I remembered how the limestone felt under my metal spikes and the way the heat from the sun, beating down on us in the middle of summer, gave the leather glove on my left hand a funky smell.
I remembered the feeling of a bat with a perfect grip in my hands, smashing the pitch I’d been waiting for all night and the sound of teammates exuberantly chanting from the dugout.
I remembered how the laces around the ball felt in my hand as my catcher signaled the pitch and how much I just love this game.
All these memories came flooding back, like they do every year when I step foot inside the Jack Marlowe Athletic Complex for the first high school softball home game. It makes me emotional. It’s like a part of my soul lives on that diamond.
Wednesday night I went to watch the girls varsity doubleheader against the Center Point-Urbana Stormin’ Pointers. The Cardinals did not disappoint their fans. They showcased both intellect of the game and determination to get a “W” in the books — two, in fact.
As a member of the press, I have the privilege of being able to stand inside the fence to shoot photos for the Sentinel-Press. It gave me a chance to toss a few questions to coaches Sara Nelson and Michelle Lanham who both expressed excitement about this young team.
Having played on the same high school softball team as Sara, I was eager to talk to her on a personal level about her 2019 team. We only had a couple brief moments in between innings to make a few quick exchanges, but she told me she’s been coaching the Cards since 2005.
And, then — it happens. You realize how old you’ve become. Sure, 35 isn’t that old, but I’ve been out of high school as long as some of the players have been alive, some a little longer. And, well, quite frankly, that makes me feel old.
These memories, though, they remain fresh.
Perhaps that’s because they blast Britney Spears circa 2000 across the loudspeaker between innings, or it could be that I hear the same laughter and excitement in the dugout that I heard in 2002, or maybe it’s because while sitting in the stands, I was surrounded by friends who shared the same passion for the game.
All these memories and emotions also remind me that times have changed and so have I.
I’m not 18 years old with a summer full of carefree choices. I’m not a ball of anxiety wondering what it’s going to be like to leave my hometown and explore the newfound freedom of college. I’m not worried about what my circle of friends is doing and if I’m feeling left out. I’m not worried about my skin, my hair, boys, or sports.
I have secured my place in adulthood.
I am happy to live and work in my hometown. I found a job that lets me express myself creatively, challenges me intellectually, and engages me in my community.
I have cherry-picked my inner circle that leaves no doubt in my mind that I’m worth something to them and to myself.
It turns out, if you hydrate enough, your skin takes care of itself, hair always grows back, boys turn into men with thoughtfulness and respect toward women, and sports — well, they carry on whether you’re tuning in or not.
It’s been 17 summers since I’ve laced up my red cleats — the ones thrown in the back of my closet with tape on the right toe to run damage control from dragging my foot in the limestone when pitching — put on those (awful polyester) red pinstriped shorts, slipped No. 15 over my head and trotted to the mound where I did a pre-inning handshake with my centerfielder, and still good friend to this day, Cayla (Baresel) Schneider. Seventeen summers since I wrote my name with a black Sharpie on the home (now visitor) dugout’s wooden frame alongside some of the other great players with and before me. Seventeen summers since I took to the mound to deliver pitch after pitch, inning after inning. And seventeen summers since our team piled into two suburbans to travel to the next town over, singing the whole way there and the whole way back no matter the number on the scoreboard.
Those memories are mine forever. And, I hope every team member from the last 17 years has made their own, too.