Fuego on the Field

Three years ago, as Kacey was heading into her senior year of high school, I began to mourn the end of her softball playing days.

The summer after senior year, she informed us she was eligible to play one more season of fast-pitch softball in her age group. We all celebrated and enjoyed one last summer of competition, fun and friends. Afterwards, I began to mourn the end of Kacey’s softball playing days.

Last summer, after finishing her first year of college, Kacey informed us that her softball pals were forming a slow-pitch team and joining a rec league. We were all amused at how Kacey’s softball “career” never seemed to end and enjoyed a summer of less serious competition and watching this group of friends enjoy spending time together playing a game that they love. At the end of the season, I didn’t feel so mournful. Kacey had squeezed out every last bit of opportunity to play softball and had many fond memories to look back on.

This spring, after finishing her second year of college, Kacey informed us that as long as she was still only nineteen years old on January 1st of this year, (which she was,) she was still eligible to play in the summer rec league with her pals.  And so began another summer that included weekly ball games. These games were much different from the ones the girls played in their fast-pitch days. The girls’ long-time coaches were still there to “coach,” but really, the girls just decided what positions they would play each inning, running from the bench and calling out, “I got second,” or “Shortstop!”

They had much fun, as they always have. From week to week, they would assign each other different names by which they would be known. One week, they all had to go by their grandmother’s first names. Kacey was known as Margie that week. When the coach called out the batting order last night, we heard, “Mark, John, Ronald!” Mark and I laughed and wondered what the naming convention was this week. Turns out the girls were going by their dads’ middle names. Kacey and two other girls shared the same name, so to avoid confusion, they were known last night as Richard, Dick and Richie.

In Kacey’s younger days, I never missed a ball game if I could help it. Now that she’s a young adult, I attended very few games. She’s older now and I assumed she wanted this time with her friends, without her parents hovering over her all the time. Then one evening recently, she joked to me, “You don’t love me. You never come to my games.”

Now that it was clear that she wanted her mom at her games sometimes, it was an easy decision to go watch her play last night. It was the last week of the regular season and I had so much fun watching the girls play, bantering back and forth on the field and on the bench. They’ve known each other for so long that there’s a plethora of inside jokes and they are constantly laughing.  When Kailey goofs up on the field, all the other girls ask her if she blacked out again. When Kacey is running the bases, the girls all shout to the third base coach that he better not send “the turtle” home.

After years of being team mates, the girls play ball like a well-oiled machine. I’m still impressed as I watch them on the field, each seeming to know exactly what to expect from one another. In spite of all their goofing around last night, they won both of their games by a landslide, taking third place in the league.

FuegoI told Mark last night that if Kacey wants to continue to play softball next summer, “she’ll have to join the adult league and she’ll be required to drink beer between games. You okay with that?”

“As long as she’s not driving my truck,” he replied.  Nice.

I have a feeling Kacey will continue to find a way to play softball as long as she is able. And hopefully, she’ll continue to do so with this great group of girls.

 

Almost Like Old Times

I had a trying day. I mean, just one of those really frustrating, nothing-goes-your-way kind of days. It felt like dominoes. Just one problem after another and nothing going right. At the end of the day, I felt a little better thanks to the fact that I have some amazing coworkers. But I was still stewing a little bit.

Mark and I went out for a casual dinner and he listened while I blathered on about things that have no context for him. But he listened and it felt good to get things off my chest. Afterwards, we went to watch Kacey play softball.

Kacey’s serious softball days ended last summer when her fast-pitch team reached the end of the line and girls went off to college. She was sad to say goodbye to her ball-playing days. And as much as I’ve enjoyed tournament-free weekends and time to do my own thing, I often miss watching those fun and exciting games.

When Kacey came home from college this past spring, she was invited to play slow-pitch softball on Thursday evenings with a group of friends. She couldn’t resist the call of the game, even if it wasn’t going to be as intense as her last few years as a softball player. Mark and I didn’t so much feel the need to be at the games anymore. That one year away at college had changed things. Last summer, Kacey was still a kid, and it was a given that we would be there to support her at her games. But when she came home from school for the summer, she had grown up a little bit and her softball games became “her” thing. Not to mention, she discouraged us from coming to watch because, as she told it, “We suck!”

