Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Young athlete learns the fun in team

Athletics never were my strong suit. I always thought sports were painful, brutal and therefore, not amusing. • Then I started softball and began to understand how much fun you can have cheering on your teammates, and hearing them cheer for you. • Trying out for the Lakewood team, I was nervous that I wouldn't make it because I didn't have as much experience as the other girls. But I made it, and I was elated. I've come to know some great teammates, and have learned a lot about myself, too.

A great deal of that learning came earlier this year, at a district game against Bayshore High in Bradenton. Last year, and earlier in the season, we lost to Bayshore, so going into the game I was quite nervous; the butterflies in my stomach were quivering with fear.

As soon as we arrived at the field, I looked around at my teammates. Instead of looking nervous, they seemed ready to play. After warmups, the game began. I was not in the starting line-up, for which I was slightly glad. I always feel pressured to be great when I'm starting.

I cheered loudly for my teammates. Eventually, I was put into left field.

Even though I was a little nervous, every time a ball came to me, which wasn't often, I got hold of it and threw it in.

In the last inning, we were down 9-3. The team was crestfallen.

But then our mood changed. The Bayshore pitcher walked three of our girls and the bases were loaded. Sophomore Mara Brody was up to bat and I was worried because there was one out. I remember looking at the crowd and then hearing a loud crack. I whipped my head around just in time to witness Mara's grand slam.

We all rushed out to home plate to slap her helmet and I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins, replacing the resignation. This at-bat had all of us off the bench and screaming in harmonized roar.

The pitcher was visibly frazzled, with the score now 9-7 and two more girls on base. This would have been my at-bat, which I was panicking about. Coach Edie Shankle subbed in senior Mariah Watts to hit for me, for which I was grateful. A little league baseball team was cheering next to our dugout along with us, and it was adorable. The pitcher walked Mariah and since she has a hip injury, Coach Edie put me in to run.

Putting on my helmet, I noticed my hands were shaking. I quickly grabbed my batter's gloves so the first baseman couldn't see my trembling. I was nervous, but I was also confident. I felt the adrenaline kick in and I remember mapping out scenarios in my head of where to run in different circumstances.

I chanted to myself: "On the ground, run it down; in the air, wait 'til you're clear." The next two batters were walked, leaving me at third and the score now tied. Nerves took hold again, because if I made it in, the game was ours.

Sophomore Angelina Carney was up to bat and she crushed one into the right field. I rushed out and then tagged up, listening to my coach's screams of "BACK BACK!" Then I took off as fast as I could toward home plate. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the ball sailing to the catcher, so I slid. The catcher fell on top of me, and I didn't make any attempt to move until I heard the call.

"SAFE!" the umpire finally boomed. The catcher got up. I heard my team cheering as they ran to tackle me. My eyes were shining with tears yet to fall. I had never felt so happy and supported as I did in that moment. All of my teammates were patting my helmet and back.

But they're the ones who deserved praise for getting me to that point. Without them, I wouldn't have scored, or even played in the game.

Afterward, I questioned my mother, "Did you record it?" because the school news staffer who was taking photos had left before the end of the game.

But she hadn't. Instead she had been on the phone with my dad, screaming play-by-play into his ear. I smiled. My dad has always been the one most interested in the athletic side of me, so I was glad he lived the moment, even secondhand.

We are now at the top of our district (6-1) and hosting district games at the Lakewood softball fields. Our next nondistrict game is against Dixie Hollins on Monday. My dad will probably have to work, and my mom will be taking care of my little brother and baby sister. Once again, there will be no photos, but that won't matter.

Memories of that Bayshore game will never leave me.

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