I stood on the pitcher’s mound, rolling the softball around in my hand, wiping sweat from my forehead, looking longingly at the third base line. My Dad stood there cheering me on, and I so desperately wanted him to pull me from the game. Instead, he just smiled and clapped.
Una Mas, Mija. Una Mas.
We are not Latino—we are very white.
I rolled my eyes, which stung with the mix of tears and red dirt.
My Dad had called a time out, and I thought he was pulling me. #PRAISETHELORD
Instead, he asked me what kind of pizza I wanted after the game. I only ever ate cheese pizza—He knew this. It was the weirdest time-out pep talk ever. It only made me angry.
The glove standing 40 feet from me was my goal…
All right batter, you better back up. I’m throwing fast and hard, and I’m tired. So, you better get out of my way. We’re ending this game.
—- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —
I started playing softball because it looked fun and it meant quality time with my Dad.
I was pretty terrible.
I was slow. I was scared of the ball. And I didn’t really have an affinity for dirt.
I would roll my sleeves up with little ribbons my mom gave me and had a bouncy little ponytail. I enjoyed the girls I played with, but nothing about me screamed athlete.
I played for 2 years before I actually started developing skills.
My third season, I had gotten good enough to play on second base and I was beginning to develop confidence. I learned that the ball hurt, but not to bad when it hit your shins. I learned how to catch the ball better from the outfielders and had a pretty decent arm when I needed to. But we had a terrible season—we didn’t have a pitcher. At the end of that season, my Dad proudly said, next season, we’re going to have the best pitcher. I thought he somehow got to pick early because we sucked so bad that year. Nope. He meant the only person he could guarantee to be on his team was going to be his pitcher. Me.
No way. I said. I just got good at 2nd—I don’t want to be a pitcher!
But he smiled and told me he had already signed me up for a pitching camp.
He made a board he hung on our fence for me to throw 100 strikes a day before I came in for dinner. I made him pay for his decision—he had to re-build that fence several times before I retired my glove. I also gave him a multitude of bruises on his shin and a black eye when he served as my catcher.
This game I am remembering was a tournament.
That 4th season, we had, in fact, recruited a pitcher who was already good, Jeanette. I was stoked because I really wanted to play 2nd base. I would just be her back up pitcher to fill in when she was tired, or when we could gamble a few runs. I was fast and threw hard, but wasn’t very consistent—I needed practice.
So, this tournament served the best opportunity, my Dad thought. He told me the tournament didn’t count for standing—so I could suck, and it wouldn’t matter. Thanks Dad. His plan was for me to play the 1st 2 games, and then Jeanette would finish up in the 3rd, against our rivals. IF we got that far.
Game 1: WIN, My Pitching: Wild, fast, sufficient.
Game 2: WIN, My Pitching: Wild, fast, sufficient.
Game 3, I took my spot in the dugout, happily preparing to relinquish the pressure of pitcher to Jeanette and play 2nd. As I at waiting for my time at bat, Jeanette hit a triple…ooooh….or a double….ohhhhh. Oh no.
She got caught between 2nd and 3rd, and on her route to 3rd, she took out the 3rd baseman. She went to slide but chickened out (her thigh was already bruised and bloody from a previous game the week before); she ended up taking out Alisha (opponent’s 3rd baseman) who weighed about 20 pounds and flew against our dugout as Jeanette pummeled into her. The umpire called Jeanette out of the game for unnecessary roughness.
We were 13 year old girls—unnecessary roughness. Seriously.
My Dad tried to appeal the call. Jeanette, angry and frustrated, walked to the bleachers with tears in her eyes. And my Dad began to smile as he approached the dugout. He was 20 feet away when I realized. No…no…no way.
I threw my glove, I started to walk out of the dugout.
No way Dad. I’m done. My arm is barely hanging on. I can’t pitch another game. YOU PROMISED I just had to do 2.
He smiled, “You can do this.”
I don’t WANT to. Send Chonna in.
“I need Chonna on short stop. You’re GOING to do this. All you gotta do is get it over the plate. Your team can do the rest.”
Just get it over the plate….are you kidding me? Do you know how hard that is when I haven’t been in the heat for 6 hours?
I started to walk away, while my Dad sent the rest of the team onto the field.
Chuck, our assistant coach, followed me.
“Hey, hey, Crystal. You’ve got this. You’re my hero. You go out there and do the best you can. That’s all you can do.”
I was crying at this point. Angry that I was crying. Pissed at my Dad for making me do this. I saw my team with wide eyes taking the field.
I brushed the tears off my cheek, glared at my Dad, and ran to the mound.
—– —– —– —– —– —– —– —–
The game had been up and down. Up and down. And up and down again. Literally.
Each inning, we got 7 runs, the other team got 7. We got 7, they got 7.
I was holding my own, but relying heavily on my team—striking out few, walking a handful and then counting on my team to catch and throw our way into another inning.
But now we were in the last inning.
We had 1 out.
And I was walking girls right and left.
I couldn’t seem to get the ball over the plate. I sent my catcher chasing the ball all over the dirt. I hit a few batters.
And one by one, I started walking in runs.
My pizza pep talk came when I had walked in 2 runs and bases were loaded. If a batter hit a homerun, we were done. We would lose.
I saw Cheryl Dickens warming up on deck—she was the best player in the league. She hit well, she ran like a freaking deer, and she could hit things over the fence.
I couldn’t worry about her yet. I had to focus on this batter.
Pitch 2—almost hit her, ball.
Pitch 4—foul…..catch it. Nope.
Pitch 5—foul…catch it. Yes! Good job catcher!
2 outs, bases loaded….Cheryl Dickens.
She looked me in the eye—she had this quiet confidence. She was sweet—smart, and kind of a bad-ass. She didn’t mean to be intimidating, she just was.
I walked around the mound as my team shouted encouragement. You’re my hero, Chuck shouted from the sideline. And my Dad did that funny whistle he always did.
All right. Here we go.
Pitch 1—foul ball to the fence, strike 1.
Geez, Cheryl. I get it. You’re awesome. That was too close.
Pitch 4—swing, miss, strike.
Deep breath. Deep breath. Pacing the mound. Brush-brush-snap, brush-brush-snap.
I recited the random thing my pitching coach had told me. With your arm, you brush your hair, your hip, and then snap the ball as you release.
Just throw fast and hard—that’s what you’re good at. If you hit her, you hit her. She’ll live. Brush-brush-snap. Brush-Brush-Snap. Brush-Brush-Snap.
I wiped sweat from my brow, focused my eyes on the glove, rolled the ball on my hip, planted my feet…
I wound up—brush-brush-snap–the ball released.
The sound of the ball hitting the glove. Everything else went silent.
Cheryl had swung and missed, her eyes wide with surprise. Mine too.
I looked to the 3rd base line.
My Dad smiled, shook his head, and clapped his funny little clap as he rushed the mound with the rest of my team.