The summer games were played and each week, Kacey would come home laughing, with stories about how bad her team was. The season began to wrap up last week with play-offs. Suddenly, Kacey had a change of heart. I knew it when she joked to me, “You don’t love me. You haven’t come to even one of my games!”

“You asked me not to,” I defended myself.

“Well it might be nice if you came to one,” she said. “You never know. I might never play softball again!”

And so last week, we went to her play-off games. And they actually won one! Word has it that was maybe the second win all season. And it was enough to keep them playing another week. With such momentum, we couldn’t resist going to watch her team play again tonight. They won another won and it allowed the team to advance to the consolation game! And it was exciting! They ended up in a tie with the other team, going into international rules and losing by one in an exciting finish!

It was a chilly evening for August and we wore jackets for the first time in months. It was nothing like the more serious softball of the past few years, but as I sat in the bleachers watching the girls joke and play with one another, watching them simply have fun playing the game, and cheering them on in the hopes of a win, I remembered how much I love watching one of my kids doing something they love. And it was good. After a day like I had, I really needed to forget about my work problems and just enjoy having my kid home and see her enjoying life.

 

 

Photography Job

Earlier this week, I received an email from Kacey’s softball coach. I was kind of surprised, considering the fact that the softball team’s time together has come to an end and the only reason I ever had to exchange emails with the coach was softball related business.

Turns out that the coach has a special Christmas gift in mind for all of his daughters. He wants to give each girl a poster featuring her playing her favorite sport. Since I took bunches of photos of the softball girls, including two of his daughters, he asked if he could hire me to shoot photos of his youngest daughter playing soccer.

I was hesitant at first and held off on responding to his email. But then I remembered how much fun I had taking the softball photos. So I emailed him back saying I’d love to take the job. I insisted he wasn’t allowed to pay me. It was the least I could do for all the time and energy he’d invested in the softball team for the past several years. And besides, I told him I might have an eye for a good shot, but anybody with a decent user-friendly camera could do what I’ve done with sports photography. There are much more talented photographers, but if he’s just looking for something on par with what I’ve already done, I felt pretty confident in my ability to get him some fairly good shots.

These are just a few of the softball shots I took this summer.

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I expect shooting a soccer player will pose a few more challenges than shooting softball players. Softball players can be caught standing in one place at any given time. Not so much with soccer players. But there are four home games coming up, so if I don’t get what I need the first time around, I’ll have a few more opportunities to get it right.

Wish me luck!

That’s Game

National Softball Tournament – Days 2, 3 and 4

Originally, I had thought I would detail each day of this last tournament of Kacey’s softball career. And while I could describe each game the team played; the wins, the losses, the highs and the lows… now that it’s all over and done, I don’t think those are the things that will stick in my memory in the years to come. Suffice it to say we had every bit as much fun in Omaha as I had hoped, the girls and parents alike. There were some losses and there were some wins. We watched some of the very best softball our girls have ever played. All those years of practices and games, all those years of learning to anticipate one another’s next move came together and the girls played in a way they’re never going to forget. I am so very, very proud of them.

Years from now, there are things I’ll remember more than the individual wins and losses. I’ll still hear the way the girls cheered each other on… “Come on, kid! Wait for your pitch! You can do it!” I’ll hear the nicknames they call each other, Al-Ro, Jae-Fae, Hae-Rae, Sheebs, Svetlana, Meg-Babe, Abbers, Hannah B, Ja-Mol, Dee-Pur and Kacey… I’ll remember all of her nicknames. They called her Sticks, or Moo, or Eleven or most recently, Angel. But mostly I’ll remember the name they called her most, KaceyMeece! Just like that, they’d say it, KaceyMeece, with such emphasis on the last part and such affection in their voices.

I’ll hear Kacey calling from behind the plate for the throw to come home, “Cut four! Cut four!” I’ll remember the clang of the bat as they hit the ball. I’ll remember the slap of a glove as the ball landed smack in the pocket. I’ll remember the way the coaches communicated the signs to their players and the way they believed in these girls, saw their talents sometimes long before the girls found those very talents within themselves. I’ll remember blazing sun and the dust from the ballfield swirling in the air and I’ll remember huddling under an umbrella when a game went on in spite of the rain.

In my mind, when I think of the days when Kacey played this sport she loved so much, I’ll remember her face, with a look of determination or excitement or simple happiness at being in a place she just loved to be.

