Trapped inside my house for three days, snow piling up to the windows, I’ve been dreaming of spring, bringing to mind baseball and my dad, two things inextricably linked in my mind.
Growing up, my dad played baseball from sunup to sundown every day of the summer at the Narberth playground just down the road from where I now live. He went on to play at Bonner in high school, then St. Joe’s in college, where he held the record for stolen bases until just a few years ago, even appearing in Sports Illustrated for this feat. Baseball was his life.
He got married at twenty-two and had four kids in short order, and though he stopped playing baseball the love affair continued through coaching Little League, following his Phils, naming one son after Richie Allen, and taking my brothers and I to games whenever possible, where we sat in the bleachers at the very top of The Vet. When in eighth grade my St. Bernadette’s varsity softball team lost our coach, my dad volunteered for the job. He said he knew coaching girls would be different when we insisted on voting whether or not to get hats for the team, and decided not to because they messed up our hair.
Despite playing hatless, under my dad’s leadership and the magic arm of our pitcher Katie Weinrich, we had a storybook season, winning our division, making it all the way to the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Championship game. The chicken pox had kept me at home for the playoffs, but I returned for the final game, still pock-covered, but no longer contagious, knowing that my team needed me.
In the last inning, we trailed by one run, with two outs and the bases loaded when I came up to bat. The pitch flew at me, and I smacked it right on the sweet spot of the bat, that solid contact that you know is a good hit as it happens. But my dream of winning the game for my team shattered as I looked up to see the shortstop snag it out of the air, ending the game. I burst into tears, as a 13-year-old girl will, and threw my helmet, as anyone in my family will, but my dad hugged me and said, “That was a great hit. You did everything you could. I’m proud of you.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but that season would be the pinnacle of my sporting career. And though it didn’t have the heroic Hollywood ending I wanted, it had something better--the opportunity to learn that my dad was proud of me and loved me whether I won or not.