I played Softball for 11 years, from 1st grade through I guess my Junior year of high school. I finally had to give it up because my Springtime was extremely busy with Jazz Band, Symphonic Band, Marching Band Boot Camp, the school musical (I played in the orchestra), UIL Solo/ensemble contest, not to mention my school classes and all Senior-class-related things.
I can still remember my daily schedule: 7am Jazz Band (I played the 5th trumpet part on the flugelhorn), 8am Symphonic Band (French Horn), school classes until 3pm, at 4pm the Boot Camp for incoming Freshmen began (I was Band Captain), then after that ended I think we had an hour or two until musical rehearsal began at 6pm, maybe 7pm and lasted until 11pm or midnight. Many of my friends ran this gauntlet day after day alongside me, and we loved what we were doing. We completed our homework in the orchestra pit during musical rehearsal when the director was working on the acting parts with the cast.
And I digressed greatly there....
Back to softball. So, for 10 of those 11 years, I spent each summer playing in tournaments on the All-Star team for our league. I loved the years of fast pitch, when I played catcher and was the only kid in the league who had the arm to throw out a runner trying to steal second. I was 8 years old, and my accuracy was inconsistent (read: crappy) so one never knew if I would hit Maria's glove or send the ball into center field. We placed first in many of the tournaments, and I absolutely loved playing. My dad, worried that I would get hit in the head by an errant ball, or worse, an aluminum bat, took me to the big local sporting goods store (this was before big chains like REI, Academy, Dick's, etc.) and got me a helmet that covered my entire head, a catcher's mask to fit onto the helmet, and a throat guard. All that combined with the chest protector and shin guards made for one hot outfit in the 100+ degree Texas heat. But you know how kids often don't realize exactly how hot it is.
I was a very aggressive kid, and I'd chase runners back to their bases, stare down batters, and 'own' home plate, guarding it against any would-be run-maker. I wasn't trying to be mean or nasty, I was just very serious about winning. I thought losing was for losers and didn't understand people who thought just trying was good enough. Years later I learned that some of the girls were afraid of me. If I had known that then, I would have been upset about it, but knowing it years later just made me laugh.
I practiced for hours by myself in the backyard, throwing pop flies into the air and catching them, and my dad would play catch with me frequently as well. I looked forward to each practice, and was disappointed if a game was cancelled because of rain.
I wasn't very many years into my softball career when the organization, and many around the country as well, switched from fast pitch to slow pitch to prevent injuries and make the game easier for more girls to enjoy. At the time, I didn't understand why we were changing over, and we all just adjusted, because the grown ups said that is how we would play the game going forward. This is also where softball lost some of its luster. No more stealing, no more drop third strike, no more windmill pitching, no more playing catcher, because now catcher was nothing more than a person to throw the ball back to the pitcher. There was an additional position called left-center field, which is now where most of the action happened. Guess what my new position was.
In slow pitch, you really want the batter to hit the ball, and the fielders make all the plays. It's difficult to strike out unless you're either not swinging at all, or are really inept at it. More people get more hits, but if your pitcher can't get the ball over the plate (again, when dealing with kids it can be difficult to get that ball over the plate) then everyone is left standing around for a good 5 minutes until something happens. During the regular season it got kind of boring. During All-Star season it was much better. The pitchers could pitch, the girls could hit, and the fielders could field, so there was some actual action happening.
Fast pitch softball has become common at high schools now, but there was none of that when I was in school. If there had been, I am confident I could have played and gotten a college sports scholarship of some kind, and I would be in a very different place having taken the sports route rather than the music route.
I remember batting orders, our sleeveless jerseys, thinking I looked fat in my softball pants, a pair of cleats I had that cut holes into my heels, the year we began wearing visors instead of hats, rules regarding hair clips and bands, many of the cheers, walking down the line and slapping hands and saying 'good game' at the end, and running to the snack shack after the game to get either a small cup of soda or a fla-vor-ice. I remember many of the girls I was on the team with year after year, and their moms and dads and families. I remember my dad taking me to those tournaments on the weekends during the summer and how he would perch his ballcap on top of his head, but never really pull it down. I remember Becky and Maria's dads coaching us most summers and how they both smoked and occasionally said 'damn', and how they sometimes scared me with their intensity. I remember we had batting signs and code phrases, and I remember when we switched from itchy polyester jerseys to cotton ones. I remember how I was on the Maroon team in T-ball in the 1st grade, on the orange team one year, but was on either the Red or Blue teams almost every year thereafter. I remember in regular season how one of us better players would always warm up with Ida Jane, a sweet silly girl who probably had some sort of disability that we didn't know what to call.
I remember one summer Saturday at a tournament we played probably five games, and we all got sunburned despite the best efforts of the moms to keep us lotioned-up. That was also the day that we ran through quite a few big coolers of gatorade yet never had to go to the bathroom because we were sweating it out as fast as we could drink it.
I remember end of season and end of summer parties with all the softball girls and parents and families. If there were bad or terrible things, I don't remember them at all, and I'm not inclined to try to conjure up those memories. I prefer to remember the smells, oh the smell of the mown grass, the sight of the red dirt, the numerous fields and parks and league areas where we played, the Army duffel bag full of old softballs and equipment, my Bombat...I think I have it around here somewhere still...and playing the game to win.
Softball was a big big part of my life for a long time. I'm glad.