In the years to come, when I think back on these days, I’ll think back to a group of girls who became more than team mates. I’ll remember girls who became best friends and who loved one another like sisters, sometimes even getting under each other’s skin like sisters. I’ll remember the weekly team sleep-overs that continued even until they were long past the age of sleep-overs.

My daughter has such an easy-going manner and a talent for putting people at ease. I can’t help but give some of the credit to her involvement in softball. She had to learn to be a team player. She had to learn to accept differences in others and she learned to be a positive and effective leader. Softball helped Kacey learn how to get along with others.

My dad recently remarked to my sister, “I know you kids think that all these sports your kids play are really important, but they’re really not.”

Growing up, I wasn’t given the opportunity to play organized sports and I know my dad simply has no idea how valuable they can be in a child’s life. But I do. I know that softball was very important in my daughter’s life. I know there are times I was less than enthusiastic about getting up at the crack of dawn to get my kid to an early game, or about sitting through games in the cold, the heat or the rain. But now it’s all over, too soon, as I’m finding too many things are in my life these days. And I will never be sorry that so much of our time was dedicated to organized sports. They’ve taught all of us valuable lessons and given my kids so many skills that will help carry them through life.

In the end, I was able to be there with my girl, to watch her do something she loves, right to the very end. And when that final loss knocked them out of their very last tournament as a team, the girls weren’t the only ones with tears in their eyes. I was glad for the sunglasses I had on.

I’m sure Kacey will play softball again. There are intramural teams at college and adult leagues in many communities. I won’t be surprised if she finds a way to play the game again in the years to come or even coach a team of her own someday. But in my mind’s eye, I will always see her as she was this summer, smiling, laughing, cheering and playing ball with this very special team.

National Softball Tournament – Day 1

Well, we made it to Omaha. Six hours in the truck with Mark driving and nothing but his damn 80s music on the radio. I refrained from changing the station (not without great effort,) as he believes the driver rules the music. There was a volume war for a while there in which I’d reach over and turn it down and he’d use the controls on the steering wheel to turn it back up. Kacey and her friend, Haley sat in the backseat, with iPods and earbuds and cell phones, oblivious to the war going on up front. Regardless, we arrived safely and on time.

We got settled in our hotel rooms. The organizers of this trip were smart. They booked rooms for the girls to share so that the parents could have their own rooms and some peace and quiet.

Last night we went to the opening ceremonies and parade. The park in which this celebration was held was pretty inadequate for the size of this event. There wasn’t nearly enough parking. And it was 102 degrees outside, so none of us were disappointed when it turned out to be a fairly short-lived event. We were melting out there. The girls marched in the parade with all the other teams. The national anthem was played and that was that.

 

After opening ceremonies, we all headed back to the hotel. Everyone had dinner and then we gathered in the community room where parents and kids spent the night playing Catch-Phrase. The favorite comment throughout the game quickly became, “Know your audience!” after one too many players offered sketchy clues such as, “Abby got these for Christmas from Uncle Rich one year…” The game grew more hilarious with each round and our laughter grew louder. I finally called it a night around midnight and hit the sack. I’m not sure how much longer the rest of them lasted.

I woke up this morning to a noise I couldn’t quite identify. With Mark still sleeping I crawled out of bed to investigate. The noise seemed to be coming from the unused bed next to the one in which we were sleeping. Suddenly, it became clear what the noise was. Plop, plop, plop.

Our ceiling was dripping onto the bed. I put a wastebasket beneath the flow of water and Mark reported it to the front desk. They said they suspected a problem with their new ventilation system and all the rain that fell overnight. They didn’t seem too concerned until a second leak appeared. We were quickly moved next door to a new room.

Today is a quiet day. It’s raining and the girls don’t play until 5:00. The temperature has dropped more than 20 degrees so I’m hoping the rain lets up and the girls have some great games tonight!

P.S. I’m glad I don’t live here. I think I’d spend a lot of time being confused.

 

 

Now adding “shoplifting” to my list of accomplishments.

That’s right. I shoplifted.

From Target. One of my favoritest stores even!

It was unintentional, of course, but I suppose what it officially boils down to is that I am a shoplifter.

I’ve been away from this blog for a long time and this is what I come back with. Shoplifting.

