Stepping Up To The Plate

softball

To put it all into perspective, it was only a few months ago that G and I had no idea what varsity or junior varsity meant. It was a term that belonged in teen American movies, one of those words that went with freshman, senior and sophomore. I turned to an American girlfriend recently and said “So Sophomore is your final year of high school right?”

“Oh my dear lord, you really have no idea do you?” she said in delicious southern drawl.

And she was right. I didn’t. I love our big American school but when they talk about Algebra, Language Arts and Honors Biology I find myself pining for the world I understand. I’m learning as I go, and unfortunately our first little traveller is our guinea pig.

Last September G and I went along to an activities night held at school, it was there that we saw the sign up sheet for Little League. A girlfriend was standing nearby.

“What’s Little League?” G and I were the clueless Australians.

“Oh you should do it! It’s baseball and softball. The girls could choose either.”

As Australians the sports we’d grown up were a little bit harder to find. Netball was available but it was just for the girls, rugby clashed with something else. We had plans for soccer a little later in the year.

We moved towards the sign up table.

“We have second hand gloves available, and the uniforms are covered in the membership fees” said a soft spoken American man called Chan. G picked up the schedule, noticed the price, it was cheap. We signed up on the spot.

When we got home and broke the news, the boys they were happy enough, but the girls were less than impressed.

“Softball? I don’t even like softball? I don’t even know the rules.” said the first traveller.

“Sounds like a great reason to go along” said G. “You’re going. It’s not a discussion – you’re going.”

A few weeks later the first traveller stood at the first practice looking uncomfortable and awkward. Someone showed her how to hold the bat. When she struggled to throw to the girl across from her a coach walked over with a few suggestions and gently told them all to take a couple of steps in. When a friend was discovered it all became more comfortable. I saw a smile, and then a giggle.

After the first game she was hooked. Two weeks in and she suggested on the way home that they should really have practice twice a week instead of once. For Christmas she asked for a bat. Each week G and I would sit in our deck chairs and hold our breath as she stepped up to the plate. She struck out, took a walk, hit a foul ball. We learnt the cheers, copied the other parents.

“Way to get a piece of it!” we’d yell out in our pseudo American accents.

“Good eye, way to watch” we’d call out while praying that she’d make it through to first base.

Each week we’d see Chan as we made our way into the field. “She’s getting there” he’d say with a nod.

In January when she stood up to the plate, we watched as all of the pieces came together. Her swing followed through to connect with the ball in the middle of the bat, sending it out past second base. As we jumped to our feet we noticed we weren’t the only ones who were excited.  The coach on first base gave her a high five as she made it to the base. “There  you go!” yelled her other coach beaming with a smile from third base. I looked over and gave her a thumbs up sign, she blushed and grinned back at me. A few minutes later Chan walked passed “Did you see Lizzie?!”

When someone mentioned try-outs for Junior Varsity she knew she didn’t really have a chance. There were 25 girls trying out and only 13 spaces to be had. There were girls who’d played for years, girls who were older, bigger, stronger. As the weeks have gone by I’ve sat on the sidelines and watched her hopes float up only to then crash down. A terrible practice convincing her that she had no chance would be followed by a home run the next day. Tagging someone on second or a hit to the outfield would provide her with an ounce of maybe. Just maybe.

As the tryouts have continued I’ve balanced on the motherhood high wire of encouraging, enthusiastic cheerleader to grounded realist. Last night after a weekend tournament we counted 12 names we were sure were definite to make the team, the other spot could have gone to anyone. I suggested we expect the worse case scenario to try and avoid disappointment, but I was talking to a thirteen year old.

“So when do they tell you?”

“Tomorrow, the team will go up on the board at school.”

“So no practice tomorrow night if you don’t make it? I guess you don’t know whether to take your glove and bat to school then?”

When I dropped her at the gate this morning I took a deep breath as she got out of the car.

“Just remember, your Dad and I are just so proud of you, you’ve done so well. We think you’re amazing.”

She looked down at her bat. “Maybe put this in the back of the car? I’ll let you know if I need it.”

The email came through while I was in a meeting. I saw it as I fished my phone out of my bag on the way to the car.

“I didn’t make the team, see you at 4.”

I felt myself standing at the board, reading the names. I felt my heart sink. My heart, her heart, same heart.

I emailed back, got back on the high wire, attempted to say all the right things but of course there are none.

When I got home I pulled the bat out of the car, put it away with the gloves, mits and balls and thought about next year. I thought about the lovely Chan, what a gift he’d given us all. The friend who’d happened to be standing nearby.

“Softball? I don’t even like softball?”

We’ll be back out there next year.

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