To my softball sisters…
I think about you often. I see what you’ve accomplished in life and I’m still cheering you on, just like I did all those years from a full dugout behind a fence that was rattling.
And I have a feeling that you feel a little like me, as I get that winter’s-almost-over-spring’s-around-the-corner excited kind of feeling.
I’d even bet that you think a little like me as I near the end of this tough day and feel a little defeated.
I can do this. It’s just extra innings.
I wonder if you still hear the cheers that I hear when I go for a run; a task that isn’t quite as easy as it was at 15.
Almost there. Keep running.
Maybe I’m a little weird, but I wonder if you sometimes chase that same thrill that we felt over and over and over again for near 15 years—
and I often hope that you, talented sisters, are sharing your skills with your nieces or nephews or students or players or kids.
I’d be lying if I said that I don’t get a little sad that our time on the field had to end; but instead of being bitter as the season nears, I’ll share what I’ve learned to all new members of the sisterhood:
1. Keep your eye on the ball at all times. The play is never really over.
2. Your coaches will be your toughest critics and your biggest cheerleaders.
3. “Diving practice” is the muddiest, most fun thing you’ll ever do.
4. Learn how to lay down a solid bunt. The game will depend on you doing so at least once.
5. Dream big. You can build a team at a podunk, no-name school and end up with a State Championship ring after beating the big guns.
6. If your dad gets kicked out of the ballpark for choice words after a bad call, just keep pitching like it didn’t happen.
7. While riding home from a long day at the ballpark, go ahead and stick your feet out the window. Your mom will never fail to tell everyone that her car smells like sweaty socks.
8. When it comes to fly balls, the first step is always back.
9. Always. Always. ALWAYS make a big deal out of the good plays. Slap gloves/holler/jump up and down/thrive off of that positive energy.
10. You don’t need the fanciest batting gloves or the newest bat to be an exceptional athlete. You need an old janky net nailed to two trees in your backyard, a bucket of mismatched practice balls, and an unmatchable determination.
Don’t just live it, but love it.
Take pride in the perpetual grass stains on your pants and the horrible tan lines.
Enjoy the lengthy layovers between games that you spend under tents eating boiled peanuts and making friends.
Swim in the hotel pools at midnight after playing four games in one day.
Thank your parents for spending every weekend doing the thing that makes you happy; but even if you don’t thank them, they’ll do it anyways.
I’d tell you to enjoy every minute but you won’t.
You won’t always enjoy waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays when most of your peers get to sleep in.
You won’t always enjoy the moment the ball slips under your glove at practice and you have to run laps by the outfield fence.
You won’t enjoy going through a hitting slump.
You won’t enjoy that feeling when your cold bat hits a cold ball and jars your arms up to your elbows.
You won’t enjoy the tears that pour like buckets when you’ve given every ounce of effort and it just wasn’t enough.
But there will come a day when you realize that that’s life — and you had the advantage of learning the tough stuff on the field well before you ever experienced the real-life blows.
For every morning you woke earlier, you got a step ahead.
For every hitting slump you went through, there came a time when you picked up your bat, headed to the batting cage, and had your coach throw hundreds of pitches until you got your swing right.
You practiced and ran and painfully sucked in the cold February air because you just KNEW that your hard work in the trenches would soon come to fruition.
And when you shed those tears at the end of the season, you were thinking about how you could improve your game before they’d even dried on your dirt-covered face.
As I look back now, that wasn’t softball stuff.
That was life stuff.
You will have seasons of batting .500 and double-plays every game — and then seasons of bench-sitting, where you plan and find motivation and rely heavily on teammates.
You will beat yourself up for missing a signal or misjudging a fly ball or just being mediocre — just to realize that your pity party at shortstop isn’t helping anyone.
You will have a bad season where you feel like you just plain suck and you’ve lost all hope — but next time, you’ll find a way to lace up your cleats and grab your glove and run at full-speed to a familiar position that you love.
To the softball sisters who are going into this season, don’t be too hard on yourself — although I know you will.
No one cares more than you; that’s both your biggest weakness and your biggest strength.
Find your rhythm and block out all the bleacher noise.
Grab your glove and play for you and no one else.
Do the hard things. Run the hills. Wake up early. Hit on the tee. Pitch into the net. Do the drills;
But also do the fun things. Make the crazy handshake. Sing the silly chants. Go to team dinners. Have the tournament sleepovers. Play catch in the backyard with your dad.
Do the things that remind you why you love this game, this life.
There is nothing quite like the feeling after a big win, when you’re wrapped up in a whirlwind of cheers and high fives and all the things that make you feel the most alive.
Take it from someone who’s been where you are — you will gain lessons and life and sisters along this journey, but don’t ever think it’s your last season.
One day, you might just be knee-deep in bats and bags as you coach your kids in little league
because when you play a sport that you love, the game never really ends.
This story originally appeared on Trains and Tantrums