It’s just that I have been preoccupied with being a softball mom and a sports photographer and an amateur fundraiser. See, Kacey has had three softball tournaments in three weekends. And work has been really busy. And my parents’ brand new computer had issues on which I spent hours and hours of time trying to fix before I gave up and told them to call Geek Squad. And the softball team is going to Nationals in Omaha this week. (Leaving tomorrow, actually.) An unplanned trip like a national tournament is kind of an expense. So we did fundraising. I ran the all-you-can-eat pizza fundraiser and we did pretty good in the area of profits. And overall, we raised about $2500 between fundraising and donations to make the trip and spend half a week in Omaha as a “last hurrah” for our softball girls because this is it. The team disbands after this. This will be the last time I ever get to see my girl play organized softball. So we’re going out with a bang.

Boring, huh? So the shoplifting story is all I’ve got. You know, every once in a while how you have one of those “weird thing that happened to me today” kind of stories to tell? This is mine.

I was at Target last night with Mark picking up a few things. Before we checked out, I saw a tote bag on clearance. I’ve been needing a new tote bag to carry back and forth to work with my lunch and books and various other necessary stuff. This particular tote bag looked appealing and it was crazy cheap. I didn’t give it much thought and tossed it in the cart.

At the checkout, we got the new guy. I knew he was the new guy because his employee badge said something to the effect of “new guy” only in more professional words. And he was a talker! He wanted to know how we felt about the hundred degree weather and 90% humidity. I said at least it wasn’t 20 below with snow on the ground. This reminded him of the time he was working at Little Caesar’s Pizza during a blizzard and how he lived about 15 minutes away from his job, but that it took his room-mate three and a half hours to come pick him up when he was done with his shift (because he didn’t have a vehicle of his own at the time.) So basically, he told us he wasn’t complaining about the heat.

He was a funny guy. His Target employee khakis were about six sizes too big for him – and I am NOT kidding! Six sizes! And he had missed a belt loop and I was fascinated by the fact that those pants managed to stay up while at the same time I was listening to his very animated story. He was a total goof ball, but he had personality and I liked him.

Upon arriving home, I noticed that he had not removed the paper stuffing from the tote bag I’d just bought. I joked to Mark that I could have stuffed other merchandise in that bag and nobody would have been any the wiser. I had other errands to run, so I left my Target purchases on the living room floor for the time being.

Upon my return home again, I noticed my new tote bag and decided I’d better pull out the paper stuffing so I could put my work things in it. I unzipped the bag and found…

MINI SKIRTS!

Two of them! And some paper stuffing. But more importantly, MINI SKIRTS! Mini skirts that I had definitely not chosen for myself. And they were ugly skirts at that.

I gasped and pulled them out of the bag, then brought them to Mark.

“I shoplifted,” I announced with my hand covering my mouth and eyes wide open.

“What the heck…?” He didn’t finish his sentence.

“Remember when I said the kid at Target didn’t pull the stuffing from my bag? Well, if he had, he would have found these mini skirts and I would have been arrested for shoplifting!”

“Do you want me to bring those back tomorrow,” he asked? (Clearly he did not recognize the magnitude of the situation and had no concern for my potential criminal record.)

“Yes please,” I said. “Bring them back. And don’t tell on the kid.”

So he brought them back to Target and explained to the manager what had happened. The manager wanted to know who had checked us out, but Mark said he didn’t want to try to identify the kid. After all, we don’t want to send him back to Little Caesar’s where there are blizzards.

And all’s well that ends well.

Anyway, next week I hope to be back to blogging with my usual schedule of semi-regular updates and getting reconnected in the blog community. I really hate being disconnected.

In the meantime, please remember to check your bags before you purchase them, lest they contain stolen goods and you become a perp and get tossed in the clink. Something like that could really put a damper on your day.

YOU. ARE. WELCOME. :-)

The Love of the Game

I’ve been busy taking pictures of Kacey’s softball team in action. This is nothing out of the ordinary for me, but recently, I’ve stepped up my efforts. The coach asked me to take pictures. He wants close-ups and action shots; several of each player. His plan is to make a photo-collage poster; his end-of-the-season gift to each girl. Since the team will disband at the end of this season, his hope is that the poster will provide happy memories for the girls long after they’re done playing ball together.

