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For my kids, it was love at first bat
Sports bore me to tears, even when my own kids are playing. But when softball entered our lives, something felt different. My kids play for the Unionville Minor Softball Association (www.umsa.ca), which has been around for over 45 years, and is run by a herd of hard working volunteers.
Their first day, my boys nervously eyed the diamond. They had never played before, not even during gym. Eager to show off my basic understanding of the game, I grabbed a stick and sketched three bases and home plate in the sand. “You hit the ball with a bat, and then you run as hard as you can to first base,” I say, channelling my elementary school experience. “After that, you’ll figure out the rest.” They are mystified, but obediently follow the coach to practice. Their teams start off like baby animals — a bit unsteady and unco-ordinated, but wildly enthusiastic. I worry about the other parents and kids, but I shouldn’t have bothered. Kids are nicer today. As the season progresses, they cheer for each other, egg one another on, and after striking out or a bad catch, pat each other on the head. The parents are a cheerful group too. “Good eye! Wait for a good one!” when the kids don’t swing. “Nice swing! Just like that!” when the bat fails to connect. Loud cheering when the bat thwacks against the softball. Home runs and clever fielding elicit loud shrieks of excitement. Even I get into it — my marking never makes it out of my bag. About halfway through the season, I start to recognize the signs: I look forward to each game, to setting up my black camping chair beside the bleachers. I take out my sunglasses and stretch out my legs. The sun warms us on hot days, and the kids doggedly play through rain and wind. My husband hurries home from work on game days, and asks for the play by play when he can’t make it. I cheer and chat with the other parents, and we complain about umpire calls, or laugh at the antics of a few aggressive coaches and parents.
Usually a few months into other sports, my kids beg for time off, or begin limping from phantom injuries. But not with softball. That’s how I know it’s love at first bat. I kind of get team sports now. Like a favourite hobby, or a lifelong friendship, you just need to find The One. By the end of the second season, my 10-year old is a solid player. The greatest compliment he received was when the opposing coach told his team to “move back!” when he went up to bat. This year he was voted MVP. My 7-year-old jumps up to bat every time, and shows promise as a pitcher. His team won the championships his first year and were undefeated until playoffs in his second.
But my favourite part of softball isn’t winning or the medals. My favourite part happens at the end of every game, when both teams run off the diamond and straight to the playground. They play “grounders” and hang off the monkey bars and swings, savouring every last second of summer’s sweetest sport, until their parents drag them home.