Dear batting cages:
I haven’t been to the ballpark in a few days, but I saw yesterday on Facebook that you were torn down; you’re being replaced with shiny new cages and nets and backstops. I can’t say I’m not glad–I’ve complained about your ratty nets and rusty poles more than once. But I also can’t say I don’t appreciate you. So here it is: our highlight reel.
You were there for my first practice and my first game. In fact, you were probably there the first time I ever hit a ball. I fell in love with softball late, but I also fell hard, and I think you knew from the beginning that you and I were going to be spending a whole lot more time together in the years to come.
You’ve been there for all my best and worst moments. When others only saw the big hits or the big strikeouts on game day, you saw everything behind the scenes. You saw all those times I showed up and put in work, and you saw all the times I didn’t. Remember that time last winter when it snowed, and I came anyway? Your entire ground was coated in ice; I set my tee on home plate, and every time I hit the ball I had to skate across the frozen surface to go retrieve it. My fingers were numb even through my batting gloves and my teeth were chattering uncontrollably–I only lasted twenty minutes. But I have no doubt that those twenty minutes made me a better ball player.
You were there for the sweat and the tears and the days I got discouraged and stalked out, slamming the gate behind me and vowing never to return. If you had a mouth, I think you would have been smiling a little, because you knew that I’d come back the next day–a little sheepish, a little bashful, and a lot ready to work hard.
Then there was that time I got injured; a torn ligament, surgery, and six months of physical therapy. You saw me show up that fall with a team of eight-year-olds, my arm in a cast. You saw me tell them “Great job!” whether or not they made contact, and you saw the longing glances I gave you behind their backs, wishing that I was the one holding the bat. I healed eventually and was back at it, day after day and rep after rep.
We’ve had fun, haven’t we? It hasn’t been all work; softball is a game, after all. There have been long light evenings with my dad pitching to my brother and I while my mom sat outside in the grass and watched; there have been early Saturday mornings joking with teammates before games while our coaches threaten to make us take the necks of our jerseys in our teeth if we can’t just keep our heads down; and there have been all the times when I came by myself and just hit. Ball after ball, bucket after bucket, hour after hour–catharsis for whatever else was going on in my life. I shouldn’t say I “just hit,” because there was really much more to it than that–I sometimes envisioned myself in OKC, wearing an Auburn jersey and whacking one out of the park against Florida to win the WCWS. Or sometimes I just pictured myself at practice the next night on the little county field down the hill, getting a solid base hit down the middle against the annoying new girl on my team who thought she was such a great pitcher. Either way, I didn’t “just hit:” I dreamed. You dreamed with me; I felt it. From the rusty poles to the ratty nets to the holes beside home plate where hundreds of cleats and tennis shoes had dug in, attempting to make their own dreams come true–you were rooting for me. You were rooting for all of us.
And now you’ve been torn down. We have “better” cages at my home park now, and I was excited at first, but now I don’t know. I’m going to miss you, old cages; I really am. In more than one sense, I grew up in you. Some of my best memories involve you. You were watching as I learned how to lay down the perfect sac bunt, and as my batting gloves sprouted hole after hole, and as I messed around with my teammates on those dewy Saturday mornings that we thought would never end. It was with you that I learned about hard work and determination and perseverance and all those things that softball is supposed to teach you. Please don’t worry: I learned those lessons and learned them well.
So this is goodbye, except it’s not. It’s goodbye to your dingy home plate and ripped-up nets and muddy ground, and again–I can’t say I’m not glad. You were pretty old and rusty, friend. I think it was your time. But it’s also not goodbye, and here’s why. Twenty years from now, I don’t know that I’ll be able to lay down a beautiful sac bunt on demand. I probably will no longer have my holey batting gloves, and I most likely will have lost touch with many of my past and current teammates. But the memories? The power of a dream? The value of hard work and perseverance and determination? Those will never leave me. Ever.
Thank you for everything.
If you want to hear me wax poetic, just mention the word “softball.” This entire post randomly sprang into my head at eleven-thirty last night when I was in bed trying to go to sleep, so OF COURSE I got up and typed it out on my phone. I’m not gonna lie–I’m pretty proud of it! How’s everyone doing this week? What makes you nostalgic? Any fellow softball players out there? Leave me a comment!