The first time we met was on a youth league softball field. There were people screaming unpleasant remarks in my general direction as every play made in this Dixie Softball game hinged on whether or not these kids would lead a profitable and productive life. Sarcasm in it’s finest if you didn’t notice.
The young lady, no more than ten years old, was competing for the next spot on United States National Team. Well not quite, but you couldn’t tell her any different. There was something different about this kid than the others.
Early in the night I could tell the game would be close and every strike and out would count. If you’ve never umpired you wouldn’t understand the pressure that exists with each decision when the game is on the line.
Each time this girl entered the field of play she greeted me with a smile. She told me how I was doing such a good job and appreciated my time. She ran as fast as she could from the dugout to her position. As the inning would unfold, her effort never diminished. Her teammates knew they could trust her to stand behind them in every aspect. She backed up the other fielders and gave them encouragement when the ball may have taken a tricky hop. Nothing but optimism came out of her mouth.
As the pitchers battled back and forth, many of the other members of the team struggled to hit the yellow ball seemingly blazing the catcher’s mitt. Again, she made sure they knew that she was in their corner and that for sure the next at bat would render different results.
As the game neared the end with the home team down by one, the young athlete’s last at bat would prove to be a critical one. With two outs and a runner on second, the first pitch was fouled off past the first base coaches’ box. The second pitch flew right past the bat into the catcher’s mitt. As the umpire, I was praying for the game to end without a close call to make. However, as the third pitch came flying in, I knew that wouldn’t be the case. If this particular pitch was thrown one hundred times, the result would still be the same. But for some reason the bat remained on her shoulders as the opposing team began to celebrate.
There was no hesitation, no throwing of the bat, no look of frustration or feet stomping back. She ran to the dugout to help her teammates through the agony of defeat.
Later in her career, I was blessed with the privilege of being this young lady’s high school coach. She wasn’t the most athletic, but her spirit and effort had never wavered. Her contagious energy was not only a blessing to her teammates, but to me as well.
The fairy tale ending to this story would be that this athlete later was granted the opportunity to pursue her dreams of playing collegiate softball. However, that wasn’t in the cards. But for the record, I wouldn’t have traded her for two division one athletes who could easily go yard.
She will make someone a great wife one day, her commitment is untainted. She will push her children to be their best and never give up. She will make her boss look like a genius with all the extra time and love put into her projects. But more importantly the light that shines through her daily will change so many lives.
Who wants a superstar that no one gets along with, when there are average Joes with indestructible courage that make great teammates.