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About seven years ago on Easter, I suddenly learned my niece Amanda was something of a natural as a pitcher. Dinner finished, we all went to a nearby park and got a look at the 10 year old prodigy. Not bad, but all I had to do was sit on her fastball to sure up my place as the best softball player in the family. As I made my way to Yorktown last week to see her on the hill for John Jay High School, I still wait for another chance to let her know where we stand in terms of our common lineage.
An Empire State Games participant last summer, the sound of the seams hitting the catcher's mitt echoed above all the other incidental noise before I even got a visual on my 17 year old niece. Thus, my perpetual quip that she still couldn’t strike me out meant one thing. Smoke wasn't only being blown by her fastball.
Chin Music : No Problem
Then as she blurred one under the chin of the Yorktown batter, I felt a tinge of pride from a distance. I also decided not give in to the obvious futility of my delusions. On the other hand, I’m pretty certain she wouldn't give her uncle a dose of chin music like that so I might be ok.
I settled in on the first base line and got a better gauge of her fastball since I last saw her pitch a three years ago. Fortunately, high and tight didn't seem to be part of her repertoire yet. I took great comfort in that - mostly on my behalf.
Nonetheless, with Amanda in mind, I've taken a peak at college softball on ESPN a few times. It's simple, just lay your bat on the ball and go to the opposite field.
That's exactly my approach when I play slow pitch softball. Of course, that is categorically comparable to division one college softball - give or take 60 to 70 Miles Per Hour.
Ok, maybe my place has slipped away. Live, I realized objects in view move faster than they appear. This especially in contrast to the space-time slow of big time windmill softball on TV.
Unfortunately, the reality was discernible enough from where I was standing. But it's not even the blur that leaves holes in my game, and in many more ways than just my age.
Her Dad tells her ball dances all over the place, and if it even matters, by the time he swings, the rawhide has found a home in the cowhide. And forget it when she pulls the trigger with the change. The batters look like they're about to fall off a roller coaster.
Well, I guess I could sit on that for good measure. But the change of pace - mixed in with the yellow lightning - isn't what really separates her from her contemporaries (or delusional uncle). She stands quietly composed on the mound - no matter the situation or how many runners she leaves stranded on bases.
Softball is a Mirror
I should do so well when I misplace my keys, but for Amanda, the game face mirrors her personality. She's confident enough to remain reserved until the right moment comes. Then suddenly she’ll unleash something coy or engaging like the whirlwind that blazes or baffles opposing batters.
Of course, as the accolades have accumulated over the years, talk of the Olympics or Division I scholarships break out over Thanksgiving Dinner and such. She's the first one to put out that fire. It might simply be modesty.
My read is this : She doesn't want to talk, she wants to do and see where it leads.
Conversely, my place in the talking department is pretty safe for all the Christmas Dinners to come. Nonetheless, I'm going to keep angling for a few at bats against her…
Did I mention she's batting almost .700. It would seem striking her out isn't much of an option either. I'll be quiet now.
Note : Amanda's team went on to win the Class A New York State Championship and she went on to pitch Division 1 softball for the University of Pennsylvania.
On the other hand, my aging, beer slowed team finished 9-15, after a 6-2 start and missed the playoffs. I was no better.
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