I miss softball. I've played some form of baseball/softball since I was about three (it's very much the family sport) but playing competitively was different.
There was something about putting on the uniform that made you assume your “game face”. Something about knowing that you were prepared as much as you could be, and realizing that you were going to have to try your hardest. There was something about knowing your body could actually do these things. Putting on the uniform pumped yourself up mentally, while you warmed up physically.
Softball is a very mental game. When you get up to the plate, and even in the on deck circle, you start to zone in. By the time the pitcher starts to wind-up it’s like you are the only two on the field. Occasionally, mainly because it was so familiar, I could hear my dad’s voice when I stepped up to the plate, but after that there was nothing besides the battle between you and the pitcher.
Yeah, it takes skill to hit the ball, and more to hit it well, but it also takes concentration and mental toughness. I know. You can smash every ball in the cage, but have a batting average of .000. It was a challenge against myself, and a battle in my mind every time I was at the plate.
When you hit the ball you can hear again, even though all your focus is getting to the next base. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of the ball hitting your sweet spot, and you could know without looking that it was a solid hit. Then you’re on base, the play is over and the next batter at the plate. I loved base running; pushing your limits, playing with the catcher’s mind, sprinting hard, stealing bases, sliding, taking out the catcher while scoring, it was all a blast.
I played both catcher and short stop, two awfully different positions. When I caught, I loved having every aspect of the game in your mind as you crouched behind the plate, eyes on each runner, knowing the count, remembering each batter’s weaknesses. I loved being the leader on the field. Catching was a challenge, and the feeling of playing a good game was immensely satisfying.
Short was completely different but as much of a challenge. I loved not having the responsibility of a bag, but having to know the next play, and exactly where you were going with the ball; fielding fast moving ground balls, and whipping them over to first. I loved being part of a play at second, or turning on a pop-up; being the mouth on in the infield, or covering a base on a bunt. I loved the relationship with the second baseman and deep throws from in the hole.
I remember the feeling of a hard pitch or a screaming line drive in your pocket. The sting of your palm as you closed your glove on the ball and brought your other hand over it. I remember the adrenaline of a play, and the smug feeling of one well done.
Capping it off were the feelings after a game; exhausted and full of dirt, bruised from sliding, muscles aching [and since I couldn’t separate them from softball, my quads would be killing me], but if you knew you’d done your best and left it all on the field, even the pain was satisfying.