Paul only owns Monday night. On Mondays, he steps on the field as a church-league softball player. Tuesday through Sunday, the girls own Paul. He will be at the field watching Oh Emily practice or play games on Minors, or watching Lauren practice or play games on Majors, or coaching Lauren’s Juniors practices and games. We may have bitten off more than we can chew this season.
He was blonde. There’s probably lots of stuff you didn’t know about him. He used to write things. Songs. Poetry. Verses. Letters. But other than sporadic random thoughts, the written word in all its permanence and traceability, has been taken over by spoken word that all too easily slides in one ear and out the other. He had a mullet and a perm. He was kicked out of Christian school a week before the end of 11th grade because he had rock music in his van. His only year in public school was his senior year at Parkland. And for a time, he listened exclusively to country music. He worked in a factory, and he thought a girl like me would be too good for him. And let me tell about a girl like me…
…my softball career died on a dusty Texas field in 5th grade gym class. A good batter hit the ball to the outfield, and a good outfielder tried to throw it in. The throw would have made it if that bone-headed Sandie hadn’t stepped in and caught it (first time ever), dropped it, then thrown it (first time ever) to the wrong base. My interruption wasted enough time to allow a run, and my classmates let me know it. So those first times ever became my last times ever. And I became that girl in gym class who did as little as she could just to pass, and as much as she could to avoid participating. You cannot seriously expect me to make that play. I have cramps. Again. Still. Always.
And for the last several years, I’ve sat underneath the big tree watching our girls play softball. Grace played one season years ago, and now it’s Lauren’s and Emily’s turn. I haven’t payed attention to the mechanics of the game. I cheer when a play works in our favor, and moan when it doesn’t. But I don’t really know much about what’s going on.
But Paul coaches Lauren’s Juniors team with Mark. They have a good cop/bad cop thing going. And yes, Paul made a girl cry at practice. Mark asked me to help in the dugout. No prob. I’ve done that before. But then Coach Mark called me Coach Sandie in front of the girls. That’s a game changer. I have a coach’s jersey. I’m bonafide and certified. I bought a glove. I know it’s too small for me because it’s the same size as the new glove we just bought for my 9 year old. But they didn’t have the same one in my size with the cool colors and trim and flair around the edges. It’s black with little splash of lots of colors, so I can wear it with everything! (I think I’m still that girl from gym class.)
Paul and Mark run the practices and the games. I do whatever they tell me to do because I don’t know enough to do it on my own. Note to self…don’t throw the ball to Coach Paul until he asks for it, or you might hit him in the head. And when they run the drills, I can’t keep up. Coach Mark hits a grounder to shortstop, shortstop throws to first to get the runner out, right field backs it up, we make the play at first if we’re quick, then first throws it back to Coach Paul at home. I know. My brain can’t even… I get cramps just thinking about it.
Paul grew up playing ball. And to hear him tell it, he was pretty good. He must have been, since he’s still pretty good on Monday nights. These grown church players step up to the plate, knock the dirt off their cleats, slap the plate, wait for the pitch, and slam it to outfield. If I try, I can roll it back and imagine these grown men as boys doing the very same thing. Holes in the knees in hand-me-down jeans, and worn out cleats. And Tuesday through Sunday, the girls do it, too, but in brand new sweat-wicking jerseys and face masks.
And there’s that young boy walking onto the field dreaming he’s a man. Knowing that as he grows and matures and strengthens, his best game is still yet to come. When will that game be?
Now Monday night at 46, with 2 shoulder surgeries and aching legs and graying hair and eye glasses, he knows he’s looking at his best game in the rear-view mirror. When was that game?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe Paul’s best doesn’t have anything to do with how he hits or catches or throws or runs. Maybe it’s not about the game. Maybe Paul’s best came when our player slammed a home run and Paul told her that her dad, who was killed shortly before the first game, would have been proud of her. Or maybe it was when a player came to Paul last season and wanted to talk to him about something that was bothering her and she thought maybe he could help. Or maybe it’s when he’s grilling 40 burgers and hotdogs or being pelted by 700 water balloons at our annual softball party. Or maybe it’s when he’s up at dawn making his world-famous chocolate chip pancakes and waffles the morning after some players spend the night. Or maybe it’s late Friday night after all the players have left, and the field has been dragged, the overhead lights are cut off, and Paul and Mark walk to their cars with their iPhone flashlights, and they know it’s all for the girls and they’ll be back at the field tomorrow. Because Tuesday through Sunday, the girls own them.