In my world perfect days just happen, there is no particular plan, no timelines, appointments, tickets to an event or a rush to be anywhere at a specific time. These perfect days just seem to develop their own rhythm, have a spontaneous ebb and flow and seamless synchronicity with other people and things that happen to be in the right place at the right time.
My daughter and I had such a day recently and this story is a part of that day.
The ball field was empty that cloudless Sunday afternoon and surprisingly, we were the only two people in the entire park when we arrived. The baseball diamond is part of a huge grass field and playground that serves as the play area for an elementary school and recently completed community center and even on this perfect summer day, all of the neighborhood kids were inside, the entire park was ours. So we started warming up by soft tossing the electric yellow, kid size version of a Chicago style softball to each other in the empty outfield.
My old glove long gone, probably lost in one of the many moves made over the years so I went to my favorite second hand store and bought an old, black Wilson glove for $3.99. It was a little small but it was perfectly broken in for a softball, still soft and pliable and my favorite color too. Little ‘O’ ( big h/t to Glorificus ) has been using ex Ms.’O’s old softball glove, she was quite the player as a young girl.
Little O was chosen to be the pitcher for her all girl softball team at school this year, did really well and pitched the team to a few wins. The baseball team was one of four she played on, soccer, volleyball and basketball were the others and she excelled at them all, though she lists soccer as her favorite.
We started a throwing session the week before, I explained and we practiced all the steps, the process of catching the ball, the 2 step, foot in front of other foot, almost dance and overhand arm motion, that allows a ballplayer to throw further with accuracy and more velocity. As with most new players, her throw was a little flatfooted and she was using her arm and shoulder muscles to propel the ball. When all the ballet like steps are done well, the velocity of the ball should be powered by the lats, the largest muscle in the body. It’s a skill that needs to be learned with practice, very few kids, boys or girls can pick up a ball for the first time and know how to throw.
So I set myself up at home plate, Little O was on the grass just behind the shortstop position and I threw low, soft fly balls to her and she would throw home. I crouched down and pounded my glove, gave her a perfect low target as if I was a catcher waiting for an imaginary runner to slide into home plate and when her throw was aimed well, I would tag out the runner with an exaggerated swipe of the dirt, kicking up a cloud of dust and call them,
We did this over and over, all the while repeating,
‘Catch, 2 steps, focus on the target, plant your foot, aim.’
When executed well and with enough torque behind the throw, you can hear your arm whoosh past your head but we were concentrating now on the repetition, on developing the muscle memory to make this motion instinctive and fluid. Little O is an excellent student and she could self correct,
‘So, what happened there?’, when a throw would be off line,
‘Oh, I didn’t focus on the target,’ or ‘I didn’t plant and I threw with my shoulder,’
‘You got it!’
Meanwhile, on the sidewalk about 50 feet behind the backstop, a group of 5 brotha’s were standing there along the fence, enjoying the beautiful day and were beginning to take notice that Little ’O’s throws were tagging out the runner more often than not, I could hear them,
‘Uh Huh, yeah’,
‘You see that one?’,
‘Hey, she’s awright!’,
as I was barking ‘OUT!’ loudly and swiping runner after runner with my glove. Little O’s confidence was growing, so I suggested it was time to put some velocity behind her throws,
‘Remember the process though, catch, 2 steps, focus, plant, aim’,
and a small chorus of cheers would go up when her throws came zinging right into my glove.
‘Yeah, that’s how it’s done,’
‘Daddy, I heard my arm make that noise!’, beaming now.
And now the brotha’s were really getting caught up in this scene, I heard one call out,
‘Hey….hey… yo dad, these guys don’t think my throw can reach her, let me throw it to her. Throw me the ball?’
So I did, not really knowing what to expect. We all watched as he caught the ball, rubbed it hard rolling it around in his hands, stepped away from the fence and just like he remembered as a kid,
‘Bet you can’t reach her man, that’s like 250 feet away’,
‘You just watch how it’s done,’
He went into the two step routine and wound up and launched a towering fly, that I almost lost in the glare of the sun as I turned to follow the ball. Little O didn’t and moved to her right a few steps, everyone was silent as she raised her glove and squeezed it shut, just a second too early and the ball fell to the ground. There were quiet,
from the crowd and her shoulders slumped as she looked at the ball, nestled in the thick grass behind her.
‘Little ‘O’, don’t give up on that ball, you don’t want that runner to score!’,
and with that, she quickly reached down and without thinking went through the whole process as I pounded my glove hard in my crouched position and gave her a pefect low target. She gritted her teeth, her eyes got real intense and she reared back, wound up and threw that ball right at my glove, THWACK!, I put my knee down, swiped the runner, a huge cloud of dust erupted and all the brotha’s simultaneously yelled,
and started jumping and cheering, high fivin’ each other and thumbs uppin’ towards Little O! She jumped up and down with her glove in the air, giving the thumbs up back with a huge smile on her face, all by herself on the outfield grass.
A few months ago when conversations between ex Ms. O and I and Little O about where she should next go to school, not being academically challenged enough where she is, she expressed some fear about joining a new school and maybe falling behind that first year. We were in the car coming home from school and she had her anxious face on, I recognize it, she gets a little quiet as I do,
‘You know, I’m going to predict, now that you’re becoming a little more competitive with all the teams you’re on and all the sports you’re playing and so good at, that you’re not going to let yourself fall behind.’
She thought about it for a quick 2 seconds and looked at me with a little fire in her eyes, a fire I’ve only seen since she’s been involved in sports and excelled on the teams she plays for,
‘Yeaahh, I think you’re right!’, smiling.
Yeah, you go Little O.