She started her day around 9:00 in the morning. A quick jog around the block a few times and a shower to wake her up. Egg whites, toast, and bacon to fuel her. It's near 10:30 when she drives to the cages. She was again going to attempt to tame the beast that was her batting swing. Softball was her life, pre-school to college she was always in a league. Now 26, she made time for a fast-pitch-softball city league. It was co-ed, and her team was in the Platinum Division, top of the league. It was more than a hobby; softball could never be her hobby.
She entered her cage of choice and set down her bat bag on the side of the mock home plate opposite her. She grabbed an older bat. Its scuffed metal was covered by a bat weight she placed over its long barrel. She stretched out and started with easy swings, being sure she was fully loose before taking it to full-speed. The weight came off and she twirled the bat like a toothpick. She sticks her coin in the machine. Above it was a sign that read "SOFTBALL 70 MPH." She didn't need the sign anymore, she could guess this was her 500th time at this set of batting cages. She knew every crack in its concrete floor, where the holes in the nets were, and which machine threw which ball at which speeds. 70 mph was a little over the average pitch speed in her league, but if she wasn't training at the top, why train at all?
Her stance was powerful. Her legs loaded at her knees, the bat cocked back over her right shoulder, and head turned looking over her left bicep, staring down her target. This time it was a hole in the netting where a machine would fire 15 softballs her way before shutting off. The first pitch is rifled through the hole. Her tuned instincts take over. Eyes spot the ball, front leg kicks up and is set down in the blink of an eye, hips explode forward, chests follows, and hands are thrown at the ball. The barrel of the bat rips through the strike zone as the ball enters it. The bat makes resounding contact with the ball and rockets it straight into the netting above the pitching machine. She holds her follow-through for a second before loading up again. Her eyes find the machine as it spits out the second pitch.
10 coins, 150 pitches, a turkey sandwich, and several disappointing hits later, it's now a little after noon. She sits on a bench in the facility near her cage. Removing her helmet reveals matted and sweaty hair. The red hair shines in the sun as she wipes her glistening forehead. She looks at her bat, disapproving of its performance thus far.
She checks her phone and it is now 12:34 p.m., the right decision is to go home. Dissatisfied she takes her post in the cage and drops another coin in. Back elbow stays tucked, see the ball all the way to the barrel. That easy. The first pitch flies inside, nearing her body. She opens her hips and just misses the ball. It harmlessly bounces off the barrel 30 feet to the right.
"Dammit!" She steadies herself. The second pitch comes, same result. Four coins later and she is unable to find a solid hit in her array of swings. It's almost 2 p.m. and time forces her to head home. Her husband's shiny car greets her as she parks next to it in their two-car garage. His clubs are standing next to the door that leads into the home to their kitchen, a sign of a rough day. Her bat bag falls off her shoulder and rattles next to the clubs. He's searching for a snack in their pantry when he hears the clang and watches his wife lumber through the door.
"Cages on game day?" he asks her.
"I haven't hit a solid ball in six games," she says, "do we have any IcyHot?"
"Cabinet above the bathroom sink," he answered, "and you think you'll get one sore?"
She kisses his cheek as she passes by. Over her shoulder she calls back, "Maybe. So how long are those clubs supposed to stay in time-out this time?"
"I don't wanna touch those rotten things for a week." He seemed to forget he was due to pick up some brand-new golf balls tomorrow. That would later be his excuse to call off the ban early.
"You haven't gone a week without golf since your surgery four years ago. What happened today? Hole 14?"
"Hole 14." He replied. She was on the receiving end of his gripes more than anyone else. She returns shirtless, offering the white tube marked "IcyHot" to him.
"Right shoulder please."
He squeezes a dime of the white paste into the palm of his left hand and begins to massage his wife's strong back. "What's up with the swing?"
"I don't know," she exasperated, "I just don't feel like I'm really seeing the ball right now. I can't explain it."
He laughed, "Well then just look at the thing." She shoved him. "Well, honey does the swing feel funky?"
"No it's not like golf," she couldn't technically break down her swing like he could his. "The team tells me it's a gorgeous swing." He knew as well, it was a gorgeous swing. "But, I'm just missing, that's all there is to it right now."
They ate a late and light lunch around 3 p.m., after, she began to prepare for her game at 6:15. She was in her uniform by 5:30. She looked in the mirror briefly fixing the blue and silver bow that was worn at the base of her long, shining red ponytail. She applied sunscreen to her pale and freckled cheeks, admiring her crisp uniform in the process. Dusty black cleats were the only thing muddying her image. The blue socks, gray, knee-length, blue pinstripe pants shone along with the blue jersey. Killer B's flashed across her chest, bringing light blue lettering on top of a dark blue setting. She opted for the sleeveless jersey, forcing herself to apply sunscreen on her pale arms every game with even a little bit of sunlight. She looked to her husband sitting on the bed waiting for her. She envied his dark skin. Sun was no match for him, but it left its mark. Days in polo shirts on the golf course left his chest and biceps a lighter brown than his forearms and hands. The farmer's tan, worn by every avid golfer. Pants kept his legs the same shade throughout.
"Alright hun, I'm ready."
