“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!” – Babe Ruth
Life, in many ways, is like a game of softball. Sometimes life throws you the unexpected curve balls, sometimes you get the fastballs that you can barely see coming, and occasionally you’ll get the perfect pitch. We’re not going to hit every ball that comes our way. We don’t have to. All that matters is that we step up to the plate and keep swinging.
Three years ago, I joined my company softball league. I should start by being upfront and honest about the fact that I’m terrible at softball. I’m terrible at any sport that requires hand-eye coordination. In fact, I’m so bad that in college I took a tennis course and while the rest of the class was partnered up to play their matches, the instructor had me take my tennis ball and racquet and go hit against the fence. This is how I spent my semester – bouncing my ball, swinging my racquet, usually missing, then chasing after the ball as it rolled away because it too was embarrassed to play with me. But I never missed a class and I practiced on the weekends with my friends. Still, I never improved. I also never quit.
So, why in my right mind did I agree to play softball for my company? Well, it started off that they simply needed another girl. The company league requires that at least four girls always be on the field, no exceptions. If you don’t have enough girls you automatically forfeit.
They asked me to play, I warned them I was bad, but they were desperate and at that stage in my life, I was desperate, too. I was new to New York and didn’t have any friends. The one person who I connected with in the office was on the softball team and I thought it’d be a good opportunity to get to know him better and to meet others. (This guy, Timo, and I are still happily dating today.)
I was so scared of embarrassing myself in front of my co-workers. Not only am I awful at sports that involve hand-eye coordination, but I’m also shamefully competitive. I get upset with myself when I’m not good at things and it really complicates my usual peaceful aura. I was also very aware of just how bad I am at softball.
When I was a freshman in high school I decided to try out for the softball team because my best friend, Felicia, played. She’d been the star player on the high school team since she was twelve and Fe always raved about the fun they had on and off the field. I wanted to be part of a team like that.
So, I tried out. I was awful. I’m ambidextrous, so I didn’t even know what hand I threw with! But the coach knew me and knew I was the best friend of his star player, so he kept me on the team. But he didn’t play me much and I preferred it that way. Every time he’d put me in during the 5th inning of a JV game I was overwhelmed with anxiety.
Oh my god, what if they hit the ball toward me? What if I miss it? I’ll definitely miss it. Everyone’s going to be so disappointed in me.
These thoughts played on repeat every second I spent on the field. It was even worse when I got up to bat. I used to pray on the mound that the pitcher would just hit me with the ball and spare me the embarrassment of striking out.
I tried batting left-handed and right-handed. The coach would ask which way felt more natural? The answer was neither. Nothing about softball felt natural for me. I take that back, sitting on the bench was comfortable.
Still, I went to every game and as much as I wanted to, I didn’t quit. After that season ended, I thought my softball career was long behind me that is until 14 years later when my company needed one more girl to play on their team to avoid a forfeit . . .
After a stern warning about my skills, I agreed to play. I left work early with the rest of the team and we rode over to Central Park on the subway, as my future beau gave me pointers on the game. I forgot how much fun the comrade of a team could be.
We got to the field and I saw everyone warming up that’s when I felt the familiar feeling of anxiety. I refused to let it get the best of me. I wasn’t going to embarrass myself in front of my co-workers and I wouldn’t let them down.
Perhaps it was beginners luck, but I wasn’t half bad that day. In fact, I hit the ball. It may be the weakest hit ever recorded, but I still made contact! We won that game and I received the game ball. Not because of my exceptional performance, but simply because they would’ve had to forfeit without me.
From then on, I was a part of the team. And from then on, my true skills began to show . . .
Over the three-year course of my company softball career, I’ve struck out more than I’ve had contact with the ball. I’ve made it onto base a whopping total of four times. I’ve slid into first, twice. I ran from first base to second and stood proudly at the base after the batter hit an airball that was caught, resulting in another out. I’ve stood smiling on home plate with the ball raised above my head as the runner soared past me for a run because I didn’t realize I needed to tag them. On multiple occasions, I’ve been the final at-bat on a losing game. My errors have resulted in up to three runs on one play. I’ve tried hitting with my right and left hand, striking out with both. I’ve played second base, outfield, short center, and catcher and have been equally awful at all of them. And I’ve never caught a single ball that came my way.
Again, my failings were not from a lack of trying. I went to the batting cages, I spent hours of free time practicing throwing and catching. It made no difference. I watched each year as my teammates progressed throughout the course of the season. I, on the other hand, was just as awful at the end of the season as I was at the beginning. They say practice makes perfect, but sometimes, practice can’t even make you decent.
I’ve embarrassed myself repeatedly in front of my co-workers. I’ve copped a bad attitude after my public displays of being athletically challenged. I’ve even said I wanted to quit multiple times.
But I’ve never quit and while I’ve embarrassed myself repeatedly, I’ve also had the time of my life. There have been countless laughs. I’ve made friends. I’ve had so much fun cheering on my teammates. Plus, I’ve had a reason to hang out in Central Park every week.
I’m never going to be good at softball, no matter how hard I try. Over the course of my life, I have and will continue to be presented with many things I’m not good at. Sure, it’s super annoying when you meet people who seem like they’re naturally good at everything, but even they have shortcomings. You don’t have to be good at every situation life presents. You don’t even have to be decent. It doesn’t matter how many times you strike out; what matters is that you keep stepping up and swinging.