What an eclectic cast of supporting characters we are. For the past 10 years, we have gathered faithfully most weekends in July to support our daughters' (and granddaughters') passion for softball.
No matter the weather, we pack our coolers with refreshments and provisions and travel to local softball tournaments for camaraderie, entertainment and old-fashioned fun. As we gather each day, the canopy haulers enlist help to put a cover over our heads to protect us from the elements. In our pop-up chairs, we sit elbow to elbow under our roof, anxiously waiting for the first pitch.
With the crack of bat hitting ball, our cheerleader captain mom projects her voice across the field, encouraging the girls running the bases. Not only is the volume and intensity of her voice amazing, but her Latin heritage ensures we will hear a barrage of Spanish as well as English flowing from her lips. As an added benefit, she blesses us with her photography talents as she captures the excitement with her fast-action camera.
Two of the girls' biggest supporters are "team Grandma and Grandpa" who keep the fans supplied with snacks and home-grown blueberries. Grandpa is an avid softball fan who predicts every pitch for each batter, saying "There it is" or "Now you're ready." Grandma's quiet presence is felt with the cool washcloths she brings for the players' necks on hot and steamy days. These two are a special blessing to our team.
Injuries occur frequently. Fortunately, among the fans is our team nurse, quick to spring into action whether the injured is one of our own or an opposing player. With her trusty first aid bag (a department store giveaway cosmetic bag,) she is on the scene with Band Aids, compresses or whatever the situation requires.
Our team even has a mascot. Over the years, this little brother has been both batboy and cheerleader on the bench with his "quite loud for a little guy" voice. Now he is old enough to be on his own tournament team, and the girls root for him at his games.
Meanwhile, a quiet, unimposing engineer during the week becomes an ace softball statistician on weekends. This numbers-oriented mom sets up her trusty three-legged stool (with a seat half the size of a placemat) and keeps copious records of every game in her worn, gritty scorebook. Every hit, every error, every everything is duly noted and compiled into fastidious year-end statistics for each player.
The intrepid third base coach, although normally a quiet, reserved type, explodes with exclamations of "Stop!" "Go!" and "Slide!" Fulfilling a promise he made if the team won one particular game, his uniform for an unusually hot game was a button-down shirt and tie (though he cheated a little by wearing shorts). He is also known to save a piece of bubble gum from game to game as long as the girls keep winning -- what devotion.
A quiet hush falls over the field whenever the coaching staff's "pitcher whisperer" walks slowly to the mound. He is like a Zen master, with both magic words and touch to bring a sense of peace and serenity to a rattled pitcher. He often reminds the players to "grasp the swallow's tail" -- whatever that means.
Reigning over it all is our head coach. His intensity is matched only by his dedication to this core group of girls. He has been there since the beginning, when more balls were swung at and missed than actually hit. He expects every player's head to be in the game at all times.
I have borne personal witness to the tears brought on by this intensity in many a car ride home, but it works. This enthusiastic, skilled bunch of girls never goes on the field without bringing their "A" game attitudes. This work ethic will serve them well as they journey on their future paths. So, thank you, Coach, for the hand you have had in shaping our young girls into the strong young women they have become.
And, not to be forgotten, thank you girls -- I mean young ladies -- for giving up your summer weekends to provide your fans more than a decade of fond memories of old-fashioned summertime fun.
And for those of you lucky enough to have young softball players, take pity on us sentimental old fools next July as we wander aimlessly around local softball fields searching for the magic of summer softball.
Wendy Harrington of Franklin Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein: 412-263-1255.