Hanging Up the Cleats

I was the little girl that my Dad always wanted – a tomboy. I was the girl who was absolutely okay getting dirty, playing in the mud, turning over rocks looking for worms and other slimy, creepy-crawly things. So long as it wasn’t an eight legged friend, I was absolutely fine picking it up and playing with it. I loved frogs and toads, snakes, snails and lizards. I spent many of summers in creeks by my Grandparents house looking for crawdads. It was just me and who I was.  I was a tomboy.

Naturally, this tomboy in me was also really competitive. My Dad, seeing this competitive drive, took a liking to the idea of me being a little sports girl. He took me out to the local sports store and bought me my very first glove. I remember it really well, actually, even though I was only five years old. It was a honey brown and I remember the way the leather made my hand smell all funny afterwards. The guy at the store marveled over how small my hand was and how finding a glove that was small enough to fit my hand would be difficult, but despite his concerns, he found one. We took it home that night and Dad oiled it down, put a baseball in it, and wrapped a big rubber band around it.  It sat on the workbench in the garage for three days.

That weekend Dad decided it was time for my first lesson in catch. We were in the backyard; it was summer time. He helped me fix the glove on my left hand and was explaining to me, “Sammie girl, you’re going to watch the ball into the glove. It’s really that easy.” I do remember being really nervous, but really excited, too. Dad wanted me to get some tosses in before he signed me up for a team and I didn’t want to disappoint him. Honestly, I think he was more excited than I was, and if there’s anything that anyone will ever learn about me, it’s that I am the biggest daddys-girl in the world. So my Dad took a few steps back from me and explained to me that he’s going to roll a few balls on the ground to me and that I’m to scoop it into my glove and then throw it back to him.

The first ball was rolled to me. I scooped it up with my newly oiled, little brown glove and proudly took the ball in my hand. I did it! So, now, all that was left was for me to throw it back to him. I specifically remember looking at the little ball, so foreign to my exceptionally tiny hand, and not having a clue as how to throw it back. “Just point your glove with your other hand at what you want to throw at and throw it back,” was Dad’s most humble advise. I remember him standing near the chain linked fence in our back yard that bordered the Wilson’s very beautiful garden-esque landscape of a yard; the exact fence that I happened to launch the ball over like an unplugged grenade. I arched that sucker back and threw it as far and as hard as I could. I was surprised my feeble little body could project an object so far. So was my Dad who promptly held his head down and walked to the gate to go find the only ball that had now disappeared over the fence into the neighbors yard. For a while after that, Dad would stand with his back to the side of the house with no windows to use as a back stop for when I, undoubtedly, overthrew him while learning how my muscles worked.

After while, my Dad came back with the ball only to find me playing in sandbox. It had taken a bit to find the ball and my short attention span (not much has changed!) left me rather bored. I put back on my over sized glove that was heavy enough to make me walk tilted towards the left and approached my position of where I should be set to receive the next few grounders. After I got the hang of scoop and throw, my Dad decided it was time to move towards the actual throw and catch mechanisms that, truthfully, any five year old boy probably isn’t going to be good at, let alone the very ungraceful five year old Samantha. “Just remember, Sammie girl, watch the ball with your eye” were the famous last words to that afternoons endeavors. I watched the ball with my eye…straight into my eye. He forgot to mention “the glove” part.

I had a black eye for three weeks.

Little did he know that the afternoon adventures of catch in the backyard would morph into my love for the sport. I played travel ball with two different teams: The Brookwood Blaze and The South Gwinnett Comets. It became my life. My parents spent a ridiculous amount of money, plus driving to and from practices and tournaments. While it was also the largest part of my life, that is, in how it consumed me, it also became my single greatest disappointment in my entire life.

My junior year I faced the single hardest decision I would ever have to make. I had a coach who was an ass. I had a coach who put me through hell. I had a coach that I feel was truly unfair. The sport became the thing that I despised. All of a sudden, I was good enough to not be good enough. I was benched. I was going to games to ride the bench and I just didn’t find any of it justifiable. Even after the hour one-on-one conference with my coach, I still hadn’t the faintest idea what I needed to do to play. I was miserable.

I remember when I finally had enough. I couldn’t take the disappointment anymore. I couldn’t take the heartbreak and the knowing that I would never been good enough. So I went to my locker, the same locker I had used for the past three years, that was next to the vacant locker of one of the softball players I looked up to more than anyone, and sighed. I had gotten to the locker room well before anyone else had a chance to make it to the fields. I opened it up, took my jerseys from the right, folded them neatly and placed them into a plastic bag. I opened the bottom half of the locker and pulled out my over sized black and silver bag with my name embroidered down the side and opened it up. I placed my glove in the main console that was still full of catching gear and spare equipment.  I took my three bats and slid them into their place at the top of the bag. I placed my shimmery black helmet with #44 on the back and put it in its spot and zipped up the bag. Finally, I took my cleats, tied the laces in a knot, and placed them in my cleat bag.

At that time, a former player and friend had made her way into the locker room. I handed Amy my bag of jerseys and asked her if she could hand them to coach. I remember the sorrowed look on her face as she said, “Sam, no” but also how she knew that it was pointless to argue. I had made my decision. I was done. It was a chapter of my life that was inevitably over. She hesitantly took the jerseys from me, gave me a gentle smile, and I smiled, too. I met my boyfriend at the time, William, at his car as he patiently waited for me in the school parking lot for a ride home. He was leaning up against the side of his beige Jimmy and upon noticing me coming up the hill he promptly pushed himself off and walked over to console me. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder as he took my bag from me and asked me if I was alright.

“I’m alright,” I replied, “Just ready to go home.”

I’ve not looked back since. I’ve not picked up a softball since. I never looked back and even the following year as the softball team prepared for doubles during the summer and games in the fall, it never bothered me. I had hung up my cleats and was never more satisfied with a decision that I could have made. Honestly, if you had asked me then what I thought I would experience I would have said torment and incredible amounts of pain. What I ended up experiencing was happiness.

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