Monday, June 4, 2012

Three Strikes; You’re OUT at the Ole Ball Game!

I haven't written in a while. I apologize! I've been a little preoccupied.


When I was growing up, in the latter portion of the 20th Century, I never played a team sport. Mostly, I wasn’t interested. I really didn’t have any friends who played team sports, although I have a vague recollection that there were organized baseball games held at the park I used to play in. They might have been Little League games—I don’t know. I think I watched a few, but it really didn’t hold any interest; I mostly hung out because they had a hotdog stand. The nearest thing I had to a “sport” was bicycling.

Fast forward to 21st Century Parenthood. My twins are in middle school, and my son is nearing the end of his three-season Little League career. He started late, but developed pretty quickly into a decent ball player, jumping from AA into the Majors in his second year. My daughter, who had never expressed anything but boredom at being dragged to her brother’s games, suddenly decided this Spring she wanted to play softball. I am sure she was influenced by the example of her best friend, who has been playing for years.

My daughter went to the tryouts. She could catch, but not throw very well. She had not really done any batting to speak of, but managed to hit a few at the tryouts. She was put on a team with girls she had never met before, although she had seen a few of the older girls at school.

The most beautiful thing, indeed the very best thing, about the softball program in my town is that all of the practices and most of the games take place at a park that is literally across the street from my house. No driving. (Little League is another story…) So, my daughter would cross the street with her equipment bag for practices, and I could watch out the window or stroll over to watch, if I was at home.

My daughter would frequently come home from practices tearful and frustrated.

“Mom, I can’t do anything right!”

“Dear, you are just getting started. That is why you practice! So that you can improve.”

“The coaches keep telling me all these different things. The tell me I am not in the right place on the field, and then I move, and later they tell me to move back to where I was!”

Well, not having been a ball player, I couldn’t offer a response to that. So, I decided to go watch what they were doing. I sat through some practices. I watched the drills. I listened to what the coaches said. Finally, a scrimmage with another team was announced. It was then called off, due to rain. And it rained and rained and rained. Our fields were closed, our practices postponed. (sigh)

Once the rainy season decided to end, practices resumed. Then, the first game came and went. It was a disaster. The girls didn’t know how to read the coaches signals, the in-field didn’t know how cover their positions or how they should back up other positions. A few girls could hit, but not others. No one could really slide. There wasn’t any communication or cheering going on. I won’t tell you what the score was.

[And here is the truth about scores: Scores don’t matter. I figured that it was good that my daughter was outside, getting some fresh air and exercise. I didn’t really expect much more than that.]

After a few more disappointing games and practices, that I watched closely, I could see that there was a bit of a misunderstanding, involving the way the coaches would tell the players to move on the field. I had figured out something fundamental to team strategy: Once the coaches have seen the opposing players at bat, they have an idea what that player can do, and they try to remember and use that knowledge to reposition their fielders to better advantage.

“Mom, I can’t do anything right! I want to quit.” She came banging in the door, crying, one afternoon.

“What happened?”

“The coaches kept yelling at me to move to different places. First I had to move back, then forward, then way over to the side!”

“Sweetheart, let me explain what they are doing.” And I told her what I had figured out, summing it up with, “so you weren’t in the wrong spot. The coach was moving you to a new correct spot, every time.”

That made sense to her. It is so funny that something like that never gets spelled out for anyone but the pitcher and the catcher, but there you have it.

After that, it was a matter of improving on her batting and getting better with her throw, and remembering what area her position covered and what position she had to back up. They worked with the girls on sliding into bases. Turned out Emily was a natural at it! The coach nicknamed her “Slick” and had her demonstrate for the other girls. Pretty soon, I was hearing her little voice piping from the field with how many outs there were and where the next play was. The girls started cheering each other at bat more.

As I watched them during their practices, I realized that baseball and softball, and probably all team sports, require you to be both conscious in the moment of what is happening and also to think forward into the realm of possibility—to be aware of what must be done at the individual level in the now, as well as think through possible consequences of your actions on your teammates in the next moment. WOW!!

And again, I say:  WOW! Who knew?

The team continued to have a lack-luster season, but they did win a few games, and that lifted everyone's spirits.

Finally, the playoff game dates arrived. I thought we would be out of it immediately.

Here is what was written about Playoff Game #1:

5/29 Playoff Game #: Diamonds-In-The-Rough 10 – Good Sports 9

Possibly the most exciting game of the season! No scoring until the 3rd, when K.C. made it home for the Diamonds. Pitcher B.L. and catcher S.W. shut down the Good Sports’ chances, allowing one runner on, later tagged out at 3rd. Top of 4th, G. O. scored a 2nd run, leading with a strong double. Team B.L. and S.W. foiled Good Sports’ at bat. Diamonds were unable to score at the top of 5th, when Good Sports powered home 5. Diamonds shook it off with runs by G.O., A.G., B.L, K.C. and E.N. Good Sports brought it up to 9. S.W. and A.G. scored in the 7th to tie it up. Pitcher G.O. and catcher S.W. shut the Good Sports down 1-2-3. International tiebreaker was called. K.C. broke the tie. G.O. struck out one Good Sport, but it was a fabulous double-play, with A.G.’s in-field throw to K.C., and K.C.’s quick throw to S.W., taking out runners at 1st and home, that closed out this sensational game.

We who watched the game were beside ourselves! That was a fantastic game! Like the light switch had come on, and the Diamonds were really a team now!!

So, they had one more playoff game. When we found out who our girls were playing, we thought, oh, well. They were just up against the first ranked, undefeated team, of course!


Here is what was written about Playoff Game #2:

5/31 Playoff Game #2: Diamonds-In-The-Rough 9 – Expulsion 8

Another exciting win for the Diamonds! No scoring until top of the 2nd, when B.L. was driven home by E.N. Expulsion tied it up with one at the bottom of the inning. Diamonds got no traction at the top of the 3rd, and Pitcher G.O. was hit off of by three Expulsion batters, but the first two ground out at first and the third popped a fly caught by 2nd base-girl E.D. Top of 4th, Expulsion bobbled K.C.’s single into a triple, and G.O. slammed one deep to bring her home. A.G. also scored. B.L., on the mound, and S.W., at the plate, held back Expulsion with one strike and two batters ground out. In the 5th, the Diamonds did not score, but B.L. and S.W. held off Expulsion with a double-play assist from K.C. at first base. No scoring in the 6th. Top of 7th, G.O. and A.G. scored again, owing to Expulsion fielding troubles and a line drive from E.N. Not to be outdone, Expulsion took swift action, confounding Pitcher G.O. with 7 batters, three of whom scored, tying the game at 5-5. The exciting and decisive 8th inning found C.Z., V.S., K.C. and B.L. making it home. Expulsion battled forward with two more runs before a third strike ground their season to a halt.

You cannot imagine the scene. Our girls were screaming with joy. The other team’s chins hit the ground and their coaches looked like thunder. The stands were full of family and friends of our team, figuring it was the Diamonds' last game. Everyone bounced out of their seats and surrounded the girls. WOW!!

And again, I say:  WOW! Who knew?

The undefeated first place team had just been upset by the fifth place team. The fifth place team was now going to the championship!!!

This was the shot heard around the league! (And believe me when I tell you it was HUGE news and that parents and kids in lower divisions were talking about it for days.)

As you can imagine, it was an unbelievable victory and we were all full of joy. The underdogs sometimes get to shine!

Now, I won’t hold you back from the end of the story: The Diamonds lost the championship, having to settle for 2nd Place.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Well, take it from me: that’s wonderful.

(Whew! The season is finally OVER!)