Softball is Here. And it’s different this year.

Center field is a wide stretch of green with my name on it. We are two outfielders short so I am playing right, right-center and left-center. My team is full of well-trained place-hitters and I am fielding batting practice. Because I’m the youngest they like to toy with me so just after they send me darting at a full sprint into deep right, they take the next pitch back over to left-center.

Tracey, the left-fielder, is on their side and hardly any help.

I don’t mind.

I don’t mind even as my tongue is hanging out my mouth and my legs are starting to burn. I don’t mind because I suck up everything that is within dreaming distance of my glove. Back and to the right? Got it. Dead sprint to the left? Hits the pocket with a solid thwak and I put the brakes on and line my feet up for the throw.

Sure, I suck at the plate but what’s new? I always suck at the plate on the first outing of a new season. Jerry over-coaches me and gets in my head and it’s all over. I try to relax and just drive a few down the third baseman’s throat. He lets me flail until I find good-wood and send a rope out to short left-field. We always end on a line-drive – that’s the rule.

I don’t need to be a big hitter although every now and then I’ll house an outfielder and send something long. In general, unless you have a top-of-the-line third basemen I can get on base with a quick shot down the line. My strategy is put the ball down and run like a bat out of hell. If I can’t outrun the throw (I often can) the fact that I might outrun the throw is usually enough to fluster a third baseman into launching something off-line that will buy me a free ticket to second base, which is where I prefer to be.

I’ll need to become a better hitter this year but at the end of the day if I get on base I’m happy. I just want to score and get involved in a gnarly tag play every now and then.

I had forgotten what my feet felt like when they were all tied up in cleats. I had forgotten the way my toes tense when they are waiting for the jump and how my leg muscles react when the bat hits the ball and the angle has been determined. My body in a perfect, coordinated reaction – moving according to my subconscious understanding of trajectory, speed, distance, angle and loft.

This is the first softball season that I can remember walking out into the grass and feeling sure about what I was doing there. Self-doubt, in all forms, and in all part of my life, is melting away. For the first time ever I think I actually really know who I am and what I want and, more importantly, how I’m going to get it.

I feel on track. Physically on track, emotionally on track, financially on track, and – finally – professionally on track.

The first softball practice, this year, was not the desperate cry for self-approval that it has been in the past. I did not approach the diamond and wonder if I “still had it” or if I would choke or how many awful ways I might disprove the theory people have that I am talented and worthy.

I walked onto the dirt and embraced the women I have come to know and love as teammates. I warmed up an arm that is strong and well-used and ready. I chased long flies and knew that I would catch them. I hit my cut in the chest again and again and again.

My team is a coach’s dream – stacked with players so talented and good and sweet and tenacious and committed that it’ll bring tears to your eyes. I am surrounded by former all-Americans and national champions and it’s all I can do to hold on tight, open up my mind, and hope that some of all this greatness rubs off on me.

2007 Softball Season, prepare to have your ass kicked.

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