The Littlest Slugger
In the bleachers, sipping red slushy drinks, we marvel at growth spurts. This is the "9 and under" league, and if you stand the smallest 7-year-old next to the biggest 9-year-old, you can't help but marvel at the power of the pituitary gland. My goodness, some of these girls are more than five feet tall, while others barely reach four.
"Move back!" people yell, when a big one gets up to bat. "Move back!"
The infield girls do not really need to hear this advice. They retreat instinctively at the mere sight of the girl's commanding stance, her upper arm stretching the fabric of her uniform, her thigh a thing of glory, even her hair a thick, curly show of superb nutrition tumbling out of her helmet. You can almost see the infielders' knees knocking in fear and anticipation of what the girl -- probably very sweet, but now a monster -- is going to do to the sorry softball tossed her way.
Thwack! A line drive like a bullet, deep into right field. Oh, my. The ball never goes there. At times like this, I don't want my girl, the smallest of the small 7-year-olds, to even think heroics. My hope is that she will duck, hit the dirt, avoid a knockout. She does not do this. Sasha holds out her bright pink glove, closes her eyes. The ball misses her by a good three feet. Oh, well. It takes her a while to find where it lands: in the tall grass by the fence that no one has weed-whacked. By the time that ball makes it to the infield, the big girl is safely home. High-fives. Whatever.
Some of the parents in the bleachers remark on Sasha's size. "She's so tiny! Aw, can you believe she's out there playing ball?" I am used to it. Yes, yes, yes, she is the smallest 7-year-old in town. And, yes, she believes, actually believes, that she can play sports. How sweet. How cute. Yes, yes, yes. When Sasha gets up to bat, the situation is absurdly pronounced. With that big helmet on, she looks exactly like a bobble-head doll. A candy apple. A giant head teetering on a stick. Parents giggle. How cute. Then they see opportunity. "Move in!" they yell to the infield. "Move in!" the coaches yell. (Easy out, girls!)
This infuriates me beyond measure. Do they not know how they sound? Can they not imagine what it would feel like to be a girl, standing ready to swing a bat, and have the entire gathering singing its song of doubt? "Move in!" A swing and a miss. A swing and a miss. A third miss. In this league, you get five tries. Sasha holds her hand up to the pitcher (her coach), index finger up to tell him to wait a second. She picks up her foot, taps it with the end of the bat. Something she saw on TV, I suppose. The other team's coach takes this opportunity to scold his outfield. "Outfield, move in!" he barks. "Did you not hear what I said?"
Okay, so now infield and outfield are gathered like a herd of bored sheep, waiting for the little batter to finish going through her silly motions. Sasha's got her elbow up, knees bent, and I am seeing something in her posture. Something that says: I am better than this. Fourth pitch, a perfect soft arc. She swings, makes contact, a sweet spot, a solid thwack! The ball sails. Sails. Over the heads of the infielders. Over the heads of the outfielders (who, okay, are in the infield) all the way past second base, where no one is waiting and where it lands with a magnificent bounce. Sasha takes off running to first base, and so do I. "A hit!" I am yelling. Past the bleachers, past the concession stand, past the scoreboard. "A hit! Sasha, you hit it!" She arrives at first base before I do. I could cry with joy. "Sweetie, you got a hit!" "A serious hit," she says to me. "Did you see that hit?" Her teammates are on their feet. Her coach runs over with high-fives. She takes it all in quickly, then dismisses the celebrating, left foot on first, right foot reaching as far as she can toward second, helmet tight on her brow. Business.
I gain my composure and head back to the bleachers. "That was something to see!" parents say. "Who would have thought such a big swing could come from such a tiny girl!"
"Oh, she hits them like that all the time at home," I lie. "All the time." It is all beautiful enough. Really, my day at the park is complete right here, and probably Sasha's is, too. But there is more. A thing of loveliness so grand. The next time Sasha gets up to bat, she hears a new chorus: "Move back!" People yell. Parents and coaches, too, everyone warning infield and outfield of the power of the little bobble-head girl. "I said, move back!"
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.