Friday, May 23, 2008

Softball Dreams Do Come True!

She was three years old when that picture was taken. Her 7-year old brother likes to tease her that she didn't get her hips to the ball and she was swinging underneath the ball (he's right, btw).

This past Monday, my now-18-year old completed her scholastic softball career. Though she was a four-year varsity player, this was the first time that Courtney actually got some serious playing time.

Freshman year, she felt lucky to just make the team. There were a some starts at DH, and some pinch-running assignments, and with a bunch of other freshmen on the team, there was a sense that this team was going to be good in a couple of years.

Sophomore year brought a new coach and some new challenges. Playing time was reduced a bit, but when her team beat our local town high school for the first time in at least four years, it was Courtney who pitched the first two innings, holding her opponents to a single run until the regular starting pitcher could get to the field. I will never forget the look on my daughter's face at the end of the game - "We won...and I had something to do with it!" The team's record was awful, but they played hard every game for this new coach, and the feeling from freshman year about how good this team was going to be was looking like a reality.

Junior year was almost a complete waste of time. Yet another new coach, and that meant having to prove herself all over again. Playing time was very scarce and limited to an occasional late-inning replacement in right field or second base. One disastrous pitching outing doomed her from ever getting back into the circle for the remainder of the year. One bad practice (a practice for goodness' sake!) and her playing time went down to almost nothing. She was hurt. She was angry. And she was determined to prove EVERYONE wrong.

Heading into her senior year, Courtney started going to a local gym. She ran. She lifted weights. And every Sunday for the better part of six months, she had me train her. As we got later into the winter, she upped the workouts to twice a week. We played long toss until I thought my arm would fall off. She did ground ball drills on her knees until they ached. I can't begin to count the number of swings she took. I told her again and again, "Hard work pays off." The last Sunday before tryouts, I looked her in the eye and told her, "You're ready." I don't think I've ever been more sure of anything in my life.

Trouble was, the one person whose opinion really mattered - her coach - wasn't convinced. Despite being named a co-captain by the coach, and showing VAST improvement in pre-season practices (she was the only infielder to reach 1st base from 3rd on the first day of throwing drills), she started the season on the bench. We continued to work out. We would go to outdoor fields and I would hit her ground balls over and over. I started to doubt my own ability to teach the game and evaluate talent. After one particularly strong workout in which she made play after play, I threw my arms out in desperation and pleaded, "What am I missing here? I don't understand why you aren't playing." Was it personal between her and the coach? Was I biased because this was my daughter?

Shortly after that day she got a start at second base. By Courtney's own standards, she had just an OK day. One routine ground ball out, a miscue on another ground ball, and a loss to the big local rival. Convinced she wouldn't play the next day, we were all stunned the next morning to find her back at second base in the opening game of an annual tournament at one of the local Catholic high schools.

Her team fell behind early (the coach chose this game to start one of the younger pitchers and by the time she made a change to the regular starter, it was 8-1). But something odd happened. The other team stopped playing well, Courtney's team scored a few runs, and all of a sudden the score was 8-6 and this game was actually within reach.

Enter the defining moment of her season.

Leading off an inning, the coach noticed a look on my daughter's face and asked her what was wrong. Ticked off by what had happened her junior year and frustrated at having already struck out in this game, she looked the coach straight in the eye and told her, "I'm frustrated by striking out and I am afraid you'll take it out on me and sit me." She then went out and drilled a single past the pitcher's head into center field to ignite what would be the tying rally. She also made two brilliant plays at second base and when she was injured on another play covering first, she waved off her coach - "I wasn't giving her the chance to take me out," she would later relate. Her team ended up losing by a run in extra innings, but the die was cast.

In the second game, she made a couple more great defensive plays and beat out an infield hit that drove in the go-ahead (and ultimately winning) run. All that work...those hours of ground balls...those stupid drills...all of it was finally paying off! "Are you crying, Dad?" she said to me after the second game. "Maybe a little bit," I responded. Shortly after that in the post-tournament award ceremony, she was named to the All-Tournament Team.


Courtney started almost every game the rest of the season. In another tournament, she once again sparkled with both her bat and her glove. Over the course of the rest of her season she made the great plays...she made the routine plays. She was NEVER out of position. She got some hits. She played. She had fun! Parents of her teammates raved about how she was the defensive glue of the infield. This past Tuesday night, her school held its annual spring sports dinner. She positively glowed when she was handed her varsity certificate and pin. When we came home, she threw her arms around me and said, "Thank you, Daddy."

No, Courtney. Thank you.


Lisa Clarke said...

Courtney's eighteen?? I remember seeing her in church and she was just a little kid. Wow. Time flies. Congratulations to you both :-)

Jim Monaghan said...

Thanks, Lisa. Yeah, time goes by so quickly, doesn't it? She graduates high school in just a few days.

Anonymous said...

What a great story, thanks for sharing.

Lauren Perry said...

Wow! What a great year for Courtney! I am glad that she worked so hard and was so positive, because that brought her a long way :) Congrats to her for starting and having an amazing senior year!

Jim Monaghan said...

Lauren -

Thanks...and thanks for letting me bounce softball stuff off you the past couple of years. It really helped.

She's still wavering on whether to try to play ball in college (D3 Fairfield).