I’m coaching the girls’ softball team again this year and last night was our first game of the season.
I was nervous that we weren’t quite ready. Nervous that we hadn’t discussed enough game strategy or didn’t have enough time practicing with the pitching machine. Nervous that I forgot to tell the team some crucial bit of information, like in order to score runs you have to actually cross home plate. (That question did come up before the game.) I could tell they were nervous, too. I saw so many of them taking deep breaths before they got up to hit the first time. I could feel the butterflies fluttering in their tummies. But, guys, they rocked it! They got the hang of the machine, they understood how to get outs and we actually made a couple of them! I walked away just bursting with pride for all 12 of my girls.
Once I got home, washed the top layers of dirt off the kids and put them to bed, I reflected on the night. It didn’t take long for my thoughts to wander.
Softball was the highlight of my summers growing up. I loved the game, loved the summer nights at the ball field, loved the silly cheers and chants. I loved playing catch with my Dad. I loved when he threw pop flies seemingly miles up in the air. I loved watching him hit the ball into the field across the road.
My Dad loved playing most sports, but softball was the one he spent the most time teaching us. He was never officially my coach, but he coached me more than all the rest of my coaches put together. I can still hear his words in my head. “Keep your back foot planted.” “Get under the ball.” “Watch the ball all the way in.” He’d come over to the dugout during games and give us a piece or two of advice through the fence.
I can’t think of softball without thinking of my Dad. He spent the past few years just being Grandpa at the kids’ softball games. He’d entertain the little kids or hold them while he cheered for the grandkids on the field. He was at every game with his lawn chair and Dr. Pepper. He’d still offer bits of advice, but they weren’t quite as numerous as they once were.
On Wednesday, my mind was overwhelmed by the ins and outs of the game. I didn’t have time to think about what was missing. But once I got home, I realized what it was — my coach.
I wish he could have seen the girls play and been as proud as I was. I wish he could have seen the smile on Grace’s face after she got her first hit or the delighted look on Claire’s face when she got her first out. I wish he was there to put his arm around my shoulders and give me one more piece of advice.