Softball dominated the ten summers of my life between the ages of 8 and 18, it was my number one priority. I lived for the practices and was over the moon with happiness on game days. Organized sports for girls in the seventies was lacking, but my hometown had a very good girls slow-pitch softball league.
The camaraderie that a young woman gets in team sports is unmatched in other school activities. I made friends on a dirt field in Hurst, Texas in 1971 that I still have to this day. If you were on a team, you instantly had twelve new girlfriends that had your back on and off the field.
Sports were another interest that connected my mother and I. Every game day we would warm up in our backyard about thirty minutes before we had to leave for the field. I would get my uniform on, grab the gloves and invite her to the yard with the words,”you wanna have a catch?” The answer was never no…even though she was 40 years my senior, she was always ready.
My mother would get into her catcher position and I would throw about 50 pitches until it was time to hit the car. She was older than I am as I write this blog and I truly don’t know how she did it! She just loved sports so much and was willing to do anything she could to help me excel and love them too.
It was also a time when we would just talk…a mother and her daughter…in the traditional roles of a boy and his father, but not noticing or caring. We played catch and discussed our day, current events, sports, whatever came to our minds. She related how she was sorry she had missed out on girls organized sports…how women and sports had changed so in her lifetime.
My mother never missed a game. I could always hear her shouts high above the roar of the crowd…which most of the time consisted of about 20 parents. Even though her words were sometimes embarrassing, I grew to rely on them…to use them as a calming influence when I approached the batter’s box. “Knock the leather off that ball Julie!” “outta the park Julie!” Okay Jewel, I thought,…this one is for you! Ten years of sitting in the Texas sun watching slow-pitch softball, I let her say whatever she wanted to…we needed the fans.
I have never been a fan of Kevin Costner except for one movie, Field of Dreams. The emotional and climatic scene where he is on the field and sees the youthful version of his father didn’t leave a dry eye in the theater. Having left the relationship unresolved prior to his father’s death..on the field of dreams, Costner’s character gets to reconnect and heal old wounds. His father, the viewer is led to believe, has come from heaven to play ball. Costner looks at his father and utters the words, “you wanna have a catch?”
What a simple thing it is really. Tossing a ball back and forth…yet it is so much more. It is the combination of a love of the game…shared with a loving parent. A truly unbeatable combination that thousands share across this country. That is why the Costner film touched a chord in so many people. I can still smell the fresh cut grass of our backyard…as well as the smell of my leather glove. I can vividly remember the peddle pushers my mother wore and the groan she would let out as she got into her catcher’s stance.
To tell you the truth I don’t believe in heaven, but if I did my version would be a beautiful, freshly cut, green ball field…lined perfectly with white chalk. There would be an endless supply of new bright white softballs, piled about the place. It would be a place where you could drink all the Coke and eat all the hot dogs you wanted and never gain a pound. I would forever have the physical attributes that I did as a 15 year old…and the intellect that I possess today. My coach Tom would be barking orders from the dug-out with a smile on his face. No sickness would exist, no pain would be felt. My teammates and the opposing team would be made up of every kid that I ever played sports with in my life.
After eating six hot dogs and maybe even a dozen donuts…I know ball parks don’t have donuts, but this is MY heaven people….I would take my turn at bat. The crowd noise would swell and the pitcher would let the ball fly…as it hit the downside of its arch…a voice would pierce the air….”you are going to puke after eating that much Julie!” (it would be my mother’s version of heaven too)
After the nightly game ended, the field would magically turn into my old backyard on Oak Street, the field of my youth…the field of my dreams. I would pull my glove to my face and take a deep breath…that lovely smell of leather would take me back to 1972…and I would be ten years old again. “So you wanna have a catch?” I would ask my mother. Yes, she would respond, but you are catching today, I am pitching a double-header tomorrow.