Softball, What Does It Matter? The Memories Are the Thing


(Monmouth College Fighting Scots softball diamond, courtesy of Monmouth College's Web site.)

I am not a hardcore sports fan — although I do like a good basketball game now and then — but I usually have about zero interest in watching Cornerstone sports. This is why I dreaded going to cover a CU women’s softball game last week for my column writing class.

During the first part of the April 16 matchup against Finlandia, my feelings of irritation only intensified. I critically scanned the stands and observed the atmosphere during the first inning. I was annoyed by what I found.

There were six or seven spectators on Finlandia’s side and about eight on CU’s. No one was really paying attention to the game. The PA system malfunctioned (twice) during warm-ups and blasted a high-pitched scratchy, squealing sound right into my ears, since I had, of course, unwittingly parked myself directly in front of it.

Everything from the spectators, to the announcing, to the music, to the lack of a concessions stand, to the game itself made me question, “Is this even really a collegiate sport?”

At one point a Finlandia mom even yelled out, “Let’s go Lions!” but then stopped. “Wait,” she said to her neighbor. “Is that what they are?” I mean, come on! You don’t even know your own team’s mascot? What is this?

I know, I know what you’re thinking. I’m harsh and judgmental. But hold the phone.

As the bright sunshine cast its smile on the stands, they began filling with more fans — staff and faculty members Chuck Swanson and Rob Keys meandered down between meetings and classes to take a breather and enjoy the weather. Lisa Heasley, a former Golden Eagles softball girl, asked me almost shyly, “Is this seat taken?” and settled down next to me to watch the game.

As things unfolded during the next few innings, it became clear that Cornerstone would not win, even though Finlandia is definitely no Aquinas. But I wasn’t focused on the game. I was watching Lisa, and the other fans.

Lisa misses softball. She isn’t filled with burning regrets; it’s just a gentle ache. She misses the camaraderie of being part of a team. Thursday she watched the action closely and interjected occasional critiques and props to CU. She shared a few memories from being on the roster as we watched. She seemed happy to be there in the sun, supporting her old team.

I stole occasional glances at a couple basketball girls who had come out to watch. They were rolling up their pant legs to get a little more sun, squinting at the diamond, laughing and joking with each other. I watched Rob Keys perched solidly on the hill above the bleachers, arms crossed, intently watching — probably unaware of how stoic and comical he looked.

I listened to Pete Rusticus, the announcer, cheerfully singing along to Johnny Cash between innings and chuckling to himself as the game resumed and the music faded.

All of a sudden memories of watching my dad play church league softball swept over me. Church league, at Alan G. Davis Ball Park in Greenville, Mich., was a big deal in those days. Hundreds of fans would come out on game days — mostly families — and watch their dads and husbands and brothers compete against other churches.

There were always concessions, and the ice cream truck always came and tantalized the little ones, sending them scurrying off to mommy for pocket change to buy a Klondike.

My favorite part was the deep and scary forest running alongside the ball fields. Tucked inconspicuously into its depths was a wooden playground complete with swings and monkey bars where my friends and I roamed, and back further still lurked a series of toxic swamps with ominous “KEEP OUT!” signs posted every hundred feet or so. I never really wanted to dive in, but I always wondered what would happen if I did.

The ball park always smelled good, too. For some reason, back behind the fields there were dozens of piles of steaming hot wood chips. The piles were gloriously high, and it was our delight to run up them and dig deep past the surface with hands or toes or whatever other instruments were available, and see how far we could burrow without being burned by the intense heat.

Sometimes I watched the games, too. But now, when I hear the word “softball,” the step-sibling of America’s favorite pastime, I’ll be forever transported to those fields — to the carefree days of childhood, when the diamond was the place to be.

So thank-you Golden Eagles, for taking me on a trip back to memory lane. Even though you didn’t win, I’ll come back to watch you sometime, just to relive those days.

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