Sunday, June 19, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Yesterday, as the first pitch of the 2011 College World Series was thrown out in Omaha, I began thinking about my unusual love and passion for baseball and softball. Yesterday was extremely special - one of my favorite people, George W. Bush, helped christen TD Ameritrade Park as the new official (and beautiful) location for the College World Series by throwing out the first pitch. Maybe I'm a little more sentimental this post-season since it's the first year I haven't traveled to watch some type of college softball or baseball post-season play. I've seen first hand college careers end, and to watch athletes make it to the stage they've worked their entire lives to reach is simply special.
Some of you may wonder if I was ever a softball player - maybe that's where my love for the game began? Let me assure you, my two years as a softball player did not spur any love for the game. Let me tell you why...

During my first season as a softball player for the Country Kitchen Bears, I had a traumatic experience (well, traumatic for a 7 year old) during an at bat that I will never forget. I batted left handed, just like I played putt-putt left handed, and dribbled a basketball left handed. During that fatal, dream crushing, embarrassing at bat, I fouled off a series of pitches (5 or 6) with two strikes on me. Instead of saying, "way to battle," or "way to hang," my coach called me aside and told me that I had to move to the other side of the plate, that I wasn't really left handed. (I mean come on, I had just made contact with 5 or 6 pitches as a 7 year old during her first year playing) So, being the good little athlete my parents taught me to be, I listened to my coach and moved to the other side of the plate. You guessed it, first pitch as a righty - I struck out. I've never forgotten that moment. I think I went on to reluctantly play one more season of softball, but my softball career officially ended during that at bat. A little dramatic, maybe - but I was 7. Looking back, maybe I stopped playing simply because I wasn't very good, but that at bat is truly what did me in.

So, where does the love of the game come from? I've decided it began watching my brother play baseball and sister play softball growing up. My brother, Reed, was a shortstop for the Rockies. My sister, Haley, was a pitcher and shortstop for the Yellow Jackets. I spent a good deal of time at Pigeon Forge City Park watching my brother and sister play - I rarely missed a game.
As middle school came and went and high school began, I found myself still traveling to softball and baseball games. I was there, home and away, regardless of where my sister and her softball team played. When I wasn't watching my sister play, I was at the baseball field - watching my cousins and some of my best friends play. During the summers, I traveled all across the southeast as my sister played summer ball. When our boys made state junior and senior year, my sister and I made t-shirts and traveled with the team to Memphis for the state tournament. 
I have vivid memories of going on the field after my sister won the district tournament and when one of my best friends hit a walk-off grand slam to send the baseball team to the state tournament. Pure joy!

After high school, my sister went on to play college softball at Maryville College, while one of my best friends (who I went on to date for a little while) went on to play college baseball at the University of Virginia. For the first two years of college, I was either driving 367 miles to Charlottesville or spending some good quality time with GameTracker every weekend. (On a side note: as I watched UVA during the Super Regionals, I was blown away at the changes to Davenport Field since I was there last. The way their program has grown over the past five years is truly unbelievable. I can't help but pull for them during the College World Series. It'd be great to see those guys win it all! Go Hoos!)
I even traveled to New Hampshire one summer. Talk about dedication!

During the spring in college, you could usually find me one or two nights a week in Maryville watching my sister play softball or on the weekends traveling to her away games.
Yes, sometimes it created a love/hate relationship with softball/baseball...
But I wouldn't change it for anything! I was there to witness all of the highs and lows that come along with playing sports. I experienced pure joy as I watched my sister hit a walk-off double in the championship series, again when she was named Defensive MVP for three straight years, and lastly when she accepted her conference championship ring. I experienced pure misery as I watched her take her last at bat as a collegiate athlete. She hit the hardest ball she's ever hit in her life and I watched as it somehow found the shortstops glove to end the game. (Yes, I remember exactly where I was sitting as I broke into tears...and no, not just of those ugly cries)
Softball and baseball have just always been a big part of my life. As the College World Series kicks off this weekend, I again turn into "super fan" as I watch a new set of athletes chase their dreams.
Take me out to the ball game,

Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

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