Softball is Butterflies

Softball is many things. Today, softball is butterflies.

Before games, I’d get butterflies in my stomach. Sometimes they were nerves. Sometimes, excitement. Sometimes both.

I’d walk onto the field, looking at the place I’d call home, and immediately they would begin to  flutter their wings in the pit of my belly. I always liked to imagine that they made my stomach look like summer.

There was no need for them to be there. I had played hundreds of games. I think that they were reminding me how much I cared. When they saw the field, they got excited, and they needed to fly.

It takes something truly special to get those butterflies flying.

This weekend, they went nuts.

They flew the minute I heard his voice.

They flew when he greeted me with a smile at the door, and when his mom showed me his baby pictures, a loving smile painted on her face as she looked at me saying, “Isn’t he wonderful?”

They flew when he met my sisters for the first time, and when my dog laid his head on his chest in the sunlight of the morning.

They flew when he shared with me his goals, and when he looked at me like he knew everything about me, and understood it.

They flew like they were in the sun, without a care in the world. They flew because they were as excited about him as I was.

Softball is many things. Today, softball is butterflies.

 

Softball is the National Anthem

Softball is many things. Today, softball is the national anthem.

Have you ever paid attention to an athlete during the playing of the national anthem? It’s one of my favorite things to do. Some will be singing along to the lyrics, others will have their hands behind their backs with their heads down. Many will be rocking back and forth, some will even have their eyes closed. You can see every emotion, clear as day, across the face of every athlete. You can see the nerves. Here is where the athlete prepares for battle.

During the talent show today, as the Jefferson Singers so proudly hailed, I noticed myself place my hands behind my back. I noticed myself begin to rock back and forth with my head down and my eyes closed, singing along to the lyrics.

I knew I wasn’t going to step onto the field when the song ended. I knew that. But it didn’t matter. Because…

Softball is many things. Today, softball is the national anthem.

 

Softball is a Father and Son

Softball is many things. Today, softball is a father and son.

A young boy clutches a bat, nearly his size, and runs onto the grass. His father, in the same hat as his son, follows shortly after with a ball.

On the grass, lying next to one another, are two gloves fit to size.

I don’t know how I can possibly make anyone understand why I saw so much beauty in that moment, or why my heart fluttered the way that it did. I’m not sure that I can explain why there was a sudden rush of tears to my eyes accompanied by a grin on my face. I don’t know why, when I see a young boy playing catch with his father, I melt.

Maybe it’s because whenever I see it, I know that one more kid is going to grow up to love the game as much as I do. Maybe it’s because I know that I’ll do the same thing with my son one day.

I don’t know.

All I know, is that softball is many things. Today, softball is a father and son.

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Softball is a Broken Heart

Softball is many things. Today, softball is a broken heart.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have a spot for you on the team this year.”

A single tear rolled down her cheek from beneath her blackened sunglasses.

Softball is many things. Today, softball is a broken heart.

Softball is Not Caring

Softball is many things. Today, softball is not caring.

It’s cold outside. The wind slaps me in the face making my nose cry.

I don’t care.

It’s muddy. I sink and slosh and splash. I can barely find a smooth surface. My pants are destroyed.

I don’t care.

I’m wearing more layers than I can count. I’m a marshmallow walking.

I don’t care.

I don’t care if it’s cold, because today is the first day of softball tryouts. I don’t care if it’s muddy, because I get to be around the sport I love. I don’t care if I’m layered, because I get to see 40 girls who love the game as much as I do, all together in one place.

I don’t care, because I have softball.

Softball is many things. Today, softball is not caring.

Softball is an Itch You Can’t Scratch

Softball is many things. Today, softball is an itch you can’t scratch.

Have you ever needed to scratch an itch? It typically occurs on the soul of my foot, and it ALWAYS happens when I’m driving. I can feel it. It pesters me. It calls to me. It screams, “Scratch me! Tend to me! Pay attention to me!” I pound my foot on the baseboard of the car over and over again, but still, it isn’t satisfied. I try to distract my mind, but still, it festers. Finally, at a stop light, I take my shoe off, and I scratch.

