My daughter Jillian was never big into softball. This was her second year playing and she was just going through the motions taking it in stride. In the beginning she seemed to be excited about playing short stop, first base or even pitching for the Palmer Inferno. Alas, as most nine-year olds tend to do in anything that involves commitment, every time a practice or game rolled around she became adamant about not wanting to go.
For most of this season her team did great. They even started the season with six straight wins. But then it seemed like the wheels just fell off. Many of the girls on the team, Jillian included, went into games not really wanting to play and it showed. Poor play, not hustling to field balls and striking out a lot. It was painful to watch and the losses started to mount.
There was even one game where we had to arrive late because Jillian had a conflicting dance class. We got to the game an hour into it and as we arrived everyone was already packing up and leaving.
When I asked what happened I was told that they had to invoke the “mercy rule” because the team was getting beaten so badly there was no way they would catch up. Many parents of her teammates told me they’ve never seen them so lazy. And yet, none of the girls seemed to care about it. Little did they know that laziness was going to come back to haunt them.
Yesterday was the final game of the season. Even with the lack of enthusiasm the Palmer Inferno had still somehow managed to be only one game away from getting the final spot in the playoffs. And as much as I tried to get Jillian excited about the game and the possibilities that existed with a win, the glumness persisted. She seemed more eager to just have this game over with so she could go back to doing what ever it was kids do prior to summer vacation from school.
Ironically, a brief rain shower had just ended and a rainbow appeared overhead on our drive to the softball field. I told Jillian that seeing the rainbow was a sure sign that good things were to happen. I don’t think she bought it.
Down 9-2 to the Forks Cougars after the second of six innings it looked like it was over. I was even considering packing up and getting a head start on traffic but then something happened. A walk, a single, a run, another run, a walk. Before any of us knew it they had scored eight runs, taken the lead and suddenly it was a ball game.
During the bottom of the fourth inning her team did the unthinkable: a triple play. Something I doubt has ever happened in a softball league with nine-year old girls. I began to see the excitement in her eyes as she could taste victory. I wondered if maybe that rainbow we saw was really an omen after all.
The game wound up going into extra innings. The Inferno was able to get the go ahead run and lead 11-10. By this point Jillian and the rest of her team were whole heartedly into the game. The smile she had on her face was priceless as she stood playing third base. I have to admit, I was pretty stoked too. But in the end, with two outs down, the Cougars wound up hitting a two run single to end the game. A heartbreaking defeat for the Inferno but without a doubt, the best game I’ve ever seen.
As we’re walking to the car for the ride home Jillian starts tearing up. I could have told her about how they shouldn’t have been so lazy in those earlier games and then this one wouldn’t have even mattered. They would already be in the playoffs. But this wasn’t the time for I told you so’s.
I do my best to comfort her and tell her that it’s ok. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Then she looks up at me and says something profound: “Daddy? The reason I’m crying is because my heart is broken”. That’s when mine broke too.
For the first time I think she understands what it’s all about. The rainbow was an omen. Good things were going to happen. And I couldn’t be more proud of her.