Today was a hot one with temperatures reaching 93 degrees. The girls played in the Tri-County tournament and I was all over the place with my camera and managed to get anywhere from six to twelve good shots of each girl. I’m not going to post all the photos here today because the photo collage is supposed to be a surprise for the girls. If I post them here now, it won’t be much of a surprise for Kacey so I’ll just post one. It’s a shot I took of the coach’s daughter as she was on deck and preparing for her turn at bat. She had no idea I was shooting her at that moment. I love the look on her face. It’s the same look you can see on any of the girls faces at any given time. It’s a look that tells you how much they love playing the game.

Back to the Ballfields!

Kacey’s summer softball team, the Rev is back in action and started their season with a tournament this past weekend. It was SO fun!

I have to say that Kacey’s school softball season was not quite as fun as she had hoped it would be. The coaches made decisions that didn’t seem to make sense and the girls were too often frustrated with the way things were going. They ended the season heavy on losses and with too few wins. So considering that experience, it was great to see the Rev come together with a great attitude, lots of smiles and so much energy.

On Saturday the girls won two out of their three games. The loss that day was a nail biter and they only lost by one. It was a beautiful, sunny weekend, and even Brad and Connor came along to cheer on the girls and chase foul balls that fell outside the fence.

The girls came back on Sunday and won their first two games to land themselves in the championship game. It was an AWESOME game too! The Rev was down 6-0 at one point, but then suddenly tied up the score a couple of innings later. There were two questionable calls at home plate, and had those calls been in our favor, the Rev would have taken the championship. Unfortunately, it was not to be and the team lost 7-6.

They played with all their heart, got REALLY dirty and had fun, and in the end, they came away smiling. Happy girls! That’s what I love to see!

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A Great Day for Softball

These spring days, as I’m getting ready to leave for work, the skies are usually bright. Not so today. As I peered out the family room window up into the sky, I could see black clouds rolling above the trees and the only light in the sky came from the lightning that was beginning to strike. I heard a rumble of thunder and soon there were big, heavy, wet raindrops splooshing down on my front sidewalk.

Normally this would not bother me at all, this being a Monday morning and since I was destined to spend my day inside the confines of the office anyway. But today was a special day, so I hoped that the rain wouldn’t last all day.

Today was “Senior Day” on the softball field. Kacey’s team would be honoring all the senior girls and I wanted to be there to see my girl honored. I started work earlier than normal so that I could leave early and make it to this very important game.

All day long the skies remained gloomy and the rain continued to fall in sporadic bursts. I was sure that the game would be called off. But as the afternoon progressed, the skies began to grow brighter. It wasn’t particularly sunny when I left work, but there were no more raindrops.

By the time I got home, the sun actually began to shine and the game was on! In fact, it seems that the weather cleared just for our girls. The clouds moved back in when the game was done and the intermittent rain showers resumed.

I’m sorry to say that Kacey’s team took one on the chin. She had a great game, personally, but the team just couldn’t pull it together. Kacey went four for four at the bat and had a good day at second base, throwing two outs at first. AND she got to make one of her favorite head-first slides back to first base after she thought better of stealing second.

So it was a losing day. But she had fun. And that makes me happy.

Rainin’ on Saturday

It’s been a dreary week for sure. Monday was a beautiful day, and I spent the late afternoon enjoying my daughter’s softball game. And if I thought that day was a sign of things to come, I was wrong. The remaining days this week brought with them a chill, wind, rain or all three. Yesterday though, the sun came with the morning and stayed for most of the day… just until I got home from work, anyway. Then the clouds rolled in and there was more rain.

Mark and I had dinner last night on Grand Avenue in St. Paul at a place called Tavern on Grand. The restaurant is famous for their walleye. We had never been there before. We each ordered something called Walleye Oscar, a walleye filet topped with crab meat and béarnaise sauce with wild rice and steamed asparagus on the side. Mmmm! Phenomenal. When we left the restaurant, it was clear that it had rained while we were eating, but the skies were kind enough to hold off while we walked back to the truck a few blocks away. (Yes, parking is at a premium on Grand Avenue!)

I found a house I want to buy as we walked back to the truck. What do you think? It’s only $429,000! ;-)

I woke up this morning to the sound of a steady rain pattering against the windows. Kacey’s going to be disappointed as there’s a softball tournament that is not likely to happen today. But I don’t mind. When I look out the window, I no longer see snow. I see green grass and a few brave daffodils and hyacinths beginning to bloom in the back yard.

Besides, I’ve got chores to get done inside the house, and a steady rain is the best way to keep me on track!