Over the last 5 months, I've spent an incredible amount of time with my daughter, mostly just the two of us. We play catch for hours, lazily chatting away. We drive to games and practices, arrive early, stay late, all the while making me the happiest father on the planet as I absorb and savor every last moment.
You see, I know the end is coming.
My older daughter is only 11, but I know the time will come -- swiftly -- where she won't have the time to spend with me.
But for now, we're learning about life via softball. Now, don't get me wrong. We play in a recreational league and we don't have our hopes pinned on an athletic scholarship or anything, but she loves playing and I would love just about anything that keeps us close like this.
As the season progressed, the A pitcher ended up missing a total of 4 games which mean that my daughter (B pitcher) had to pitch four complete games along with some fill-in innings in the rest of the games.
In every game, she faced some girls two years older than her and as much as 18 inches taller. She stood in there and pitched against them all. She gave up hits, hit batters, walked in runs. But she kept trying and kept practicing.
"Ok, just one more strike, then we'll go inside," she would often say as she pitched on the sidewalk in front of our house with me playing catcher. And I'd smile and forget about dinner for a while longer as the sun set and forced me to squint to find the ball in the dim light.
But in our modern society with our upward mobility and tiger moms, it's tempting to focus on the results. And her team lost every game she pitched. (They also lost all but one game the entire season...)
In the last game she pitched, we had an umpire that really seemed to get that this was a league where learning was as important as winning. He walked out to the pitcher's circle in the first inning and explained to my daughter why he had called the last pitch a ball, and how she had to "present" the ball/etc. prior to pitching -- just some basic rules she had to follow.
I saw a look of determination on her face as she got ready to pitch to the next batter. She threw the fastest pitch I'd seen her pitch all year, and it was a strike. She built on that success and struck out two batters. She managed to get out of the inning only giving up two runs. Then she went right back out there and did it again. In fact, in one inning she struck out three batters, one on a "change up," but still gave up 3 runs (dropped third strike rule...).
She never once blamed the catcher for dropping those third strikes. She didn't blame the umpire for calling some close pitches against her. She didn't give up when she got called out on strikes twice at the plate. She cheered on her teammates win or lose, even if they couldn't really hear her tiny voice.
Yes, they lost that last unremarkable and unimportant game by two runs, but she had her best game yet. We got into the car and she immediately started to make plans for more pitching lessons, more time outside on the sidewalk and in the yard, working on hitting and bunting. I smiled all the way home.