I will never forget the first day of practice. We drove up to the field, and I surveyed my future team from the van window.
I did not get out of the car. I couldn't fathom being the only girl on the team, and so I just watched as all those boys played catch with each other and listened to the coach.
By the end of practice, though, I somehow got the nerve to join the group. I really wanted to play--my father had gotten me interested in baseball and had been playing catch with me. He bought me a glove, waited with my while I got signatures on it from the local farm team players, helped me learn the rules, taught me lots o' baseball chatter ("Hey, batter batter batter, sa-wing, batter!"), and even burned my name into my very own wooden bat (all the boys' metal bats were too heavy for me).
The coach, Daryl, and his son (also Daryl) were super nice, and before long, I was one of the team--chomping on Hubba Bubba and goofing off in the dugout with the rest of them.
Still, I was too shy to pipe up when the team selected its name, The Braves, which I did not like one bit. And my position was right field. Anybody who played little league knows that that's where they stuck the kids who didn't have much skill and who had a tendency to sit down and pick flowers.
But I never picked flowers. I was always ready, hands on my knees, eyes on the batter, both hoping and fearing a fly ball would come my way. I envisioned so many plays in which I caught a fly ball at the fence, or raced up on a ground ball and threw out the runner at second. Of course, when the ball did come my way, my heart pounded and I threw wildly at whoever waved his arms most frantically at me. And more often than not, Sean--our second baseman and our most hot-headed player--ran over and attempted to cut off or catch anything that had the suggestion of heading my way.
I didn't really think about it at the time, but those boys had probably been playing T-ball since they could walk and hold a bat, while I was in my first year ever of any kind of organized team sport. I still managed some hits and scored some runs, so I wasn't completely useless.
When the season ended, I wore that year of being the only girl on the team like a medal around my neck. That meant more to me than the participation trophy I got (though I was pleased that the statue on my trophy had a little gold ponytail).
But I don't know why I didn't play again the following season. Or why I didn't pick up softball*. I just...didn't.
I think maybe it takes a certain level of..."Oomph"...to be brave. Maybe I used up all my Oomph on that first practice when I saw all those boys and no girls on my team.
This question of Oomph haunts and plagues me still. More on the subject later, to be sure.
*To be totally honest, I never liked softball. I didn't get why girls had to play with that giant ball, which never really fit in my hand, when I had been perfectly capable of playing with a real baseball on my team. Now that I've seen softball at more advanced levels, I can see the athleticism of the sport, but the feminist in me still feels some irritation at the division.