Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Oh and Four and a Wedding

My daughters’ fastpitch softball has been over for about a month now. The season ends way too soon for me.

This was the year they would have more talent than any other year before. A team of strong bats, and team of strong defensive players. But for some reason the team never got on that roll we were all waiting for.

Both my daughters played for this team.

A team of 16 year old's with the exception of my daughter Ashley-Rae who didn’t turn 15 until the final week of the provincial championships.

Ash had a break out year, earning outright the second base position. And moving up to the top half of the batting order. She made clutch hits, she made clutch plays.

Alannah – my eldest – did not pitch her best this year. She blamed a tough school year, her new part-time job, and my inability to catch her pitching practice due to a leg infection I fought off the first half of summer.

Excuses. Teenage girls.

There were some highlights – at least for me as a sideline dad.

There was the beautiful double plays from Alannah at third to Ashley-Rae at second to McKay at first. I got one of them on video – well – I have the ground underneath the plays on video – I was too busy watching.

There was Alannah’s home run – which I also have on video – a hard swing at a fastball up around the letters she caught square on the barrel. In the video it looks effortless – all she was looking for was a line drive for a base hit, but it flew over the right center field fence with barely an arc.

There was another game in Toledo – the girls playing an elite Michigan team – down by three – with Ashley-Rae hitting a line shot off the fence in left field to bring in two runs – followed by Alannah hitting a line drive the opposite way to right off the fence to bring in two more – one of them being Ash.

Great moments for this Dad.

In my years of being a Dad on the sidelines I have mastered the ability to cheer humbly for such things – cheering for the team, not for my girls – I do that privately with them when it’s over. And never to be the loudest parent cheering. The humbler the better.

This year we also had some coaching challenges. One of the coaches was the boyfriend of the manager. Our manager was and still is a great player in her own right in her own day, and just now coming into her own with this squad of four years together. I hold her in the highest regard. One day she was running the bases as the team was working on those “where to throw the ball under what circumstances” situation defensive skills sessions. In a run down, one of the girls tried to make her throw too quick and caught the manager right in the mouth. A hard thrown ball, the manager couldn’t hide her pain. As she went to the side to recover, the boyfriend coach gathered the group into the middle and used every swear word in the book to chew the group out for this accident.

Every word you could imagine was used.

Every parent attending behind the fences heard every word of the obscenity lased diatribe strung together as only swearwords can be that makes no sense but gets the anger across.

That was never forgotten.

In the following weeks – one night sitting outside the hotel in Toledo, I asked the boyfriend coach about this over a beer.

“I have been to many clinics and workshops and listened to many great coaches talk about being a great coach”, he said justifying, “and they all say that you should be very supportive during games – but a real prick in practice”.

“And you think this works then?” I inquired – suggesting he should re-think his pontification.

“I have coached elite boys in hockey and baseball …” he started.

“I have coached and raised girls”, I replied, “and that shit don’t work with girls”.

“Well it’s getting late”, he said, and went back inside.

I tried.

We had yet another challenge this year as well. My wonderful cousin whom I consider a niece although she considers me a cousin was getting married. We received the invitation the summer before, and my girls – never having been to a wedding yet – were very excited. The date was a Sunday in late July.

It was in Kitchener, Ontario.

Shortly after we received the wedding invitation, the date was announced for the next provincial grand championships. It was that same weekend – the final games to be played on that Sunday. But which town in Ontario was going to host them was still unknown.

“It’ll work out – it always does” I told the girls, because it’s true.

In late April the decision was made that the Grands would be held in Stratford – a tiny town known to the world for its Shakespearean plays … and yeah … it’s the home of Justin Bieber.

Stratford is only 45 minutes away from Kitchener. And since hotels in Stratford in the summer are so hard to get – we would stay in Kitchener.

“There ya go”, I said to the girls.

“Great Dad, but we will be playing Sunday, we are better team this year, and we always make it to the Sunday final bracket”.

“It’ll work out”, I promised. “It always does”.

The week before Grands, the girls played in a warm-up tournament in Brantford, Ontario, the home of The Great One … Wayne Gretzky.

At sometime early in that tournament the coaches were warned for “chirping the umps” from the bench. It was the boyfriend coach – the one who was being supportive of the girls during games. Balls and strike and safe and out calls were all being questioned.

After that first game, the team received a “bench warning” sometime during that first inning of each game following. The word was out, the umpires were not putting up with this guy.

Games were played – more lost than won, and we exited Branford early Sunday morning.

The next weekend – we headed to Stratford.

The truck was loaded down with ball equipment and canopies and lawn chairs and coolers and medical bags and suitcases – and dress bags and make-up kits and suit bags. Twice our normal cargo – because we had a big wedding to go to.

The first inning of the first game, our pitcher was throwing fine, but no strikes were getting called on close pitches. The boyfriend coach chirped. The bench warning was administered. These were the same umpires from last weekend.

The Saturday afternoon game came due. The girls had to win this game to earn a spot into the Sunday bracket. A record of three losses and no wins of course put them below the cut-line. A win here might still get them in to the bottom seed.

In the first inning – they hit our starting pitcher hard, and after she took a hard line drive off the knee cap, she was done and injured on the bench. Alannah came into pitch – knowing that she would not get a strike called unless she threw it right down the middle of the plate. Balls on the corners, drop balls and risers were all called balls. So as hard as she could she threw fastballs down the middle. And they hit her all over park too.

Finally the boyfriend coach said something about a pitch that caught the inside corner. The ump stepped from behind the plate and took two steps towards the dugout and said “It was this far inside“, holding his fingers an exaggerated distance apart.

“Sure it was” mumbled the boyfriend coach.

“You’re outta here!” screamed the ump who whirled around with his arm in the air.

The manager stepped out to try to talk to the ump – but before she got both feet on the field he whirled back around and yelled “You too!”

With both the manager and the boyfriend coach gone, our remaining two coaches – both with more experience alone had than most of the opposing managers and coaches in the tournament, led our girls to a comeback – rallies were countered by the other team’s rallies. Great defensive plays on both sides. And the gap was being closed by our girls. But no close calls went our way, and the strike zone for our pitchers remained the size of a keyhole. And in the end – our girls fell short. But not for lack of trying, and not for lack heart.

And it was over. They were done on the Saturday afternoon.

And in the car, Alannah muttered “well, at least we know we can go to the wedding”.

“I told you it would work out darlin’, it always works out.”

The wedding was awesome, but that deserves a story of its own. 

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