It’s softball season again. I take that back, if you have a daughter like mine, it’s always softball season. After trying out several different hobbies like dance, soccer, and gymnastics, softball is the bug that bit her. So, three years ago, my daughter, Lilia, started playing travel softball.
Between Thursday and Sunday this past weekend, I attended five—yes FIVE—softball games. One for school and four travel games at a tournament. This is my daughter, Lilia’s third year on a travel team and second year with the same team. I don’t know what their record was last year, but the travel team was okay. If they were doing well, they did well. If they were down, you could count them out. This explains why their record was about 50/50 even though each of the players was good and even though the players liked each other. This same pattern of early victory leading to a win and early disappointment leading to a loss was on full display over the winter too when they played indoors (yes, you read the right). Their fielding fell apart. The pitching got wild. The bench got quiet.
They played their first game of the summer season a couple of weeks ago and managed to pull out a one-run win at the end of the game. It was a nail-biter and an unexpected turn of events based on the way they have deflated in the past. They played a double-header in the rain the next week. Though it was a double-header for my daughter’s team, they played two different teams and beat them both easily. Since they were doing well at the beginning of each game, it was clear they were going to pull out the W.
At the tournament this weekend, though they came into it undefeated, there was no way to know how they would perform. On Saturday, they played two games and, again, easily beat each team. The differential in runs was ten or more in both games. Of the eight teams, there was a “gold bracket” where the four teams with the highest scores would play each other the next day and the four teams with the lowest scores would be in the “silver bracket.” Lilia’s team ranked fourth in the gold bracket and therefore had to play the one seed. As the lower-seeded team, Lilia’s team was the “visitors” meaning the home team had the last at-bat.
The home team scored a run in the first inning and we did not. By the top of the fifth, it was still 0-1 them. Our team couldn’t seem to hit the ball and when they did, it was like it was designed to go directly into the other team’s gloves. We managed to score two in the fifth, but they scored three making the score 2-4 them. Add to this scenario that one of their three runs in the fifth was a dirty play where the runner (their pitcher) who was on third ran home on a play where our catcher was scrambling to get the ball behind the plate. Our third baseman, as is true for the position, went towards home to cover the plate since the catcher was occupied. Their runner pushed her to the ground with both hands on the shoulders and got ejected from the game but not before having her run count. For my daughter's level of softball, games are only seven innings so there wasn't much opportunity left in the game to turn things around.
Even though we scored another in the sixth, making the score 3-4, it felt pretty bleak. It was so frustrating watching my daughter’s team doing well knowing they were possibly (okay, likely) going to lose anyway. No one wants to lose to cheaters. The umps were sub-par. Truth be told, I was thinking, “Maybe we should just forfeit the game in protest.” I figured we had nothing to lose since they were possibly (okay, likely) going to lose anyway.
They kept playing. In inning seven, like all the others, we batted first. We needed one run to tie and yet our first batter struck out in four pitches. Our second batter was called out on a fly ball. Through determination that was not evident in previous seasons, we managed to then get the next two batters on base. With two outs, a runner on first, and one on second, the batter came up and got a triple with two runs scored—meaning now we’re ahead by one. The next batter got an out and now the other team needed one to tie and two to win. We all sat there holding our breath. Somehow Lilia’s team held them and the game ended 5-4. I was gobsmacked and all of the adrenaline my body released during the game caused me to want to burst into tears of relief. This was not the team they were last year. They were not the team that let another team win just because it took them a while to find their stride. They didn’t quit.
The last game was just as dramatic. Again, we were the underdogs in seeding, so we were the visiting team. Again, the other team took the early lead. Again we struggled to keep up. It was 0-1 in the first and 0-2 in the second. In fact, in the first three innings, each of our first nine girls went to bat and were out just as quickly. By the fifth, we still hadn’t scored and the other team scored another two making the score 0-4. Again, I thought the wheels would fall off. I started distracting myself with my phone and stopped watching the game. Again it felt like an exercise in torture.
Unbelievably, in the sixth inning, we scored six runs. Six! The other team answered back by tying up the game. We couldn’t score a run in the seventh but luckily, neither could they so that meant extra innings. We managed to score a run in the top of the inning and held them with no runs so we won the tournament.
Though I am certainly happy for them to have won, this letter is not about the wins. It's about the lack of mental defeat. It’s about the growth of a team over time. It’s about having faith. Clearly, these are not just skills Lilia and her teammates have and have worked on, but ones I need to work on too. Just because they were behind, just because they were underdogs, just because they were getting bad calls, just because…, just because…, just because…None of these were reasons why they couldn’t win, they were only circumstances to consider. What are the circumstances that might be getting in your way of victory which simply need your consideration but not your reason to quit and most certainly not your reason to lose?
P.S. Once again I want to draw your attention to the Buffalo community who experienced unwarranted hate not even a month ago. While many people rally around a community in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, it's important to step up when the immediacy of the impact starts to wane. That's now. Therefore, my Catch of the Week is another call to action for the Buffalo community. This is not a time for pity or kind words. This is a time for action. There are so many ways to help.
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