To my dad and coach,
I will never forget the first day you took me to a softball field. I was so excited to be carrying my pink and black equipment bag hanging over my shoulder. I was excited to put a pair of cleats on for the first time and jump in head first. I was wearing baggy, elastic waist softball pants with a green tank top with "Little League" written across the front. In fact, I was so excited, I wore it almost everyday for a month. I remember kicking the dirt and watching the dust blow into my face with an angry cough following. I remember you telling me to run to the outfield and I looked at you as if you were crazy. You then informed me that running, was in fact, part of the sport. I remember putting my glove on the wrong hand and wondering why it looked so funny. I even remember wondering why the older, more experienced, players were looking at me like this little nerd arriving to her first day of Kindergarten. All of these genuine emotions and fears rushing through my veins and pounding my heart. To be honest, I don't even remember what we actually did at practice or what you actually said. However, it was these little things fascinating my seven-year old mind while trying to make sense of the energy I was feeling.
To this day I am still fascinated with these little things. At the end of the day I forget about which pitches the umpire called a strikes or balls and I forget about how many at-bats I had. I remember the little things. Ten years later, every single time I tie my cleats, I think of that first practice and the many pairs of cleats I've worn through since. All of the long practices and the before-school and after-school workouts that just seem absolutely impossible, as if the odds are inevitably stacked against me, remind me of that day. The day "little me" was confident and eager to defeat all obstacles that would be presented from that day forward.
And that, is thanks to you, Dad.
Although I know you and I both adored the first few years I played, the few years following didn't come so easy. I was trying to draw the line between Coach and Dad and you were doing the same. I took every bit of constructive criticism as you attacking your daughter. I felt as if you making me run a lap was equivalent to you grounding me for a week. I now know that you were just being my coach. Sometimes it felt like you had these standards that stood way beyond the other girls on the team for me. I thought it was just unfair. I now know that you had higher standards for me because you were aware of the potential I had. Some days I wish I could go back and be more open-minded and eager to listen. However, I can't change the past so, now I get to listen to my current coaches tell me the same exact things you did. At times they will correct my mistakes and I am ashamed in my mind to know that I've heard that way too many times before.
Eventually, we did in fact get over this mental blockage of stubbornness. The game became something that brought us a little less stress and a hell of a lot more fun. I began creating goals once I realized that this game wasn't something I was stopping any time soon. My first goal was to make Varsity as the starting pitcher for my high school team my Freshman year. You never doubted me for a second and at times I truly believed that you believed in me more than I believed in myself. You helped me and encouraged me to reach my goal. So, when I did start on Varsity my Freshman year, it was something you and I both shared. After I realized I could make one goal a reality I gained confidence and set another goal. I wanted to play Division 1 college softball. You did not doubt me for one, single second. The day I reached that goal and signed my National Letter of Intent to a D1 college softball program, we shared that day in so many ways.
Not only has this game created such an intense bond between us, it has also created these life-long memories that I will be able to hopefully share with my own daughter on a field one day. You've taught me that players, spectators or even coaches won't always like me, but it doesn't mean I am any less of a player. You've taught me the best things in life never come easy. You've taught me that hard-work and persistence will always get me far. You've taught me that failures are just as important as successes. You've taught me how to be a team player on the field and off the field. And most importantly, you've taught me that it is just a game. When I was seven years-old you told me, "As long as you give every last ounce of effort you have and have fun, that is the only thing that matters." To this day, after a long game or tough loss, every time you remind me of that, I go back to that first day. That first day you brought me to that field for my first practice. The image of the dust cloud and my backwards glove reminds of why I started and why I haven't stopped. It reminds me, every day, every single time, that not only do I play this game for myself, but I play for you. You are my "why".
So, thank you for all of the countless hours and dedication. I can only hope that there is another little girl out there, just like me, stepping on a field for the first time, taking in every little thing while being totally unaware that ten years from now she'll be looking back on today wondering where the time went.
"That" little girl