My mom had Loyola’s first conference game streaming online yesterday. Immediately, I got the itch. I tried watching the game, but still, I itched. I tried talking softball, but still, I itched. I tried thinking about how cold it must’ve been for them as they played, I tried thinking about how many hours they would have to spend doing homework on the bus on the ride home, I tried thinking about how sore and tired they’d be when they got home. It didn’t matter…I still had the itch.

Only, there was no way for me to scratch it.

Softball is many things. Today, softball is an itch you can’t scratch.

Softball is Winning an Argument

Softball is many things. Today, softball is winning an argument.

My kids are competing in a March Madness style battle of wits. They get to argue for why their superhero would win in a fight with their plethora of abilities. One student took it so far as to prove, unequivocally, that his opponent’s ability to heal 100x faster than the average human would be no match against a second-degree or third-degree burn from his opponent’s fire breath. Because, as he argued, that would equate to “3.48 hours of healing time.” Fortunately for him, I’m not a math teacher, so I had to take his word on that one.

Needless to say, the art of argument is an incredibly relevant skill to teach our youth.

I began thinking about how I once had to use this particular skill to outwit my opponent in one of the most ruthlessly cut-throat arguments of all-time: Proving why softball/baseball is the greatest sport in the world.

My opponent tried to claim that, in order to play softball, you didn’t have to be athletic. Absurd.

My opponent tried to claim that volleyball was, and I quote, “harder” than softball. Ridiculous.

My opponent tried to claim that he could, and again, I quote, “Hit a pitch, no problem. It’s not that hard.” Get out of town you fool.

 

I could go on, in detail riddled with anger, resentment, and disdain for my opponent, why I would win and why he would lose. I could explain the details of the argument.

But I realized something really important that nullified the argument completely. We were biased.We carried too much emotion, passion, and love for our sport that we would never be persuaded. We could never truly respect the other perspective, because we already had made up our minds.

I know that softball has so many nuances that, to the untrained eye, he would never respect the way that I do. He could never know that to excel in the sport you have to know how to throw a ball so that it delivers a perfect one hop. He could never anticipate the direction the ball would bounce after hitting the grass by knowing the way it’s spinning in the air, and how to react. He’d never know the mental stamina it took to continue hitting know that you’re failing 70% of the time you step in the box. He couldn’t possibly realize how challenging it is to make perfect contact with a pitch coming at you at 70MPH and rapidly rising over your hands. He just couldn’t possibly know that.

So, I conceded in my argument. I walked away being able to respect the opinion of a man who loved his sport as equally as I did, and who knew it equally as well.

Fortunately, my students don’t have any personal experience with being Chuck Norris, so it’s safe to say the bias won’t be as big of an issue.

Softball is many things. Today, softball is winning an argument.

Softball is a Hot Shower

Softball is many things. Today, softball is a hot shower.

I return home from a draining weekday game with muscles hurting that I never knew existed and I start thinking of all of the homework that I still have and wasn’t able to do because I had softball and now I’m too tired to do any of it because I’m exhausted, and I need to get it done tonight, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay up because I have to make it to class on time in the morning, and UGH tomorrow is my early class, but wait I have 30 minutes free after class and before practice, but who am I kidding I’m going to need to catch up on sleep, but I really don’t want to do it now because I haven’t even eaten anything since 2:00 p.m. and it’s already 8:00 p.m. and this paper is going to take me at least two hours, but I need to eat and I’d like to at least watch ONE episode of Psych before I get started, so that means I probably won’t get started on it until around 9:00 or 10:00 tonight, which means I won’t get to bed until at least midnight, but I have to still read 20 pages, so maybe I’ll wake up at 6:00 am to read a few chapters before I have to go to class so I’m prepared, but MAN am I going to be tired tomorrow…I’ll take a shower first and then get going…

I light a candle, turn on my favorite music, and step into the shower.

