In the spring of 2002, I was 14 years old and in my second year on a recreation league softball team that took the game about as seriously as Justin Verlander takes the ALCS.
It was slow pitch.
I’d ended up on the team a year earlier when I’d missed the rec. league tryouts for some reason and had my name drawn out of a hat by the head coach, a nice though intense man who held practices in his backyard.
The man owned horses and enough land to have two softball fields – one on either end of the property. There was a batting cage at the one behind his house. We practiced five days a week, while other teams did the standard once weekly practice at whichever rec. field they’d been assigned to that week.
Our parents met up with the coach at a grocery store and we’d ride in the back of his truck out to his land for a two hour practice before meeting back at a gas station where he’d buy everyone a snack and a drink and we’d get back in our parents’ cars and head home.
It all sounds very bizarre now, like something no 2017 parent of a 14 year old would be comfortable with.
But it didn’t feel strange then and it really wasn’t – aside from that fact that we all took the game way too seriously and basically guaranteed ourselves back-to-back-to-back championships with our rigorous practice schedule.
I am no softball player. I’d already played for a few years by the time I joined this team, but I’d never been good. I enjoyed running the bases, but I wasn’t very good at hitting and fielding was even worse. I stood in right field, the place they put the worst kids on any little league team, and prayed my friends would get three successful outs before I had to worry about a single pop fly coming my way.
It was slow-pitch softball. No one was hitting line drives to right field.
There was no good reason for me to be on that field, except the social aspect of the sport. Which is pretty much the case with most sports I played at that age.
My best friend had a similar story. Maybe she’d asked to play, maybe her parents signed her up. I don’t really know, but I don’t suspect it was because she was gunning for softball superstardom. Neither one of us was, though she was arguably better than I was. There’s really no reason we should’ve both been on this rigorous championship-seeking softball team that I can surmise.
Except to meet each other.
That’s the only real lasting thing I take from my time on that softball team, other than memories of free snacks, long practices and teenage girls yelling high-pitch cheers about good eyes and home runs from a dug out.
Honestly, I don’t really subscribe to the idea of universal signs or “everything happens for a reason”, but when she and I were trading innings out in right field and hitting only mildly impressive singles week after week, we were building something that’s lasted more than 15 years — across state lines, across the country and now, luckily, just down the road.