My daughter plays softball… check that… she’s on a softball team. They are the WildKats. With a “k”. Their colors are maroon and black.
Her jersey stretches past her knees and her socks pull to the middle of her thighs. Her shorts reach mid-calf and her batting helmet can only be secured when the chin strap is gripped tightly in her tiny teeth.
She’s the cutest “middle-right-fielder” you’ll ever lay eyes on, but Anna Elizabeth cannot catch a softball. She cannot even stop one with her glove – because it is more-often-times-than-not on the ground next to her, or resting on top of her head like a mutated Jewish kippah.
She has a difficult time paying attention to the game, but can follow an errant butterfly from right field to home plate, past the concession stand, through the jungle gym and then back to its perch on the corner of the opposing team’s dugout.
She has talent.
I have been working with my little entomologist on hitting. You can’t really call “what we do” batting practice. Hitting. Swinging, really. I toss the ball. It hits the ground. Rolls underneath the car. And then she swings. It’s adorable.
Anyway, we have been working on the hitting. I toss the ball, scream “SWING!” at the top of my lungs before it even begins its descent, and – about 3 times out of 10 – she makes contact. Then, we both jump up and down as if she’s just taken one deep over the Green Monster in the 7th inning against the Yankees in a tied-up ALCS game seven. It’s adorable.
Last night, Anna had a game. It was her eleventh. We prepared like we always do – by watching Sponge Bob Square Pants and eating Doritos just before heading to the field. She didn’t want to be there. Her mother didn’t want to be there. Her baby brother – if he could talk – would have been saying, “Please, not another one of these!” And, quite frankly, I could think of about 413 things I would have rather been doing at 6 PM on a Monday night. Hauling green hay crossed my mind.
A couple of times.
But there we sat, cheering our Anna Beth. Number 8. “Number 8 in the field, number 1 in our hearts!” I announced… again… just as I had the previous 10 games – and still no one even attempted to look from their nachos and “sour staws” and dollar-fifty-6-ounce Pepsi’s.
The game started like any other at the Columbiana Pee-Wee Park. Anna took the field first and paid no attention. She had no idea that the WildKats were trailing 9-nothing in the bottom of the first. In fact, her coach had to retrieve her from the field when it was their time to bat. She had been watching an ant make its way from the infield to the grassy promised land of foul territory. It almost made it.
So, she was the 8th batter. The bases – after a coach’s-daughter-grand-slam – were empty and Anna felt no pressure. Strike one! She missed. Her follow through ended at almost the exact moment the ball was returned to the pitcher. Strike two! “C’mon, Anna Beth! Watch the ball! C’mon, sweetheart… you can do it!” Her mother cheered encouragingly, the way only a mama can. Then, the pitcher pitched the ball and I screamed immediately, “SWIIIINNNGGG!” I saw my baby’s eyes turn to me and brighten. And then – as if in slow motion – she turned towards the incoming ball, closed her eyes, and swung the 10-ounce bat as hard as she could. She swung so hard, her shoe came off. She swung so hard, her helmet ended up on the ground behind her.
She… swung… so… hard.
“Son of a bitch!” The words left my body faster than I could think. I tried to get them back, but they were already out there… bouncing off of tiny ear drums and swirling up to the heavens. And every head jerked and turned directly up at me. Mouths gaping. Chewed up nachos and hot dogs falling from trembling lips throughout the park. Suddenly, I was that guy. I was no longer the happy-go-lucky daddy who tells silly jokes and is generally ignored by parents who often get together for ice cream socials and pot-lucks just because.
I was the opposite of that. I was the homeless drunk who sits in the top, corner of the bleachers yelling obscenities and giving angry looks to anyone who dares turn around. What had I just done? My wife sat, motionless. My mother-in-law started to cry. An elderly couple – the grandparents of Samantha – got up and moved two rows down. No one wanted to be seen near that guy.
Anyway, two more foul balls… and then Anna Beth actually got a hold of one. It trickled past the pitcher, through the legs of the shortstop and into the shallow grass of left-center field. She finally got her first real hit in big girl softball. And it was a double. My baby girl got a stand-up double and was consequently awarded the game ball! What a night!
She has another game on Thursday night against the same team. But I have been told that I cannot go.
My wife mentioned something about “green hay.”