Saturday, May 2, 2009

Opening Day

Is there anything more American than baseball? As I sit behind center field, awaiting the start of opening day for the 51st year of Osolo Little League, I’m taken back to some of the happiest moments of my childhood.

My dad coached softball before any of his kids were old enough to play. In fact, both my sisters were named after young ladies he coached. We grew up entertaining ourselves by digging in the dirt, running the bases before games, and climbing the bleachers.

When I was six, I was finally allowed to play T-ball. We played in jeans then. Even though I was probably just as bored as the other players, I wasn’t a grass picker or a butterfly chaser. I took the game seriously. I put my hands on my knees in a ready stance, and then ran all over the field when someone hit the ball. When it was my turn to bat, I hit the ball and ran as fast as I could.

League designations were based on age and not ability then. I played T-ball for three years, and didn’t see a softball until I was nine. Part of me wanted to be that one girl that was good enough to play baseball with the boys, but I really wasn’t. Besides, I grew up with softball.

My coach in the minor league was so patient. I believe we even won a championship my third or fourth year in the league. I loved playing catcher. Even then I knew that the catcher could rule the field: throwing out base-stealers and making sure fielders knew how many outs there were. I didn’t call pitches, though. At that age, you were lucky to get a pitcher who could make it over the plate, even with a simple slingshot pitch.

I chose to play in the major league, instead of play high school ball. About the same time I had started playing softball, I had fallen in love with long distance running, again taking after my dad. Since track and softball were the same season, I could only do both by playing at little league. I did make it to the All-Star team my last year. I played centerfield and could throw that ball all the way to the catcher.

I’ve played about half a dozen seasons of church softball since. I still love the game, and am really excited about my daughter’s first year in the minor league. I’m a little nervous about potential injuries as she grows older, but I hope she continues to play. She’s got just enough of her mom’s competitive spirit to excel.

To all the coaches and parents and little league volunteers who are running around today, trying to start off the season right, hats off to you. Thank you for your dedication and for teaching a new generation the love of the game. Who knows? Maybe the next Ken Griffey or Jenny Finch will start right here in Elkhart.

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