I stood in the box, wriggling my toes around in my cleats along with the sand that had somehow managed to wedge itself in there. It was a hot, cloudless summer day and I regretted wearing long wool knee-high socks, though they were part of my uniform.
The green-and-white bat felt heavy in my hands, as well as the large purple batting helmet atop my head. I looked nervously at the pitcher’s mound and watched as she wound up… and threw. I watched as my teammate swung…and missed.
Another hit, and I’m up, I thought, another hit and all the pressure is on me.
It’s not that I don’t like softball, because I do. I love throwing and catching with my teammates, going to batting cage. But the prospect of batting in a real game makes me want to crawl under a rock for a few weeks. Behind me, in the dugout, I could hear my teammates cheering. That gave me a little courage but not much.
I watched the softball sail through the air. An outfielder lunged but missed the ball and it rolled neatly onto the ground. She snached it up and made a wild throw to first as my teammate rounded it then touched second.
“Safe!” called the umpire, though distantly in my head.
More sharply did I hear, “Batter up!”
My stomach flopped around and then violently tried to eat itself, but I forced my quivering legs to walk the couple yards to home plate. It felt like miles, especially with the ump and pitcher watching expectantly.
My team really needed a hit. The score was one-to-two, in our opponent’s favor. We had runners on second and third, there were two outs. My nerves were stretched almost to the breaking point, I wished someone—anyone—would do it instead of me. But nonetheless, there I was. It didn’t help that I hadn’t gotten a hit all season. My only experience with batting was swinging and missing, swinging and missing.
I shouldered my bat, lined my feet up with home plate, and concentrated on the pitcher. If I was going to have to do this, I might as well try as hard as I possibly could. The pitcher wound up, and threw.
I panicked, trying to remember everything I had ever learned about batting in a split second. The ball landed short at my feet, but I still made a wobbly swing.
“Strike!” called the umpire. I winced.
No! You knew that was a grounder, I thought, why didn’t you leave it alone?
I promised myself that I wouldn’t swing at any more balls. (A ball in hitting terms is something to avoid, something unhittable.)
Next pitch the softball whizzed by my shoulders and I didn’t do anything.
But when the next ball rolled my feet, I was ready for it, staying stiffly where I was. Three more softballs hit the dirt and my bat didn’t move. I looked up in surprise as one of the coaches rolled out the blue pitching machine. Had I really gotten four balls?
Something like hope stirred up inside of me. The pitching machine! In my league, that’s what they brought out if you had four balls. It always threw perfectly, you could always swing at it.
“You ready?” asked the coach.I nodded stiffly, my helmet bobbing up and down on my head.
The coach brought his hand up and around, just like a real pitcher, and released. I tensed and then something inside me clicked. I was going to swing at that ball and hit it.
The ball was almost upon me, I tensed, waited for just the right moment, and then swung. Hips first, then elbows, then bat just like my coach had taught me only twenty minutes before.
Ball hit bat.
The clang echoed around in my mind. I had done it! I hit the ball! Then the more sensible part of me reminded myself that I still had to get to first base. I dropped my bat and was off.
I ran as hard and fast as I possibly could. I had only one thought in mind, and that was: Get. To. First. Adrenaline raced through my body. I wasn’t tired, or if I was I couldn’t feel it. I didn’t have time for that sort of nonsense.
In seconds, I was running through first as the first-base player ran to get her missed ball. I looked to the right and saw my dad (who was also the first-base coach), a gleam of excitement in his eyes, waving his arms in an ecstatic windmill-like fashion. I knew what that meant. Keep going.
I turned, dug my cleats into the dirt, and began to run to second. As I ran, I managed to turn my head a little to see what was going on in the field. One of the girls on the other team had the ball and was winding up for a throw to second. I sped up with all the strength I had left, my arms pumping at my sides. When I was only a few feet from the base, I dropped to my bottom and slid.
The front half of my foot touched the base.
Ball hit glove.
“Safe!” called the umpire.