Last weekend my daughter Merrie’s softball career may have come to an end. It started when she was 5 and she is now 17. It had some bad moments, like when coaches of two other teams fought after a game at a tournament in Greenfield, MA. It had some great moments like her team playing in the PONY Nationals in Ohio. And it provided a lot of fun and good competition for a very competitive little girl.
I grew up playing all sports but I played Baseball and Golf competitively. I was probably more skilled at golf but I LOVED Baseball – still do. So when my two daughters got into 1st grade and Kindergarten respectively I asked if they would like to play Softball in the Town Rec league softball program. The first few years were funny watching little girls run after balls, nobody stood out and everyone had fun. Partly because she wanted to catch up to and pass her sister’s skills, Merrie practiced and improved over the next year or so to the point where she was pretty good…for 3rd and 4th grade.
In 2004 I offered to head coach the 10U Tornadoes summer travel team. Merrie played third base (because that’s where Daddy used to play) and caught. She did well, the team did well. It was a good group of kids and they really enjoyed each other. We ended up winning the division. After the season while we were on our vacation I noticed her walking around the condo doing a pitching motion. We went out to the parking lot to see how she’d do and she did real well. That led to pitching lessons over the winter and pitching the next year. She did well and continued to improve. She had some natural talent but did not like to practice. But she took pitching lessons regularly and even the occasional hitting lesson.
I was a member of the Board of Directors of the league for several years, sold a LOT of raffle tickets. Coached Rec season teams, coached Summer teams, worked at tryouts, and whatever else was needed. It was fun, even though my wife did not like it that I was spending a few hours a month doing this.
Merrie was very competitive, and in addition to wanting her teams to do well, she wanted to show people that she was as good or better as those girls in town who had reputations as being the best. By 6th grade she was one of the top pitchers and overall players in town. Her Town Rec team got to the playoff finals and lost a heartbreaker. She was the top pitcher on the Summer team and had even had a taste of Tournament ball in the spring and summer and seemed to like it.
Later that Summer she announced that she wanted to try out for the local Class A tournament team. She did very well at the tryouts and made the Central Mass Lightning. She was thrilled. I was thrilled for her. I was asked to be an assistant coach and it seemed like a good bunch of girls, coaches and parents. As the year progressed and into tournament season in the Summer of 2007, we won our share of games but Merrie’s playing time went way down. Her head coach was a bitter guy and a jerk, and he played favorites to the detriment of the team. She was upset but wanted to stay on the team even when we gave her the option to leave. We ended up going to the PONY National 12U tournament in Ohio where Merrie played nearly every inning and batted nearly .500 because she could hit the faster “national” caliber pitching. It was the best part of her softball year, maybe of her career. The coach was fired after the season.
That fall she had great disappointment as she tried out for two teams she wanted to play for and did not make either. Later she was asked to try out for other teams and made both, one by her Fall League coach Coach Eastwood. The team was not very good. Merrie was one of about 4 girls who could legitimately make the team so they only won about 6 games. The following year she was asked to “play-up” at 16U by Coach Eastwood on the Central Mass Thunder. She would be the starting third base girl and occasional pitcher for that team that ended up winning about 50% of their games and lost seven 1-0 games. It was a pretty good group of kids even the though the top pitcher was a First Class Diva. (Read-Pain in the neck)
She decided to stay on that team for 2009-2010 because several of her friends were going to stay. Unfortunately all of them left for one reason or another and it turned into the worst season she ever had. The third week of the season, Merrie was involved in a collision at third base and tore her ACL and MCL as a girl slid into her. Season over. At the time she led the team in hitting and ERA.
During the remainder of the summer we went to most of the games but the team was bad because it had lost 5 of the top 7 players (Including Merrie) and her interest was very reduced, and she thought about hanging ‘em up. She was fortunate that the coach of a local team in town, who had cut her in 2007 was looking for another pitcher and offered the spot to Merrie if she were cleared to play in the spring of 2011. Well she was cleared and joined the Fusion, and had probably the best season she ever had. Not individually, because she was still recovering from 2 surgeries, but the team was happy, the team was a close-knit group of girls and they were good. They made it to the finals of three straight tourneys and won one. The won the Summer League title and really enjoyed being together, as did the parents.
If this is her last year playing, and it very well might be, she went out well. 12 years of Softball. She will miss it. She’s 17 so she knows everything as all teenagers do. She says she will not miss it if she stops, but I know she will. You cannot do something that long and at that high a level and not miss it. I will miss it too. In addition to being a partner with Merrie on teams, I will miss seeing her play, I will miss coaching and helping with teams, and teaching the girls how to play the game better, and getting new girls involved at higher level softball. She may play again, but who knows…I’m hoping.