Much to my older sister’s dismay, I was born on Christmas Day (and yes, it’s a rough day for a birthday) in a small town just outside of Stuttgart, Germany to an American dad and a German mom. After she got used to the fact that I ruined Christmas and would be around for the long-haul, my sister and I became best friends. It was a good thing too because after just 4 short years, we would end up leaving the German “Vaterland” for the States. Once stateside we only had each other, for a little while at least.
We both acclimated to life just south of Atlanta fairly quickly and found our niches. It wasn’t too long after we landed in Georgia that I started school and in a matter of a couple years, I found my lifelong hobby and love, softball.
I was pretty terrible in my first season, and at 7 years old and about 35 pounds, I was also the smallest kid on the field. I took plenty of grounders to my shins and even a couple throws to the face. It was painful but at the same time, exhilarating. After lots of practice and a number of 25-0 mercy-rule losses, I started to get the hang of the game and my skills began to noticeably improve.
Every day after walking home from the bus stop, I’d make the obligatory phone call to Mom, letting her know I made it home safe and sound. Immediately afterward, it was time to play ball. I basically turned our house into my very own training camp, and with my glove and a racquetball in hand, I would spend hours engulfed in imaginary ball games and honing my skills. Throwing the ball off the garage roof offered up some serious pop flies, while the brick facade in front let me practice my throws and diving catches. It was a perfect playground until I’d accidentally hit the window (which surprisingly never broke, thank God) and have to go into hiding until my parents calmed down and finally forgot about it.
Over time, I became a pretty solid player, either pitching or covering short, and I was a leader on the team. I made some of the best friends during those early years, and thinking back on it still puts a smile on my face. I can remember it like it was yesterday, the smell of the dirt and freshly cut grass, the sun in my eyes, our war chant being screamed out as we filed into the dugout.
Softball offered an opportunity to learn and grow and to become a better version of me. Not only was there the physical aspect of the game, but there were plenty of emotionally and mentally trying moments during each game as well. The game ultimately taught me how to work together with others in order to accomplish a task that was bigger than myself and to plan strategically but also be prepared to act when under pressure or when things didn’t go as rehearsed. Lastly, I learned how to take a beating and pull myself and my teammates back up for the next round of the fight, to battle back from adversity, and often times, we even ended up coming out on top. That’s the beauty of the game.
Many people, especially those who didn’t grow up around the game, may think softball (or baseball) is boring or too slow, but softball is truly a multi-faceted challenge and not one for the faint of heart. In the words of Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) from the movie A League of Their Own, “Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up; you can’t deny that…It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
As a teenager I never took softball as seriously as I could have and unfortunately didn’t play at an advanced level in high school or college, but I do still play to this very day. Every Wednesday from March to November, I’m out on the field with a group of friends playing ball, and I’m still giddy with excitement each time I walk out onto the diamond. It’s as if I’m that 7-year-old kid again, heart racing and mind churning, planning my next move. Sometimes the game plays out more perfectly than I ever could have imagined, and sometimes it’s plain nerve-wracking or frustrating. Most of all though, it’s perfect. It’s exhilarating.