Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Dear Charlie:

A lot of people would probably be surprised to find out that I played a lot of sports when I was a kid. Every sport available (to girls) in my town, actually. Basketball, volleyball, track and field. Softball.

Of the variety, I probably liked softball the best. At least, I played it a lot longer than any of the others. Probably five years, all told, though I don't remember for sure when I started. I do remember when (and why) I stopped, but that's not really the point.

The point is that softball encompassed a large swath of my childhood.

I wasn't great. Don't think that at all. I was a good outfielder, decent at short stop, not fond of first base, and only an average catcher (though I had no trouble with the throw to second). I was a reliable batter, though I never hit a homer. A decent base-runner who scored every now and then but wasn't much for stealing bases because I had more endurance than speed.

So no, I wasn't great by a long stretch. And I didn't always enjoy it, especially toward the end. I was a valuable member of the team, but never the star. I guess, for me, softball was a social activity, like going to the swimming pool.

See, we lived way out in the boonies, a good eight to ten miles out of town, and Mom wanted to make sure we weren't stuck with only ourselves for company, so she always made sure we had opportunities to hang out with friends, to be in town, to socialize. So, even though we couldn't always afford it, she made sure we had season passes to the pool and the proper equipment for sports. Bless her mother's heart.

But why am I suddenly waxing half-poetic about a sport that holds equally as many bad memories as good for me, you ask? Excellent question.

The answer: because every once in a while, I watch The Sandlot and remember that softball was an important part of my youth and not always a bad one. The Sandlot reminds me of everything fun about the sport, tinged with a fond sense of nostalgia that makes me want to get out my bat and old glove.

Yes. I still have my old glove. And two bats. And a beat-up old softball that looks like it's had one too many trips over the gravel.

We never had a sandlot. In fact, I can't even remember just hanging out and playing softball when it wasn't either practice or a game. Sometimes me and the adored brother would throw it around in the yard, sometimes with Dad, but that was more practice than anything else.

Man, could Dad throw a pop-up like you wouldn't believe. I remember looking up at that white ball in the blue summer sky, thinking he'd thrown it so high it would never come down.


So maybe The Sandlot isn't so much nostalgia as wistfulness. I don't remember ever playing the game just for fun. It was sometimes fun, but never just for it.

I think that, if I ever lose my mind and decide to spawn kids, I'd much rather they have a sandlot team than a "real" one. There are good things to organized sports, of course, but... sometimes fun is just supposed to be fun. Kids are just supposed to be kids. It really isn't about winning or losing.

It's just... playing the game. The game that never ends.

The game in The Sandlot.

Oh, yeah. And I gotta get 'em some PF Flyers. I'm just sayin.


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