They were at the softball complex in 15 minutes. It was 5:50 and she ran from the car while he found the parking spot. Her team was already tossing softballs, warming up in the field they were assigned to play that night. "FIELD B" went unnoticed as the blue was her calling card. She found a throwing partner and loosened her arm. She did not yet feel the soreness from her early training session. At 6:10 both teams pile in the dug-outs. Some players rest on the hard, steel bench, while others peer through the chain-link fence, watching their team captains hand the umpire their line-up cards. Her team jogged to the sparkling dirt-diamond first. Careful not to step on the freshly laid chalk lines. It was bad luck. She took her spot in left field and watched the pitcher warm-up. Eight pitches before the opposing batter took his spot on the right side of home plate.
"Lefty! Everyone shift!" the second basewoman called out. She was short and her high-pitched voice rang through team's ears as they did as she ordered. Everyone took a few steps left to prepare for the natural pull of a lefty's swing. The man batting was tall, he glowed in the yellow jerseys that adorned their foes. Hornets was written in black cursive across their chest, and an image of the insect decorated the left shoulder of their jerseys. She thanked her team captain mentally for not picking the white pants her opponents would have trouble keeping clean. Gray could stain, but white was another battle.
CLINK!! The ball is shot opposite the batter into left field. She exploded from her spot, needing the good jump to make up the ground she lost when she shifted over. The ball trailed away from her. She puts her glove protected left hand in the air at the last moment, reaching, tracking the ball, and… poof! caught. The umpire makes a fist with his right hand, and the batter is out. Two more fists and she is jogging into their dug-out.
She was batting in the four-spot. The heart and muscle of the line-up. No one on her team could connect like she could, not even the 6-foot-2, 240-pound, firefighter. The lead-off batter starts with a line-drive to center field, and the former high school track star loses no breath on her sprint to second base. From the dug-out, she nods her head and begins to strap on batting gloves, with one on base, she would most likely have an at-bat this inning. She looks on and watches the number two strikeout, hanging his head on the walk back. Number three hits a hard grounder past the second baseman, letting him get to first, but the opposing right fielder's arm was too good for the first speedster to get past third base.
She bounces the knob of her bat into the ground, letting the weight fall from the barrel. She shakes it off and picks her bat up over her head. One hand on the grip, the other on the barrel as she stretches out one last time. A deep breath to calm her nerves, and she puts one foot in the white chalk designating the batter's box. She holds up her right hand to ask the umpire for time while she prepares herself. Two taps of the plate, a rotation of the bat, and she assumes her position. She can hear her husband's cheers from the stands. There is a smile before she tunes out the crowd and focuses in on the pitcher.
He winds up. His right arm swings backward, flies forward over his head, and back down. The ball launches from his hand. There it is. She locks in. Belt-high, just a bit inside, shouldn't have thrown it there buddy. Her left foot comes to the ground, her hips open, throwing her weight towards the ball. Her back elbow stays tucked, and her hands fly into the ball. The barrel tears through the strike zone, meeting the ball right on its sweet spot. She follows through, pulling the bat over her left shoulder with both hands. When her head comes up from the strike zone, she sees the ball flying to left field. The left fielder looks up for a second, puts his arm up feebly, and looks away. It's over the fence by 15 feet. There's a roar from the metal bleachers. She tosses her bat towards the dugout and trots the bases. She touches home, pressing the button on another cheer. A round of high-fives and back pats greet her in the dugout as she takes her seat and sip of water.
Next at-bat and she rips a ball into a gap in the outfield, granting her a double. Her third at-bat brings a swing-and-miss strikeout. After two solid hits, she was eager and chased a pitch well out of the strike zone. She walked into her fourth, and likely final, at-bat of the game riding the high of two hits. The high calmed her nerves, her team was down one with one out remaining. There were runners on third and second, the tying and winning runs respectively. One good hit brings them both home, one bad hit ends the game.
First pitch is too high, ball one. Second is tapped foul to the right, one strike, one ball. Third pitch finds the outside corner, called strike two. Down 1-2, she tenses. Pitch four, just above the letters, needing to defend the zone she swings. Her body uncoils as it had before. The bat whisks through the strike zone, meeting the ball. It's sent high, climbing all the way up to the top of the light posts. The ball travels almost 130 feet up, but only about 80 feet forward. The shortstop tracks the ball carelessly into her glove, and it's over.
Her first reaction is to slam the bat into the ground, or maybe try to bend the metal stick in half. Her judgment took over and she held her nerve. She shakes a few hands on her way to the dugout. There, she swaps her cleats for sneakers and bags her equipment. The bag is thrown over her shoulder and she walks to her husband waiting near the stands. He kisses her forehead and wraps his arm around her waist as they meander to the car. He knew better than to try and comfort her. two hits on four at-bats with a home run was a great game, but she failed in the big moment. That's all she would care about.
The ride home was quiet. It was quiet for the rest of the night, which was only another hour, it was late and they each had work early the next day. Her shower was the first thing to break the silence, followed by their goodnights. Her husband had the last words.
"You have to know you did good tonight. You crushed that first hit."
"Yeah, yeah I know." She kissed him, and then they slept.
Tomorrow he would go to his job as a computer scientist for a big tech company. She would ditch the uniform for a skirt and blazer to wear to her marketing job. But he was not a computer scientist; she was not a brand manager. He was a golfer; she was a batter. They never received a dime for their play, but they loved what they did. No amount of bogeys, no amount of strike-outs, and no amount of bad swings would change that. No matter how much they hated their sports, they would always love them just enough to keep going.