When you’re nearly six-feet tall, besides the customary “how’s the weather up there” quip, most people assume that you’ve played basketball. When they’re met by your blank stare or the shake of your head, they move on to the next sport and try again: Volleyball?
Unless you count the requisite gym class lessons of flag football, basketball and volleyball I endured from first to eighth grades, I shied away from joining organized sports.
I dreaded the moment when the instruction came to divide into two teams and a captain was named for each. The captains would alternate choosing the classmates they wanted to play on their team. As the classmate waiting to be chosen, I would fervently pray that I was not the last girl standing. Even if I, thankfully, wasn’t picked last, it was still all too easy to read the disappointment in the captain handicapped by me as a teammate. Eight years of repeating the same sports programs – flag football in the fall, basketball in the winter and volleyball in the spring – did little to improve my athletic prowess.
I started dance when I was three. For eleven years, I took ballet then pointe classes as well as tap and jazz. In my heart, I wanted to be the best dancer ever. But greatness alluded me even in the sport I practiced for over a decade. Unaware of how to handle my larger-than-life or larger-than-everyone-else stature at such a precarious age, I was not the prima ballerina I so desperately wanted to be. I was the gangly, ugly duckling and this ugly duckling had no chance of a solo in Swan Lake.
All this said, my memory is foggy as to the reasons why I voluntarily joined a summer softball league. I managed to stick around for two seasons: the first, wearing a red uniform on a team named the “Blazers” and the second, a blue uniform on the “Crusaders.” You might be thinking to yourself: “Ah, this ugly duckling found her sport!” Bless you if you’re thinking that.
It was not so.
I’d often be marooned in the outfield, particularly right field. You went to the outfield if they didn’t know what to do with you. There were probably only so many innings you could be a bench warmer. In junior high softball leagues, not much happened in the outfield.
Yet one afternoon, I heard the crack of connection from bat and ball at home plate. That ball sailed through the sky and looked as though it was headed straight toward me, or my skull. This was it! This ball was destined to be my moment of glory. I could feel it!
Squinting in the sunlight, I knew what I was supposed to do. I’d lock eyes on that ball and position myself in its trajectory.
“Yes!” This ball and I are one! It is mine!” I screamed gleefully in my mind.
The ball connecting in my glove with a triumphant thud would startle me, but I’d hold on to that ball as tight as I could. I’d raise my mitt in the air, the ball safely cushioned in my palm, and my teammates would shout in delight and excitedly rush toward me. This catch – MY catch – would be the final out in the inning and we, the Crusaders, had held on to our lead. The game was over.
That was how it should have happened.
Here’s how it actually happened.
One afternoon, I heard the crack of connection from bat and ball at home plate. That ball sailed through the sky and looked as though it was headed straight toward me, or my skull. This was it…I’d have to make a play.
Squinting in the sunlight, I found the ball and positioned myself in its trajectory. Or, at the very least, the position where I thought the ball would begin its descent toward the ground.
“I hope I can catch this ball” was the mantra I repeated in my mind, staring at that ball. I hoped for the best.
The best did not come.
Instead of hearing and feeling the triumphant thud of connection from the softball and the mitt, I saw the ball drop, bounce and roll on the ground. I ran after the ball, grabbed it and threw it to the baseline. It was not enough. It was no good. I was no good.
I lost heart after that. When you’re six-feet tall, it doesn’t mean you can play basketball, volleyball or any sport at all.