and the frames of my glasses are plastic. If I stand in this spot, I can jump backwards in time to tell her. I can revisit that snapshot of a moment to tell her these things I know she needs to hear.
Girlfriend, don’t take yourself too seriously. Life is hard enough, but softball isn’t. Other people aren’t looking to you to be perfect, catch all of the balls or hit all of the pitches. People are hoping you’ll have fun. Are you having fun?
It’s okay that your favorite part of this is being on a team and cheering for the other girls. That’s a great gift. Your desire to see the talents in those around you and champion them is a worthy and valuable gift all of its own. Remember moments like these and listen to what makes you come alive. You may never be the best writer, musician, or softball player, but you can be the best cheerleader to the women around you.
Lastly, before this dug out time warp is over, I gotta tell you that Dad is right - you have to swing if you want to hit the ball. You get to first base by walking once in a while, but you’re going to have way more fun if you try to hit the ball. You need to remember this, hold onto it for life: you don’t always have to wait for opportunities to come to you. Every once in a while, you’re going to need to take a swing.
And if you’re not taking yourself too seriously and you're focusing on cheering for those around you, whether you hit the ball or not, you’re going to have a blast trying. (You may get some good exercise too.)