shepard fairey








gustav dore

our boys

death and burial


Thursday, September 13, 2007


July 16, 2007

I had what I think was the best sports experience so far for me, the day before yesterday. At Claire’s Girls Softball 9-12 League. This was their next-to-last game. They had around seven scheduled. A couple were canceled in advance because of severe lightning. This was the fourth I’d been to.

When I say 9-12, I mean all the other teams are 12! Some of those girls are bigger than me! I went to the first game, an away game, across the mountain in Randolph. Where both Claire and Lily were born. Now, Claire’s team are all 9 and 10 year-olds. And they’re all about the same size, and there’s maybe 11 girls on the team, they can play ten at once but you have to have nine, at least; they may even have had one canceled for not enough players, so—they all get to play.

They have great uniforms, too. They look like miniature major-leaguers. And they’re very serious about it. In the beginning their skills were not very good at catching, throwing, and batting. But it seemed most of them had near the same abilities and had had about the same experience—except for a couple already-beginning-to-stand-out fierce competitors

Claire and I had played a lot of catch through the years when there was nothing else to do. So she was prepared, if not completely immersed in the game as an important skill to have.

The Randolph team that they played in this first game turned out to be the biggest baddest team in the league; The Sparrows’ coach is chewing a toothpick and wearing batting gloves and has a pen behind his ear, and he’s hitting hard grounders to his infield and at the last second telling them what to do with the ball, like it's 3-2 and one out, where’s the cut-off and suchlike and they’re fielding it like the semi-pro prospects they must be, and whipping it like a pill among them as they bring it home one by one. Then the Rochester Rockets take the field and try to do the same thing.

Our coach is a girl, a woman, I mean. She’s got some issues, I admit, but she’s much improved over the season, the girls did her good, it seems. Anyway, to begin with, the Rochester Rockets, Girls 9-12, were mostly just heart and desire. But, there’s a rule in their league, that if any team gets ten batters up in any one inning, that inning’s over. For the most part our girls haven’t been keeping score. And they’ve been getting killed, but they’ve been happy as larks about it.

By the time I caught up with them next, it was probably Game 3, a home game, and now they looked like they could play. I think the score was closer. Claire nearly always hits when she swings, and gets on base. She’s got a natural eye. We’ve played in the backyard since she was 4 or 5. All of her batting was with a whiffle ball, but throwing and catching tennis balls, softballs, and baseballs, whatever was around. She could always hit once I showed her what to do with her feet and how to hold her hands.

But she’s real intent at not swinging at any really bad pitches. They all are. Four balls is a great way to not strike out. One neat thing about this league that creates a lot of action, is that a lot of base-stealing is encouraged. No catcher can throw anyone out, certainly not at second, and if any tries there’s a pretty good chance for an error and more base-stealing.

So the base-runners are all flying on the pitch. They even steal home, but if they do, the rule is, they have to slide. I’ve never been able to get it straight why that is. It’s been explained to me several times but everyone says something different--but I’m getting that it’s more dangerous not to slide, in lots of ways.

So, they’re base-stealing fools, and their first-base coach volunteer dad-of-the-prospect knows his stuff, and they listen hard, so they’re learning.

And in the next-to-last game the other night, an away game way out west of Randolph, it all came together. They were all playing well, catching flies, and throwing people out at first, and at bat, nearly always making contact with the ball and hitting it somewhere, if often getting thrown out at first, but they were already ahead 9-4 in the bottom of the fourth. I don’t think they knew.

But the six of seven parents huddled against the 55 degree weather in the little bleachers behind right-center sure knew.

Suddenly, you could feel the spirit come up. We could win this son of a bitch. You could see now, if you looked, the way the other team’s girls when they batted, they jumped back out of the way of the pitch, as if it had been inside and a ball instead of the perfect strike anyone from our angle could plainly see it was. . . .

We wanted a win. Bad as sin. And as quickly as we began to think we would get one, our kids would, I mean, that quickly, it began to slip away. Before you could believe it the Hawks had scored five runs somehow while all the parents were yakking. It was tied 9 to 9 going into the top of the last inning. Visitors, that’s us, batting. And if we visitors don’t score, we’re (our kids, I mean) going into the home team’s last at-bats with no cushion at all. If they score, even a single run, it’s over, just like that, our sudden and unexpected dream of by god winning one for a change is snuffed out.

The first batter for the Rockets works it to a full count before knocking a weak one back to the pitcher. It's caught on the fly for one out. The second girl up bats last in the order. She’s one who has never quite gotten the hang of this hitting thing. She swings well enough, bats lefty, but when she swings it seems to have nothing to do with the ball that’s being thrown to her. After the ball is in the catcher’s glove, the ump about to speak, she’ll suddenly lash out with a vicious cut. Or as likely when the ball has barely left the pitcher’s hand. Once she was able to swing at the same pitch twice, having fully recovered from her first swing while the ball was still on its way. Today, as ever, she goes down swinging whenever the mood strikes her.

It’s two outs now and everybody knows that those damn Hawks are going to score a run and beat them if they can’t at least get one run for a little cushion, something to send it into extra innings, an inning with three more fat outs to go, instead of this noose slowly tightening.

Two outs.

The top of the order comes up. Phoebe, the pitcher, one of the naturals I mentioned, and daughter of the first-base coach I also mentioned, comes up first. She wants a hit so bad she swings at one down by her ankles. Fortunately, the next pitch is a good one and she hits a hard grounder right at the shortstop who bobbles it just briefly but long enough for Phoebe to beat the throw to first, depending who you believe. I’ll admit it was close.

Now, Claire’s up. Naturally, she started out the season batting tenth and playing right field. It runs in the family. We’re easy to take advantage of. But the coach started to realize, with Claire, every time she swings, she hits, and even when she gets thrown out, it’s usually for a couple of RBI’s.

This game she’s the catcher, and batting second. And now at the plate. She’s got a stance like a true hitting machine, no flourishes, no quirks, just focus.

Still, I thought it would end badly. And I would have to console her for her failure to master a situation she wouldn’t even concieve until I pointed it out. Oi vey. To mix messages. It’s enough to give a parent a headache. Especially at my age. So I’m seeing this situation on the ballfield as do or die.

Meanwhile, Phoebe’s screaming around the bases. She’s on third in two pitches. Both balls. Claire pulls one hard just foul of third base, then pops one back weakly to the screen. The next one’s a low passed ball but the pitcher covers and Phoebe can’t come home.

3 and 2 on the batter, two outs, top of the sixth, go-ahead run on third. Claire drops one into right-center for a double. Phoebe scores. The other natural is up next and she tears into the first pitch thrown but it’s right at the shortstop, who doesn’t even move to make the grab, and the inning is over. 10-9, Rochester.

Well, they didn’t win, but it didn’t matter. In that last half-inning every one of them was featured in some incredible, miracle play, really. Claire’s was: runner on second, winning run on third, she’s in center field now, it’s starting to get dark, and pretty boring compared to being catcher, and in on every pitch but, relaxing that’s for sure . . . just then, smack! that big girl that’s their pitcher creams one that touches down once about ten feet out into the outfield. Claire launches herself to her right, reaching backhand and snares it as she rolls and comes up, and disbelievingly has already tossed it to the cut-off man so quickly that the girl going home is going back to third and our shortstop is chasing another one back where she came from. On the next pitch, they had two runs score, but only one counted, the minute she crossed the plate, it was over.

God, what a game!

--R Skogsberg

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