"I don’t know why they call it ‘softball,’ because it’s hard," Jellybean said, rubbing a red spot on her forehead.
This wasn’t the first time my 8-year-old daughter stopped the ball with her face. And it wouldn’t be the last time … that afternoon. Guess I shouldn’t complain about the $45 facemasks they’re making kids wear in the outfield.
After four months of sitting in the people aquarium while watching my daughter’s gymnastics class, softball has been a revelation.
When the Lovely Mother of My Children was pregnant, I really didn’t care if we had a boy or a girl. I only wanted a happy and healthy human child that I could someday teach to appreciate horror movies, "Star Wars," superheroes, breakfast for dinner, John Hughes films and power chords.
But standing outside on a brisk winter afternoon, I understood why my lesser-enlightened male friends had babbled on about wanting a son "to throw the football with and take to the races."
For the record: Girls can do anything that boys can, and dads can learn to braid hair, but that doesn’t mean that either are given the chance or take the time.
When Jellybean decided to chunk the leotard in favor of a bat and glove (both of which are pink), I was thrilled, because softball was something we could do together.
I could teach her how to throw (without ever uttering the phrase "like a girl") and catch and bat and, most importantly, how to spit – something she was already surprisingly good at.
I was thrilled to be raising a softball player … until the first practice.
Sweet baby Jesus, it was like 22 degrees out there. The girls were chilly, but at least they were moving around. The Lovely Mother of My Children and I were colder than a Jell-O Puddin’ Pop, and all we could do was stand there and shiver. It was enough to make me long for the butt-numbing bleachers we were forced to occupy at gymnastics.
But what was amazing was that the girls — ages 6-8 — were having a blast. It was cold. It was late. It was getting dark. Birds were freezing in mid-flight. Elsa was singing "Let it Go" from the dugout, but these kids were totally oblivious, my daughter included.
This is the same child who has been known to whine loudly when I forget to put a straw in her Sprite or her bath water is too hot. And yet, there she was, playing outside on a school night so cold Santa Claus would’ve worn long johns.
I was so proud. I was also terribly miserable and whiny, but so proud.
Jellybean is not a softball savant, but she’s also not afraid. She listens to her coach. She rolls her eyes at me. She’s nervous before every practice. She’s proud of herself for trying. She has yet to cry, despite stopping the ball with her face — including one time during tryouts in front of the whole team. To Jellybean’s credit, she stuck with it, grabbed the ball, threw it to third and got back in line.
"I was breathing pretty hard," she said later. "And I almost cried. But I didn’t. Not at all."
I don’t know that I could’ve said the same.
Now that we are having practice like five freakin’ days a week, including early Saturday mornings, I might occasionally have to remind myself of how fun it all is. There might not be any crying in baseball, but there is a fair amount of whining in softball.
And it’s all coming from me.
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.