Hey Batter, Batter

By Clark Brenisholtz | August 17, 2017

The triple digit temperatures are passing, leaves have begun to turn, and talk around the office of a new school season all remind me that another summer is drawing to a close. My thoughts are already turning to my Fall chore list. I’m contemplating raking leaves, and cleaning out gutters, and even snow blower prices. (Memories of marathon shoveling sessions from last season haunt me even now). Still, I’m hesitant to let go of Summer without a little bit of a fight. I have some fond memories of this fading season.

One of my better memories of this Summer was playing on the Hawkins Companies inaugural softball team, but it didn’t begin that way.

My last experience with a bat, ball, and glove was high school baseball. Age, gravity, and more than a few grande mochas in the twenty-some years since I last played a competitive sport, have all conspired to produce a physique that the charitable might call, less than athletic. Still, I was stoked at the idea of a little friendly competition.

I was told our season would be brief. I was told we were playing at the lowest level of competition. I was told it would be fun.

Late May arrived as expected, and with it our first game. Greetings were exchanged among coworkers and family members as our squad assembled around our dugout. Friendly banter filled the air as players limbered up and paired off to practice throwing and catching. The sound of a cold beverage cracking open nearby signaled that Summer was officially underway.

Life was good.

Fast forward through a period of time only slightly shorter than the last ice age, and our first inning came to an end.

We scored only a few runs in our first at bat. Still, we all took the field with enthusiasm, ready to close out the inning with a quick three outs. That enthusiasm was short lived as the opposing team kept bringing slugger after slugger to the plate. Our opposition crushed so many popups to the back fence, that the local air terminal had to divert nearby aircraft to safer altitudes. To compound matters, our umpire seemed to suddenly develop glaucoma. That, or he just hated our team colors. Either way, our pitcher was trapped in the dismal predicament of endlessly hearing, “BALL” and walking the bases loaded. Or, lobbing the perfect slow pitch, then quickly ducking, as the ball launched into the stratosphere.

The game drug on, and sadly the opposition became less and less sportsmanlike with each score they gained on us. Then the rain came, because of course it would. And later, mosquitos the size of sparrows announced that the apocalypse was nigh. As a team, it wasn’t our brightest hour.

As we walked to our cars pleasantries were still exchanged, and some where already talking about the next game, and had put this one behind them. “No big deal. It’s just a game,” I overheard. Others still, myself included, wore a look of wounded pride. I knew going in that every game must have a loser, it just hadn’t occurred to me that it would be our team.

The following week my wife and I went to The Parade of Homes. Toward the end of our tour, I stepped off a high concrete ledge with all the grace of a drunken bear falling off a unicycle. Gravity did what it does, and in a last ditch effort to save my body from impacting the Earth, my right leg stuck out, sacrificed itself, and took one for the team. A sharp pain that no man has felt since the Spanish Inquisition burst forth in my right quadricep, but I’d managed to keep from landing on my skull, so mentally I put that one in the win column. Meanwhile, my wife casually slipped away, so no one would assume she was with the portly ballerina.

Oddly, my pride was on hold, and my first thought was, “our next game is only three days away.”

I didn’t play the next game, or the next one after that. I wanted to show the team support, so I saw the games from the bench, or as a third base coach. It wasn’t much fun. Still, I did see something amazing happen.

As our games progressed in the coming weeks, I observed a camaraderie develop among us Hawkins players. I watched people new to the sport struggle, and people familiar with the game offer help. Honestly, the thing that impressed me the most, was the lack of negative criticism.

In a situation where it would have been easy to generate hostility, or whisper criticisms behind another’s back, or even quit, I never once witnessed that. Instead, I watched leaders rise, and dig a little deeper, while still offering guidance to those in need. Week after week, regardless of the last game’s score, I saw trust build between new friends, and team confidence rise. I saw the negative memory of that first game fade away, and joy return to the expressions of my teammates. I saw greatness bloom from the combined efforts of ordinary people.

Some other things I saw were:

– A young woman stand firm to an oncoming line drive. The ball rocketed down the third base line, and where many would have ducked, she steadfastly held her position, threw her glove hand in the air, and winced in anticipation of impact. The POP of the ball seating in her glove could be heard from the outfield. The combined looked of shock and sheer joy when she realized that she’d caught the batter out, was among the purest expressions that I’ve everwitnessed from another human.

– A six foot five inch man snag a passing ball that had to be 9 feet off the ground, and then land flat on his back to make the last out of the inning.

– My life flash before my eyes, as a line drive to center field was nearly stopped in it’s path by my skull. Prayer was involved after. Thanks was given. I’ve been trying(ish) to follow a straighter path since.

– An angry squirrel chase a terrier into the trunk of a tree. Obviously, it wasn’t game, or team building related, but some of those park squirrels can be on the truculent side. Just thought you should know.

Anyway, the season wound down to it’s conclusion, and as our team found their places in the field, I took my position behind home plate and took stock of the situation. The sun was out. No storm on the horizon. Faces were relaxed, not stressed. Our umpire was pleasant. No, actually, he was downright jovial. Everyone seemed genuinely comfortable. Our season ended just as you might imagine. We won.

Afterward, over pizza, we all joked about various moments shared, and enjoyed each other’s company. We shared equally in the glory of that victory, and that too was one of the purest moments among friends, that I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

I read a bit, and in that moment I silently recalled a quote I had read years earlier, from a stack of my grandfather’s things. I fit the moment perfectly. “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.” – Sumner Redstone

I don’t work for Hawkins Companies, but in that moment I wished I had. I was, and still am proud to know those people of good character. We ate, and drank, and teased, but in the end we rejoiced. Not, I think, for the simple victory of a game, but for the success we built as a team from our initial failure. It was an amazing Summer.