Thursday, March 3, 2016

Open Letter: A Softball Dad to a Softball Daughter

One Day, This Won’t Be Your Life Anymore.

Admittedly, I stole that line and the inspiration for this letter from something I read online.  Yes, I used a few other beautifully written sentiments from that piece, but those first eight words hit me in the heart pretty hard this week.  This has been your life since you were 8 years old and playing for the Lions of the Hudson Girls Softball League.  We bought you your first pink and black Jennie Finch Mizuno molded cleats to match your pink and black Jennie Finch glove that wouldn't stay on your skinny little hands.  Coach Sarah's clinic gave you the basics of windmill mechanics on the tiled gym floor of the Tabernacle School and here you are 13 years later, captain of your college softball team packing for your final spring training trip to Florida.  From a 9 year old New England ASA champion to a Division 2 college captain with a shit ton of state championships and a few tough losses in between, it has been a helluva whirlwind and we are so happy to have had a front row seat to watch you do your thing.

Where you are now is testament to a drive and resilience that very few young athletes possess.  Regardless of circumstance, you insisted on honing your craft, knowing more than anyone else that you were going to make the most of out of your abilities and your love for the game.  When the easy road would have been to change teams or quit altogether, you faced those challenges quietly, but with a fervor and work ethic that was relentless.  For you, it was ALWAYS your team first, your needs came second.  Countless numbers of young girls take up the game of softball wearing gloves that fall off their skinny hands.  Some girls only play one summer while others sacrifice every summer of their teenage years.  Some walk away before high school, others stop playing before college.  So very few stick with it until the last possible moment - The fact that you will have done just that surprises nobody who knows you.

In a couple of months, you will walk off the field as a player for the last time. You will remove your cleats, put your glove in your bag, with a ball in the pocket of course, and there it will stay for months at a time.  Soon, that bruise on your thigh will fade. You’ll forget the feeling of the seams on your fingertips and the dirt caked in your cleats. You’ll see your teammates once or twice a year instead of every single day. One day you’ll be on the other side the fence watching 9 year old girls who remind you of yourself.

One day, this won’t be your life anymore. And when it’s not, you won’t remember the things that you’d think. You won't remember how many wins or losses.  You will have no idea how many strikeouts you had or how many hits you gave up.  You won't care about your ERA or what pitch was your best pitch.

After your last inning has come and gone, you’re going to remember the times when you wanted to quit— but didn’t. You’re going to remember the teammates (and families) you loved along the way. You're going to remember the nicknames.... Blondie, Loco, Nellie and D-Money!  You’re going to remember playing in the freezing cold, driving rain, unbearable heat and the occasional tornado warning. You’re going to remember the hotel bonding and the four hour road trips. You’re going to remember the 4:00 am wake up calls for tournaments in Connecticut, the early practices and late games. You will remember winning on Saturdays so you could sleep later on Sundays.  You’re going to remember those who didn't believe you were up to the challenge and you are going to remember how hard you worked to prove them wrong.  And you are going to remember those coaches who believed in you, gave you a chance and watched you succeed!

But most of all, you’re going to remember the enjoyment that came from being between two chalk lines with your teammates, with the sun rising on a dew soaked field or setting over the backstop on a chilly September night.  You’re going to remember those moments when you accomplished more than you ever believed you could. You’re going to remember the times you used every bit of talent that God gave you but that you worked endlessly to perfect.

One day this won’t be your life anymore. So for this final season, work as hard as you've ever worked before and then enjoy it twice as much.  Look around at your teammates and coaches and play for them.  Be the first one off the field after the third out and be the first one back on the field ready to go the next inning.  ALSO, look in the mirror and play for yourself - this has been YOUR life for 12 years.  You have worked so hard to get to where you are - finish it with style and grace!! Whether it’s a strikeout on a riseball or a ball that clears the left field fence, give the next pitch everything you have.  For today, commit to every pitch and throw as hard as you can. For today, make every play like it’s the last chance you’ll ever get. For today, play because you want to. Play because you need to. Play because the little girl you used to be fell in love with this game all those years ago. For today, don’t stop until the last pitch is thrown. Play with every piece of your heart and leave it all on the field.

One day, this won’t be your life anymore. 
When that day comes, 
make sure you walk off that field, 
smiling with confidence 
knowing that you would not have changed a thing.