The Season to Remember

The cheers have long faded. Grass has grown over the base paths and ant mounds now rise where once pitchers faced down opponents. But, the memories linger on...

It's winter now, halfway between seasons and I sit here in the stands looking out over the field. It seems like just yesterday that I stood in the coach's box giving signals to yet another team of "SweetHearts".
Back in April I watched dozens of nervous nine year olds "tryout" for our league teams. By July it was all over.
Now 'tryout' is really the wrong word in the Sulphur Parks and Recreation Program. No matter how good or bad a girl is, she still makes a team. The goal of SPAR is everyone who wants to play will play.
Tryouts and draft is more for the coaches than the players.It's the one time each coach gets to see if he or she can "out draft" the others and put together that 'special' team.
After watching the parade of hopefuls with awkward throws and muffed catches, the coaches divided the players for the summer's teams. Being the typical coach, I just knew I had managed to slip a few talented girls past my fellow coaches but I had eight openings to fill and if this was going to be a respectful season I would have to do better than a few.
The SweetHeart's impressive record over the past several seasons made us the team everyone wanted to beat. As practices began I began to feel we had another winner on our hands. It didn't take long to come back down to earth.
We had "owned" the kickoff Memorial Day Tournament for the past several seasons but instead of being the team to beat, we lost all four games - two by shutouts. Suddenly I realized this could be a very long season. I was right, the losses began to multiply.
As the season progressed I began to notice a change in me. A change that would stay with me all the years I have coached. As I looked at the teams in the league, everyone came to the game with the pressure that they HAD to win. Coaches and parents alike yelled at the girls. Players were afraid to make a mistake. And they were only 9 & 10 years old - their FIRST year in fast pitch.
On the other side of the field my girls were smiling, laughing, and having fun. Sure they had been taught the fundamentals, we worked on them at every practice. We played well, we were just out classed.
My coaches and I continued to work on the basics and stopped worrying at the stats. WE even began to enjoy the games. We no longer worried about the score.
Nineteen games came and went and we only won only one.
At the end of the year party the parents and the girls told me how much fun they had had during the season. We passed out more awards that year than any before or since.
Then the girls all headed home and put away their gloves and bats for another season.
As I stand here in the coach's box and look across the diamond, the winter wind whispers through the tall pines that surround the field and I hear the chatter of games long past - "Hey batter, batter...SWING!"
I realize that the past summer was very long in some aspects but way too short in another. The summer was not important because of some winning record. It was important because 14 very special little girls taught their coach that success does not come in the number of games you win but how much you love the game.
As the sun settles down behind the trees, I close my eyes. I can smell the fresh cut grass, the dust and lime. I can even smell the hotdogs and popcorn. But most of all I can see those smiling faces. You know this really was a successful season.
Thanks to the SweetHearts of 1986.

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