Re-evaluating Softball

It's 1971 and I'm in fourth grade. Recess, and I'm last-picked for the team. Standing in the outfield, left field, for no reason I can fathom, praying to a God I only believe in on occasions, "Dear Lord in the heavens above, please-oh-please let the ball not come to me." My knee-socks refuse to stay up because Mom buys the cheap ones with bad elastic. The mitt is rough and too big for my hand, a sixth grader's mitt. I'm certain I will drop the ball again. Certain if we lose, it will be all my fault and I'll be shunned on the play yard until I graduate to junior high and gain some welcome anonymity.

Twenty-two years later -- Ben has organized a co-ed softball team, and I'm on it. I'm not really sure why. In fact, I haven't given it much thought at all. It's something new to do, something to make this summer a little different. I meet my teammates, many of whom are friends of friends but strangers to me, at our first practice. Several of the men and a few of the women are softball "jocks." They throw hard and fast, catch the ball behind their backs, under their legs. They tease each other and everyone else. When the ball comes my way I miss it almost every time, blush and sweat and apologize, throw my hardest and watch it go anywhere but where I've aimed. I see the rest of them are having fun, so I know it must be possible, but I feel embarrassed, weak, ashamed, wimpy, stupid, small -- and bad.

That night the dam breaks. Ben counsels me and the memories come back. I'm afraid my team will hate me. Afraid the ball will hit me in the mouth, hit me in the head. Embarrassed I'm not better. Embarrassed I'm not male. A whole raft of feelings I'd forgotten for two decades (having avoided any team sport from seventh grade on). I sob and sob and sometimes laugh at myself. All this fuss over something as trivial as a sport?! Yup.

After about an hour I'm tired of discharging and the session stops. I've seen the distress from all angles and discovered what's getting in my way of enjoying throwing the ball around and being on a team. A classic example of learning to distinguish between reality and distress. And of deciding to stay on the team, even though it's hard -- because I can glimpse that someday it just might be fun.

Well, it didn't take long. We're halfway through the season now, and it got really fun about two games ago. After some practice, my throwing arm is stronger and reasonably accurate. The mitt works for me. I mostly play catcher so I can watch the game and learn the rules. I love the camaraderie of being on a team, whether we win or lose. I've bobbled the ball once or twice when I played in the outfield, and -- to my distress's amazement -- no one spit or hissed at me. Standing out there on the field on these warm summer evenings, with the moon rising over the trees and the thrill of competition and team work in the air, my only regret is that I waited so long.

Wendy Ellyn
reprinted from "SoNoMore Distress," the RC newsletter for Sonoma County, California, USA

Last modified: 2015-07-21 10:00:48-07