I played softball. Once.
I was about 14 or 15 and my athletic friend, Kathy Gooch, coerced me to play with her. Kathy Gooch meant well. This was a church softball league so every player got to play during every game. No exceptions.
Did I mention that I am not, have never or ever pretended to be athletic?
At this age everyone had experience. Everyone but me that is. After the first practice that fact became abundantly clear to the coach. From the first moment of the first practice he dubbed me, “Libby-I-know-you’ve-never-played-before-but…”. One word. Every single time he said my name it was, “Libby-I-know-you’ve-never-played-before-but…”.
At practice, “Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before-but…” he would then mimic catching a ball. “If the ball comes your way—CATCH it.” Over and over he would call out instructions to Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before. I almost forgot that my name was just Libby.
Every game at some point my poor little coach would look into the dugout to where I idly sat, swinging my fee. “Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before-but…” he would say. At this point my terrified eyes would meet his crestfallen ones. I had to play. He had to play me. I am not sure how many games we played—10? Each time it was the same thing. “Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before-but….” And then he would tell me where to go.
“Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before-but…” he would address me. “I want you to run out the center field. Get as far back against the fence as you can. Far, far back.”
I would gulp and almost choke, as my mouth was suddenly totally and completely dry. Each time I grabbed my glove and hoped that I could remember how to put it on. Then I would lolly-gag out on the field. I didn’t run. Couldn’t run. A) Because my legs were too wobbly as terror set in and B) well, I just can’t run. Seriously.
As instructed, I’d head out as far as I could. The players would be specks on the red dirt. I would hunker down—not because I was assuming the position of a bad-a player but because I was so nervous and terrified that I suddenly had to go to the bathroom. Plus, to be honest, my glove was probably on wrong and the mistake was less apparent if I had my hands on my knees. I stayed crouched the entire ½ inning I was out there. “Please don’t hit it to me, please don’t hit it to me, please don’t hit it to me, please don’t hit it to me,” I would pray. Over and over and over again and over again I would repeat this. Once or twice I think my prayers didn’t work because balls would head my way. I think. You see the second the bat cracked I would close my eyes. Needless to say I never actually made any plays.
Coach usually timed my debuts into the top of the batting order so that I didn’t actually get called upon to step up to bat. One time he misjudged things and low and behold if I didn’t hear, “Libby-I-know-you’ve-never-played-before-but….” Deep sigh. “It’s your turn to bat.” I think he wanted to cry. I know I wanted to cry. He turned slightly green around the edges and handed me a bat. “Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before-but…if you hit it…RUN.”
I step up to the plate. The bat flung over my shoulder like I think it’s supposed to be. The pitcher winds up in this god-awful epileptic type maneuver and flings this ball in my general direction. Afraid for my life I step back. “STTTTTRRRRIIIIKKKKKEEEEE,” a voice bellows in my ear. I am mortified. Sweat beads on my brow and I force myself back into the vague area that I think I am supposed to be standing in. Again this brute of a girl appears to go into a grand mal seizure. I don’t remember if I stepped out of the box (I know what it’s called NOW) nor not but that same rude gentleman yelled the same word into my ear. I wanted to turn around and say, “We all know-there is no need to shout it!” but I didn’t.
Coach comes over, “Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before-but…” he seems to be in pain. “You’ve got to at least swing the bat.”
I put the bat back on my shoulder and step back up to the plate. Sweat beads on my brown. My hands ache from the death grip I have on the bat. Tears well up in my eyes. Crazy girl winds up again and unleashes this screaming ball straight toward me. I close my eyes…I clench them tight before remembering that I am supposed to swing. So I hoist the bat off my shoulder and swing it around in a messy, wobbly arc.
“thwump” I hear a sound. A faint sound. I open my eyes. The ball is moving AWAY from me. Up-up-up-up it goes. In stunned amazement I drop the bat. What now? I wonder. Oh yeah…RRRRUUUUNNNNN. I cock my elbows close to my side and take a step in to general direction of that first flat white thing. In my mind I am a rocket. I am lightning fast with the wind streaming my hair out behind me. I am giddy and giggling and oh-so-excited. I’ve hit a ball. I am running. I got this.
“HURMPH” there is another sound. I stop. I turn. Not a step away from home base is that demonistic person that was throwing balls at me. She’s holding a bulging glove. Seeing me stop she hums the item making her glove bulge in the direction that I was heading it. I hit the deck as the ball whizzes by my head. The person guarding that flat white thing reaches up and snags the ball out of the air, swoops down like an eagle and then pops right back up all while shifting the ball to the other hand and zooming it toward that second white-flat thing. That girl repeats the process.
I am not sure exactly what happened other then someone yelled “GAME” and everyone seemed to quit playing. I hang my head certain that I somehow had a part in everyone on my team looking so sad. “Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before-but…”this time said thru clenched teeth. “You never RUN on pop flies!!”
Uh. Okay. It didn’t seem like to time to admit that I wasn’t sure what a pop fly was. Nor did it seem like the time to do a little happy dance because my bat actually moved off my shoulder and connected with something. I just nodded.
It’s a little ironic that I am now super-advice-yielding-softball mom. I yell and shout and encourage my little all-star from my seat on the bleachers. Never short on advice, I am constantly coaching and advising and cheering her on or reminding her of what she needs to do to be better. Last night the irony of the situation dawned on me. Libby-I-Know-you’ve-never-played-before is suddenly dishing out advice to someone who has not only played more then I have but has played well enough to be wearing an adorable little jersey with ALL-STAR blazoned across the chest.
Kinsley—this is on is for you.