Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog
This past Saturday I had a softball junkie’s great day. I was able to get out to see all or part of six games where students and/or former players of mine were playing.
It was quite an upbeat day overall — at least until my last stop of the day. Not for the game — my students’ team won that handily. Instead, the bad part was a story I heard from one of the moms.
She pointed out a little girl we’ll call Jolene. It was Jolene’s first year of playing, and she had come a long way. Watching her you would never have guessed it was her first year, and that she was at least a year younger than anyone else on this 12U team.
The mom of my student told me Jolene loved to play, and how good it was for her. Then I got the back story.
Mom and dad are getting a divorce. Dad is a hard case who didn’t look any too happy to be at the game that day. Mom has a new boyfriend, and she’d rather be “doing stuff” with him than wasting a weekend at softball.
Much of the time neither mom nor dad come out to the games. They just send Jolene with one of the other parents. They never bother to pack her a lunch or anything either, despite the fact she may be gone for 12 or 14 hours. They just hustle her out so they can get on with their lives.
Fortunately, softball people are good people (mostly, anyway), so the other families have sort of adopted Jolene. Everyone makes sure to bring food for her to eat and water to drink. They look out for her, and cheer loudly for her, pat her on the back when she does well and console her when she struggles.
Saturday I was told that Jolene won’t be playing next year. Despite the fact that they don’t show up a lot, mom and dad just don’t want to waste the time on their precious weekend to take part in something for the kid.
Sunday morning, neither one was there. And that was really sad, because as it happened Jolene ended up making the last out of the game. After a great at bat, seeing maybe 10 or 12 pitches and running the count full, she popped up to second to end the game. Since it was run ahead rule, any sort of hit would’ve kept the game going.
Jolene was inconsolable. Maybe it was because she made the last out. But I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe some of it was because she knew she’d played her last softball game since it was the last tournament of the season. While the others smiled for the group picture, she just sat there staring at the ground, looking sad.
In my mind, Jolene is now an at-risk kid. From the little I saw, softball was the closest thing she had to a normal, supportive family environment. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear she’ll end up pregnant at 15, or on drugs, or in trouble with the law. I’ve certainly seen it happen before.
We always say “it’s only a game” when we’re trying to get over a tough loss. But for some it’s more than that. The shared struggles and triumphs of our sport, the effort it takes to learn it, and the sheer amount of time we spend pursuing creates something pretty special. For someone like Jolene it can mean even more.
I’m sure the other parents on the team are hoping Jolene’s parents will change their mind, or that someone can talk them into doing it. She sure could use it. But it seems pretty unlikely.
If you’re a player reading this, hug your parents tonight and thank them not only for the opportunity but for being there for you. Sure, it can be a pain when they go over the last game in great detail, or make you grab your glove and/or bat when you’d rather stay inside and watch TV. But there are far worse alternatives in this world.
Anyway, that’s the way I see it.
How about you, what do you think?