I close my eyes. The candlelight dances behind the curtain casting shadows on my eyelids. My playlist echoes the drum of the water. The steam relaxes my pulsing muscles. The sound of the water drowns the thoughts in my head. Suddenly my mind is silent. Suddenly, everything I was worried about disappears. In this moment, I don’t have to start my homework, I don’t have to worry about how exhausted I am, I don’t have to think about my responsibilities, what I’ll eat for dinner, or when I have to wake up. I just feel the hot water massage my back as my mind takes a break.

During season, the shower was one of the few places I could ever escape the worries, the pressures, and the stresses of the day.

Tonight, after working out for the first time in a LONG time, I took a hot shower to relax my muscles, and my mind from thinking about all of the different places I’ll be sore in the morning, and how awful it will be.

Showers are the best way for me to clear my mind and attempt to pause my life in the serenity beneath the water. They’re also a great place to go for when you need a good cry 🙂

Softball is many things. Today, softball is a hot shower.

Softball is a Picture you Can’t Take

Softball is many things. Today, softball is a picture you can’t take.

My eyes scanned the room during a commercial on T.V. I was seated on the floor after having played a game of fetch with Jack Bauer, so I was at the perfect angle to see it. In fact, had I been anywhere else in the room, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. I probably wouldn’t have stopped my roaming eyes to linger on that spot. But I just happened to be seated on the floor at the exact angle to see it.

When my eyes fixed position, I noticed the most beautiful scene by my back window. A flower pot with two blooms covered the bottom left of the canvas. Framing the canvas was a dark wood window pane. From the angle at which I sat, the grassy horizon was covered by the wooden frame. Inside the frame, the backdrop of the blooming flower was the most uniquely blue sky I’d ever seen. It wasn’t quite blue, and it wasn’t quite grey. It was a perfect symmetry of the two. It was as if the colors decided to bring out the most beautiful qualities in one another before they hugged in unison in the sky.

My eyes lingered. I wanted to look at it longer. I wanted to see this sky, to capture it, exactly as it was in that moment.

So, I took out my phone. I pointed it at the sky, but it couldn’t capture what I saw, so I moved closer. By doing that, the angle had changed. It just wasn’t the same. See, the only way to truly capture that moment was to be there. To truly be there. To savor it. To experience it completely. To stop, slow time down, and capture it. No picture could’ve done that.

No picture could’ve captured what I saw as I looked around the dugout and the field during my last ever collegiate softball game.

There was a rain delay on the field, so we sat together in the dugout until the storm cleared. If it weren’t for that rain, I’m not sure I would’ve stopped to take the time and just look.

First I looked at my teammates. I was seated at the end of the bench in the dugout, so if I looked to my right I could see everyone. My teammates were joking with each other, keeping the energy alive in spite of the tired rain. One teammate was sitting on top of the water cooler laughing at three others doing a ridiculous dance on the concrete in the middle of the dugout. A few others were tapping a beat on the bench, giggling and grinning without a care in the world. I, however, just watched. I didn’t joke along like I usually would. I didn’t laugh carelessly like I usually would. I just looked. I knew that I would never experience anything like this ever again. As they carried on with the ritual we would follow nearly every rain delay, I stopped to experience it. A picture couldn’t show you that.

Then, I looked at the softball field. The grey sky and the rain had darkened the dirt. Small puddles were beginning to form near first base and home plate. It was empty of energy, of game-play. It looked lonely; it looked beautiful. It looked like it did when I was 5 years old, leaning against the fence with a glove in my hand, pestering my dad to play catch with me as I watched my older sisters playing. It looked like it did when I was 8 years old, piling fists full of Big League Chew in my mouth and singing about a froggy sitting on a log. It looked like it did when I was 12 years old, finally leaving the field after playing 8 games in one day and watching the lights slowly fade, letting the field rest in the blackness of the night. It looked like it did when I was 15 and I saw what the field looked like at the state tournament for the first time with my big sister by my side. It looked like it did when I was 21 and set my all-time career hit record, watching my teammates erupt in the dugout in support of my accomplishment. It looked like it did each day I stepped foot on its surface, beneath which I had buried my heart. In a picture, it would look like a softball field darkened by the grey sky and the rain. When I looked at it, it looked like home.

