Today the weirdest thing happened to me. Well, it’s not actually weird at all, I just felt strange and out of place…anyways, I ran into two of my old teammates. They were heading to the field as I was heading back into work. They were in their practice clothes—headbands, softball pants, white t-shirts, long socks, ponytails tied tight—and suddenly I felt displaced and self-conscious in my work cardigan and flats. I should be dressed like them. I should be going with them. Oh my gaaaawd, what am I doing with my life? (Yep, those were my inner thoughts).
Outwardly, I smiled, waved, and had small talk. Then I promptly went to the bathroom and cried.
Last May marked the end of my four-year collegiate softball career. I played for Waldorf College, and before that, Neuqua Valley High School, and before that, the Downers Grove Outlaws, St. Charles Comets, Naperville Diamonds, Wheatland Spikes, Lemont Rockers, and an assortment of other local and somewhat-local club teams since I was twelve years old.
Last May was the emotional end to a career built upon physical and mental strength, memories that defined me, and teammates that had become close friends. My final year had been tough, especially with playing coming to an end, but I had loved the game. And it was time.
Seeing my girls had thrown me off. Since I threw my last pitch back in late April, I hadn’t picked up a ball, hadn’t thrown, hadn’t laced up my cleats, and hadn’t really thought about the game. I think it’s my inner defense mechanism. Somewhere in the back of my mind I have this idea that if I don’t think about softball, I can’t be bitter about it being over or sad about how my last season ended. I can’t miss the rush of being up to bat, or the anxious butterflies that accompanied every bus ride.
Seeing my girls dressed and ready to start their new season made me feel lost. But as I sniffled in the bathroom stall (soon realizing that I was being completely overdramatic and pathetic) I came to a comforting conclusion: once you’re a baller (softball-er, in my case) you’ll always be a baller.
Softball will always be a part of me: I’ll always have the same drive and passion in my actual life as I’ve had on the field. I’ll always want to do my best, push myself and not half-a** my work. When there’s a job or a project, I’ll map out how I’m going to get it done. I’ll set goals. I’ll meet goals. And I’ll work hard, always.
I’ll always be a team player. Not only trying to do my best, but helping others reach their potential, too. I’ll always know how to talk about others’ problems—from leg cramps and frayed laces to as extreme as living without a mother and battling a heart problem—and I’ll know how to support people, listen to people, and get along (and make best friends, too! Yay!)
I’ll have patience and determination. Daily practices have shaped me and taught me that results don’t come overnight. All the years of ankle blisters and sore arms will keep me strong, patient, and diligent. And help me to keep faith when I’m just downright tired.
And I’ll be mentally tough. Watching a girl hit a homerun off my inside curveball that stayed just a hair too middle taught me that I’m going to make mistakes and it’s going to suck (and I’m going to suck), but I have to keep picking myself up and chugging along. Keep throwing. Keep working. And stay positive.
And the game will never be too far away (I still have a bucket of balls, my bats, and my glove in the trunk of my car for that matter). But I can always pick up a ball and throw, always call some friends to get together and long-toss, always go to games, or take a trip down memory lane with my old pitching photographs. Softball will always be a part of me.
After a few minutes of semi-awkward sniffling in the right-most bathroom stall, I picked myself up, splashed a little water on my face, and walked back into work. It’s strange, being an ex-athlete. Watching my old teammates make new friends, have new inside jokes about who has the smelliest glove or who wears the most ridiculous long-sleeve Underarmour in 70 degree weather, and heading to practice without me. But that’s the thing about growing and getting old. (It sucks sometimes) but more importantly, it helps me appreciate what I did have and lets me continue with those memories and life lessons in my back pocket. I might not have been heading out to the field today, but I’ll always be a softballer at heart. And the game will always be one throw away.