Never Just a Game This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     “Glove, bat, cleats, sliding pad - do I have everything?” I ask as I go through my bag before stepping onto the bus. Yellow and green streamers outline the seats with each player’s name on the windows to indicate where to sit. At my seat I find a brown paper bag with my name filled with pieces of candy, a softball key chain and snacks to help motivate me for what could be the biggest game of my softball career.

An awkward silence falls over the team as the bus starts up with a loud roar and we head out. I notice that even Steph, our goofiest player, is quiet with a look of confidence yet concern on her face. Coach Weller stands to give us the usual focus speech but to my surprise her voice softens as she says, “Girls, all I want you to do tonight is enjoy the game, every moment of it.” We look at each other, confused.

“Coach is right,” says senior leader Lindsey. “Let’s have fun. It could be the last game we play together.”

Reality sets in: this could be the final time I do the splits to catch Emily’s third-base throws, or yell “Let’s go, Michelangelo” to Lindsey as she steps up to the plate. It hits me to take every good play, every at bat, and cherish it.

We finally arrive at the sports complex. Each team has one thing in common: we all won our regional tournament and, most importantly, we all crave that state championship. Excitement begins running through my body. The atmosphere is filled with eager anticipation. We make our way to the field that will decide whether we leave as champions or losers. The red dirt and different-sized infield remind me that we aren’t on home turf. One more part that is missing is our old Coach Mayberry; since he switched to baseball, our team hasn’t been the same. I turn and look at our crowd, and remember one thing that will always stay the same: the game of softball.

“C’mon, Lacey, let’s throw,” says my dependable throwing partner. We warm up, taking our throws and swings. There is concentration with each ball grounded and every pop fly caught. As we finish our warm-up, Coach is called in for the coin toss.

“Please let us be home, please,” I whisper.

“We’re home, girls,” Coach yells. “Prepare to take the field.” Already? This is it; my stomach is turning. We have our last team huddle and anxiety covers us. “Have fun and don’t leave anything on the field. Give it your all,” says Coach Weller. “Win on three, 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... Win!”

I am prepared to leave this field with the state championship. The game begins well with three outs in a row. We start the cheering and yelling. The crowd is huge. Our community has complete faith in us. In the first inning we score one run and, until the fifth inning, we hold our opponents scoreless. Then a batter hits a double to score runners from second and third. No big deal. We can get those runs back, I tell myself. We’ve done this before.

The seventh inning comes much too quickly. The score still reads two to one. I begin to be concerned. The dugout is quiet. It is our last chance to score. I try to get the team motivated by starting a cheer. They follow but with uncertainty in their voices.

We are at the top of our batting order with four ahead of me.

“Good, our best batters are going to do this for us,” I say. My hands clench the fence, my knuckles turning white. Shantel strikes out. Then Channelle hits a hard grounder to shortstop.

“C’mon wheels, get there!” we scream.

“Out!” calls the umpire. There is still a chance. Stephanie steps up to the plate. First pitch is a strike. Motivational words are yelled from every direction. Second pitch is another strike. I close my eyes. Third pitch is a hit to third base. Stephanie sprints with all her heart.

“Run, run, faster,” we all cheer. She steps on the base but is half a second too late. My face goes blank. Did that just happen? Our state championship has been taken from us by a team we could have beat.

As we slap the other team’s hands, tears start to roll down my face. I can’t believe we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do. Then I remember what I wanted to do before I took the field: cherish each moment, and that I did. I walk off leaving only my sweat and markings in the dirt. We listen to Coach tell us how proud she is of us, but it isn’t enough for me. I wanted to win.

“Glove, bat, cleats, sliding pad?” I ask myself as I slowly walk out of the somber dugout.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Trevor D. said...
Feb. 13, 2009 at 7:58 pm
This story had a suprise ending. I liked you< you clenched me on really well.
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