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Field of Bad Dreams

April 9, 2018
By Rick Epstein - Dad's Eye View , OVParent

"No one can convince me it's a soft ball," my daughter Marie complained one day last spring. She was 9. "It's not soft. It's just bigger and it makes a bigger bruise. They ought to call it 'big ball.'" Marie did not love the ball, and she did not love the sport.

After two happy-go-lucky seasons in T-ball, Marie had graduated into competitive softball and was assigned to the Pink Sox. Having loved baseball as a kid, I was glad to see her playing ball, too.

Although the league was for ages 9-14, circumstances had conspired against the Sox to make them a team of mostly 10-year-olds. Marie was the youngest and smallest.

Except for occasionally asking Marie if she wanted to play catch or take some batting practice, which she always declined, I didn't pay much attention to her athletic career until June, when the Sox's win-loss record was 0-7, and Marie wanted to drop out.

"Just finish the season," I told her. "You're part of a team, and it wouldn't be fair to the coach and the other girls if you quit. There are just two weeks left."

"Just a thousand practices and a million games," she said hopelessly. "And we'll never win. And we'll never get ice cream at Jimmy's." Jimmy's Drive-In is where winning teams celebrate, and Marie had seen seven happy teams headed there. That was the cherry on the top of her demoralization.

In the car, going to her 10th and final game one Saturday morning, she asked if I'd stay to watch. I hadn't been planning to, but I felt I owed it to her. She HAD asked to play softball, but she had NOT asked to be born, and that's really what began the chain of events that would eventually cause her to wear the pastel socks of despair.

The still-winless Pink Sox were playing the Fillies, half of whom had turned the corner into womanhood. With our only eighth-grader away at camp, our team consisted entirely of children. No fair. What would these women do to our shrimpettes?

The much-defeated girls sat quietly on the bleachers for Coach Jackson's short pre-game speech. "I've brought money for ice cream," he said, smiling and patting the pocket of his blue jeans. "Do your best."

To my surprise, the Sox-Fillies game was a genuine contest right from the start. Each team made a few runs each inning, and the score stayed close.

Marie took her "ups" in her usual way. Her batting posture was too inert to be called a stance. Her bat lay on her shoulder like a fat man in a hammock. Mr. Jackson would shout advice such as: "Stick your elbows out!" "Bend your knees!" But she wasn't responding. In the fifth inning, the coach said gently, "Marie, I want to see you swing at least once this time, and I don't care at what." And she finally did swing. A clean miss. Experiment over.

In the field, the coach told her, "Stand near that yellow flower." It was a dandelion. And there she stood, reminding me of Ferdinand, the storybook bull who sat in the bull-ring sniffing flowers - a dreamer, not a fighter.

With the score tied at 20-all, the game went into extra innings. But the Sox's pitcher, Jamie, was coming apart. Tired and pressured, she was near tears. "You can do it, Jamie!" someone yelled.

"We can WIN this game!" the Sox's second basechild hollered unconvincingly.

One of the Sox moms yelled the only exhortation that rang true - "C'mon girls! Close your eyes and make a wish!"

After two scoreless innings of really exciting, unpredictable and error-riddled softball, poor Jamie walked-in the Fillies' winning run, and the Pink Sox had lost their 10th straight. Coach Jackson gathered his disappointed team and said: "You girls played hard today, and as far as I'm concerned, you're winners. Let's go to Jimmy's."

Over ice-cream cones, the coach said, "Next year we'll have a lot more experienced players, then we'll win some games. You'll be coming back, won't you, Marie?" he asked.

Despite her tiny, polite nod, I think we all knew that next spring the dandelion would be back in right field, but Marie would not.

 
 
 

 

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