Kacey’s 16U softball team played in an out of town tournament this weekend. We’ve done this countless times before with various other teams on which the kids have played. It was another weekend of following maps and long drives. It was another weekend of living out of duffel bags and sleeping in unfamiliar hotel beds. It was another weekend of excitement, cheering, fun and laughter.
While we drove to the tournament Saturday morning, rain fell in sporadic intervals. The sky was dark, a wall of threatening clouds following our every move. I wondered whether the tournament would even go on as planned. The forecast didn’t look promising.
We got a little turned around at one point in the drive, with me failing in my duties as trip navigator. My not-so-trustworthy online directions failed me while we seemed to drive in circles through the downtown area of one of the small towns along the way. Finally, common sense prevailed in the driver as he pulled over, grabbed the online directions and map from me and quickly decided they were worthless. Mark allowed his directional instincts to take over and got us back on track once again.
Without the directionally challenged member of the family in charge, we finally arrived at our destination. We were there in plenty of time and gathered with the other players and families at the site of the first game. The winds were strong and the clouds continued to blanket the sky, but the rain held off. The canvas chairs of all of the spectators were lined up behind the fences and we watched our girls take their first win; an easy one. A light rain began to fall just as the game ended and the group took advantage of the break between games to check into our hotel rooms.
The atmosphere among the group was light and spirits buoyant in the wake of the win. It became clear that we were in for some fun. The families and players who make up this team are friendly and easy-going. I knew it would be easy to relax this weekend.
By the time game two began, the rain clouds had moved on but the wind remained. I caught a foul ball with the bottom of my bare foot. (Ok. I didn’t actually catch it. Unable to get out of my chair and out of the way in time, I stopped it from hitting me in the shins by blocking it with the bottom of my foot.) It hit hard with an audible thud. It hurt. A lot. The “F” word sort of quietly slipped out. I don’t know how that happened. I don’t normally say that word out loud, much less in front of others. The coach teased me that although he couldn’t hear me from his position in the dugout, he was pretty sure he could read my lips. The adults nearby me seemed to find my use of the word quite funny. I was not allowed to live that down for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully, the girls were oblivious to my slip up.
After hours of clouds and being chilled, we enjoyed the heat of the sun while we watched our girls fight their way to an exciting victory. They were working their way up the ranks toward the big games. We were informed that the opponent in game three had forfeited due to injuries and a shortage of players. The girls had swept their bracket and this put them in good position for day two of the tournament.
We celebrated with dinner at Peter’s Ribs and then headed back to the hotel to relax for the evening. The kids were in swim suits in what seemed like minutes and soon the pool was filled with happy, screaming girls. The adults congregated at the patio tables around the pool and some adult beverages were shared. Much conversation and laughter ensued. The rain clouds reappeared and finally broke loose. We watched the storm from inside the hotel, grateful we had been spared during the day. The party didn’t break up until eleven o’clock, when someone had the brains to remember the girls needed sleep for the big day.
The first team the girls faced on day two was a tougher opponent than they had seen so far. The game went back and forth for a while, but then leaned distinctly in our girls’ favor. There were some stunning hits, some seemingly impossible catches, and two amazing double plays. The game ended with a comfortable 13 – 4 win. Our girls had made it to the championship game!
The ball fields were situated alongside a lake. While we sat and waited for the final game to begin, the relentless wind continued to roll across the lake and assault us. The frustration with the wind and flying dirt was tempered by the sight of a flock of pelicans rising from the lake above the tree line. We watched in awe as they floated across the sky above us. They aren’t beautiful birds, but their flight pattern is a sight to see; slow, peaceful and graceful.
The championship game began on schedule. Our girls fought hard, but they were out-played. Frustration began to take hold and their momentum faded. They gave it all they had, but in the end, the championship was awarded to the other team. I was proud of our girls. There were no tears. There were no long faces. There was no embarassing drama. They took their loss with grace and maturity, assuring each other, “Next time. Next time, for sure!” These girls were the epitome of good sportsmanship.
Driving home, I glanced over my shoulder from the passenger seat and caught a glimpse of my sleeping daughter in the back seat. Her face was dirty and she was exhausted after a weekend of giving it her all. As seems to be my burden, a slight sadness momentarily overshadowed the good memories of the weekend. She’s sixteen now. It’s almost certain she’ll play summer ball for one more season. After 16U, interest in playing seems to die off. Girls tend to want to find jobs, or socialize. There is not enough time to make room for the commitment to a softball team too. After this league, finding a team is difficult unless you’re good enough to play on an elite team. Not many earn that privilege. There aren’t many of these times left in our future. Moments from the weekend played in my mind… The girls being silly in the back seat of our car as we taxied three of them to and from the fields… Their comfortable laughter and teenage conversations… The way they all fit together with ease, comfort and trust in one another. I love seeing the way they have become team mates, on and off the field. I love the way we’ve managed to form a sort of family among the people who make up this team. Too soon I’ll only be looking back on these days as distant fond memories. Once again, I am reminded to appreciate today. That knowledge makes days like these that much sweeter.