After a week or two of practices for my 8-year-old daughter Kennedy’s new softball team, the coach asked if anyone wanted to learn how to pitch. Ever so slightly, she raised her hand, volunteering — but in a way that seemed to say, “If I’m no good, don’t forget that I only barely cared.”
But there was more to the story.
Kennedy’s journey began more than a year ago, at the swimming pool. I was playing catch with my son with a foam ball, and it bounced away from us and skidded to a stop in front of Kennedy. I asked her to throw it back to me, and, without hesitation, she threw a perfect strike across the pool.
“Whoa,” I said.
We tried to sign her up for softball last spring, but we were too late, so she played baseball instead, on a team of mostly boys. This fall, she’s on a true softball team for the first time.
After practicing in the 95-degree heat, watching her looking sweaty and bored in left field, I suggested she could try pitching. So we went to a park and tried it out one day. Mostly, she rolled grounders in my direction.
I expected her to give up. Pitching had a lot of strikes against it, so to speak. Specifically, if you were going to mess up on a softball field, pitching was the most embarrassing way to do it. But something caught hold of her.
At the next practice, this week, she volunteered to pitch to a real catcher, in front of her peers, alongside a few other girls who wanted to learn.
All of her practice pitches bounced at least once before reaching the plate. But this is a fall instructional league, so she wasn’t alone. Everyone was trying to learn.
Hot and pink-faced, she approached me after the practice, as the rest of the team was leaving.
“Can we stay and pitch some more?” she asked.
Those pale green eyes, the frazzled hair — she was a picture of determination. How could I say no?
As the mosquitoes came out to dine, I crouched at home plate in the orange clay, and she stood tall, all alone on the field, under the lights, letting the ball fly in my direction, over and over again, regardless of the failed tries, preparing for some future game, when she will face her fears, and maybe, if the coach believes in her, become a pitcher.
To me, she’s already a star.