I ran into this video before the start of this past summer softball season, and it immediately stuck with me. Since really the end of last summer league, co-captain and best friend Jim and I had talked about changing the culture of our softball team. In years past, our team had been looked down upon, for various reasons, some deserved, some not. My feeling, ultimately, is that we changed this league, maybe not so much for the other teams, but we opened a door that had not been approached before. I began my career in this league at the age of 19 playing under another captain. At that time I was an anomaly, I’ll never forget my very first at bat, the opposing pitcher stopped before throwing the first pitch of the game (I led off) and said “Is he old enough to be playing?” Keep in mind the league was an 18+ league and I was 19, perfectly permitted to be playing. I look back on that incident and it is easy to see why our team was received in such a bad way the next year when Jim and I formed what now comprises the “Yellow Team.”
That at bat, but more so the pitcher’s response, showed just how much the league was not used to having such young players, even though they were permitted to play. When Jim and I did form our team the next year, summer of 2009, the average age of our starting roster (on Opening Day) was 20.45, while the rest of the teams in the league probably sported an average age in the upper 20’s or lower to mid 30’s. This was a huge undertaking for a league that had not seen, in my opinion and knowledge of following the league, such a large mass of youth flooding into the league. Even more surprising, all of us were on the same team, not spread around other rosters.
The reason for so much turmoil in our early years was that youth. The league saw us as cocky little kids who did more running at the mouth than actual softball playing. I’m not going to say that we didn’t incite other players and teams sometimes, because we sure as hell did, but other teams did try to bait us into verbal arguments, which some of our players bit on. This trend continued for the rest of that summer season, the following fall season, and most of last summer season as well, with a few periods of calm. After last season, we decided to change the culture and begin a team based on respect, for opposing players, teammates, and the game in general. We wanted players who riddled the field with ability, drive, and respect, not curse words and insults. It didn’t take long, or really much effort, to pull this off.
The first order of business, and it was meant as no disrespect to anyone, was to have the “C” for captainship embroidered onto our jerseys, so that there was no dispute as to who led the team. Jim and I have struggled mightily, me especially because I hate to let people down or to make decisions that are excruciatingly difficult to make, to be both captains and teammates. I am always striving to be the best teammate and that is my ultimate goal. I do not show up every gameday looking to be the best player on the team or on the field, I am not in this game for personal glory or accolades, or to say that anyone is of less value to our team than anyone else, and I truly hope that trickles down to everyone. We chose to have the “C” on our jersey mainly because I think it looks cool on NFL jerseys and such, but also because we have had players in the past challenge our leadership role, even attending captain’s meeting and speaking on behalf of us, and that drove a wedge between the team and rubbed some teammates the wrong way. We also took a more verbal role in leadership, taking individual time to talk to and truly get to know the players that were on our team, not just saying “hi” to them every time we graced the same field. This was what brought our team together, and was also our toughest challenge. We had to develop that relationship with each player, and then have them develop it with one another. It acutely began last season, and blossomed this season. And it is this season that I want to talk about, for it was the best season I have ever had in terms of fun and just being around the game, and it was the season that put our team on a course for the better.
Working with a younger team this year (average age of starting roster on Opening Day was 18.36) we came into the season with all of the right parts: defined leadership, not only from our captains but also from players stepping up, a new found team respect, and players with a lot to prove on the field.
Our final regular season record was 1-11, but that record was in no way indicative of how well we played. Many of our losses were not blowouts as they had been in the past, but were respectable losses by 2-7 runs. We held the lead against every team at one point or another this season, sometimes storming out of the gate to an early lead, sometimes gripping to one late, but we were competitive, and that was a huge leap for us. We had many more firsts this season including: the first ever home run by a female player, the first time that Jim and I took the field without Clayton in our 4 years as captains, the first time a girl ever played shortstop, which is in my opinion the second most difficult position on the field to play, our first ever win against a top-tier team, which we did in walk-off fashion, and our first ever season where the other teams spoke to us as fellow players, not enemies. That last one is in my opinion the single most important. For once, we fit in.
Ray’s emergence as a true leader and preacher of full team commitment. Tina’s increased verbal presence and willingness to hit anywhere in the lineup and play anywhere on the field defensively without complaint. My comeback as an outfielder and continued drive to promote a team atmosphere. Katelyn’s falling into our lap and being one of the best hitters we’ve ever had, period. Jim’s continued rise out of his early career slump and emergence as a true captain, not a lower level leader. Cuc’s energy and never ending support. Rob’s blasting onto the scene to cap a walk off win against the Knights with a home run, as well as his solid defensive play. Kaitlin’s amazing improvement as a defensive first basegirl (as she always corrects me to say). Tyler’s speed. Amanda’s never ending commitment to improvement, as well as her constant increase in being a verbal presence, both at practice and games. Joe’s ability to join us and pitch at a very good level, as well as providing timely hitting. Clayton’s final games and sad departure, but ever willingness to stay up to date on what went on with the team (he called me before and after every game). Megan’s completed knowledge of the score book, her constant support for the team, including many new players she had never met before, the time she put in to help us practice, and her commitment to being there for every single practice and game.
This above list is my summary of what each player brought to the table and contributed for us to become what we are now. Are we in any way done with our journey, no, but we have created the firm foundation that we need to begin our quest of continued improvement and ultimately (hopefully) be champions one day. As the song says “…this is the start of something…” and for us, it truly is. We’re still “just a bunch of kids” but by playing the game the right way and sticking together, we are making headway. Now only if the 5 weeks before fall league begins could be fast forwarded through…
Worth a thousand words (miss you Clayton)