It’s been a few years since I graduated from college. Gone are the days when I could ask someone: “What are your plans for summer break?”
But I still get nostalgic when summer comes to an end because that also means the end of baseball season.
I attended my first softball camp when I was 5. I felt awkward with my big glove. Before camp started, we had stuffed the glove under my mattress, wrapped in a rubber band to break it in. I am a lefty, but for some reason it felt more comfortable to play right-handed.
I remember standing in front of the coach. I felt miles away as she got ready to pitch the ball. It left her hand and — SMACK — hit me right in the nose.
“This is it,” my dad thought. “She’ll never play again.”
But I played continuously until fifth grade.
It was probably a good thing, too. My dad is a big baseball fan, and always wanted his kids to play.
My dad moved to Colorado after graduating from the University of Illinois 1988. He was following his best friend who had moved here the year before. Their friendship is rooted in leather gloves and red stitching. To this day, they play on the same softball team, which they started playing on back in 1995 (the Isotopes), and have a long-running fantasy baseball league.
Every April, my uncle flies in from Illinois as the fantasy league takes over the house. For weeks ahead of “The Draft,” my dad is nothing but RBIs and batting-average stats. On the phone, my dad will grill my grandpa, teasing him that the Chicago Cubs creamed the St. Louis Cardinals in the latest pre-season game.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to check out several ballfields. As blasphemous as it is to say in the religion of baseball, Yankees Stadium is the worst. With just the tiniest bit of hometown bias, Coors Field is still my favorite place to see a game. You can’t beat a Colorado sunset, with the mountains along the horizon and the loud crack of a home run.
My dad had commemorative framed tickets to the Rockies’ 1993 season — their first — hanging on the hallway wall. I have squished pennies with a pressed Dinger the dinosaur from a Father’s Day game in 1997. When I walk into the stadium, memories from more than two decades of going to Rockies games with my family swirl around me.
After a brief hiatus from softball, I moved to Seattle for high school in the summer of 2005. My school was small, 700 students K-12. It meant if I wanted to join a softball team, I had to play for a different school. The team I was on didn’t really care how we played. I was a sophomore and competitive by nature. By the time our third loss rolled around, I was done. I didn’t want to play with people who had no drive to do well. I was so upset I thought I wouldn’t pick up a bat again.
My senior year changed that. A good friend told me that my school was trying to pull together a baseball team. They were one player short of a regulation team. He knew I had played softball for years — would I be interested?
So I played second base on the boy’s baseball team my senior year. I learned more about the sport in that short season than in all my years of playing softball.
It brought me back to what baseball meant to me as a kid. It made me remember the feel of the bases at a ballpark in Broomfield as my small feet rounded third after my dad’s softball games. The hope of catching a fly ball at Coors Field.
Baseball has always meant family to me, whether it was playing catch with my dad before a game or sitting in the dugout with his team.
So, as summer wanes, my heart constricts just a bit at having to say farewell, for yet another year, to the game that will always feel like home.
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