Finally, I looked at my parents. I saw the support of parents who never missed a single game of mine. I saw a mother who traveled at 5:00 in the morning to bring me the equipment I had forgotten. I saw a father who would stand just behind the right field fence, because if he stood anywhere else I wouldn’t get a hit. I saw parents who would let me know when I had a terrible game, but who would never let me forget how proud they are of me. I looked at my parents, and I saw love.

Not a single picture could have captured the meaning, the truth, of the way that last game looked to me as I sat in the dugout during the rain delay.

In life, we have moments that we want to hold on to. Sometimes, those moments are the ones that we can’t capture with our phones.

Softball is many things. Today, softball is a picture you can’t take.

Softball is Deconstructing Standards

Softball is many things. Today, softball is deconstructing standards.

Have you ever been so frustrated that you can actually feel it? You know, where it builds from your toes, climbing its way slowly up your body to the nerves in your brain? Where frustration is millions of small captives trapped beneath the surface of your skin, trying so hard to escape that they press their millions of little hands against your flesh, leaving you feeling uncomfortable with pressure and tension? Where tiny piercing lights blind your brain from the inside out, making it impossible to focus? Where little failures and constant overthinking mock you, leaving you paralyzed? Where your heart ticks at a marathon pace, causing your body to shake and pulse, like the wings of a hummingbird?

If not, I highly recommend NOT attempting to deconstruct standards.

It’s a painstaking process, and it’s one that leaves you mentally drained afterwards. In order to do this, you’re forced to break apart every piece of the standard, every word, every verb, so that you can extract the knowledge and skills necessary for your students to become proficient. Each skill builds upon the next, following a pattern of progression until the standard can be mastered. It’s incredibly tedious.

See, a standard is not unlike a softball swing.

In order to master the fundamentals of a swing, much like the standard, first you need to deconstruct it into parts. My hitting coach, Steven Ball, was a master at this.

He would do a drill with me where I would be forced to stand in front of a tee, and, slowly, oh so slowly, break my swing into parts, bit by bit, piece by piece. During each step I was forced to focus on that particular skill, to perfect it, so that I could build towards mastery.

However, this drill was tedious, and much like deconstructing standards, it was a painstaking process. Often times it left me frustrated.

I remember, so vividly, standing in front of the tee doing this drill one particular day. I remember lifting my bat off my shoulder, feeling confident in that step, that skill. I remember transferring my weight to my back leg, and raising my front heel off the ground. Again, this skill I knew. Then came the weight transfer and opening up my front hip slightly. This was the point in my learning progression that always tripped me up. I couldn’t feel that I was doing it right the same way I could feel everything else. I was unsure of this step, and unsure of myself. This is where my frustration built. It paralyzed me, left me feeling uncomfortable and unfocused. I was mentally drained by it. I felt it build. I felt the clawing hands of the small captives, the blinding light in my brain, the mockery of failure, and the pulsing heart.

Deconstructing the standards today left me feeling similar. Often times, when we were developing the learning progressions with success criteria, I couldn’t feel that it was always right. I second guessed everything. I felt unsure of myself. I was mentally drained by it. I felt my frustration physically.

However, I attribute my frustration to my inability to do things without careful thought, precision, and accuracy. I want to do things well. I want to master them. It’s the athlete in me. Unfortunately, the result is that often times I feel the frustration of failure whenever there’s a bump in the road. Fortunately, I always ride it out till the end. It’s the athlete in me. After all, anything worth doing is worth doing right. Right?

Softball is many things. Today, softball is deconstructing standards.