The Last First Weekend

It’s that time of year again: the light dusting of snow slowly dripping off new buds of grass; cleats resurfacing, their metal spikes caked with last spring’s mud; ibuprofen and sport-proof sunblock tucked into travel bags; the smell of fresh leather batting gloves—softball season.

The season begins suddenly, January cold and long rolls into February and even with snow still covering the field there’s the promise of games to come. For my team, our season started the second weekend of February, up in a Minnesota indoor dome. Half the people I told about our games bugged their eyes at me and gestured to the cloudless, twenty-five degree sky, “You’re playing in this?” There’s something to be said about the dirt in-between fingertips and chasing a fly ball in the sun. Playing indoors just isn’t the same. But our Midwest weather never fails to keep us in winter until late April. And so the first weekend of games began: a post-snowstorm, fifteen degree Friday.

On the way to the dome I could feel the energy on the bus. The girls were all in their self-assigned seats. From my back seat I could see their perfectly brushed hair and purple patterned hair ribbons. The majority of them had headphones, their music just barely distinguishable—some country songs, some with a heavy bass. As we pulled off the exit I felt the energy in my feet traveling up my calves to my hips, then chest. I stood up in my seat and surveyed the bus—the twenty other girls I called both teammates and friends. In the span of a few months I’d learned to love their quirky side-arm throws, pre-game hair braiding rituals, and off-balance batting stances. In each of them I’d seen their focus, drive, and care for one another. We had truly become a team.

I turned on my portable speaker and started playing a song. We were only minutes away from the dome and the excitement was bubbling in my stomach. As a senior, I was excited, yes, but still nervous. I had reached the end of my career, but I still felt I had something to prove. Because of being the oldest, I had the responsibility to encourage and to carry. I had to lead by example; I had to be successful. I turned the music louder, started dancing in the aisle between seats. My girls turned around, smiled, wiggled in their seats to the beat. Feeding off one another’s positive energy. The thrill of the first game in the air.

The dome is a giant, inflated room. When we pulled up, I grabbed a bucket of balls and opened the door. The rotating door sucks you in. You can feel the air from the outside push you through and then your ears pop, welcoming you to the inside. The room itself is laid out like a giant football stadium, minus the stands. The air smells like hotdogs and sunflower seeds and the ground is prickly, unnatural green grass turf mixed with rubber that clings gym shoes, pants, bags, hair.

I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent of the dome. This was my fourth year in this dome, my fourth February pitching off rubber-turf mounds, hitting balls off white, inflated ceilings, and sliding on faux-dirt. It’s not the same. Not the same as dirt in my teeth or salty, sunscreen sweat running down my face. But it was still game time.

I took another deep breath, willing myself to remember the smells, the sounds echoing off the plastic walls, the metal tings of bats hitting warm-up balls.

There’s certain things you remember long after their gone—the taste of peanut butter granola bars shared between innings, coach’s slap of approval on your back, the way the indoor air feels cool and soft on your skin. It might not have been a traditional weekend of softball, but as a senior, it was my last first weekend. One I wouldn’t forget.

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