Bernita M. Bailey (9/8/1921-9/25/2012)

January 31st, 1989, sometime after 8:00 p.m., Sharon Hospital, Connecticut. I took my first breath of air on this planet that night, and I’ll have taken over 200,000,000 by Saturday, my 26th year of life.

September 25th, 2012, sometime shortly after 5:00 a.m., Sharon Hospital, Connecticut. My grandmother took her final breath on this planet that morning. She took over 700,000,000 breaths over her 91 years of life.

I’ve been lucky to have 26 healthy years, but I’ve been unlucky to have been plagued for the past 3+. I shared my time on this Earth with my grandmother for just under twenty-four years. I learned about life, listened before speaking, and grew up earlier than most. It’s taken me over three years to sit down now and tell her story, to sit down and tell our story. It won’t do her justice, or bring her back, nothing will, but I want to tell it.

My grandmother was always like a third parent to me. My parents would go to work or go out with friends and my two brothers, sister, and I would stay home with her. She was 68 years old when I was born, and 74 by the time my sister was born, but she was always up for the challenge. We lived in Pawling until I was four, moving to Dover Plains after that and living there for 13+ years until we were all older. When we moved, my grandmother came with us. She always lived with us, and I’m thankful for that. As I grew up, my relationship with my grandmother evolved, and she became my closest friend. We spoke for hours on end in the kitchen, from the time I was about ten until she passed. She liked to drink hot tea and eat toast, things that have become every day occurrences for me. We would talk about anything, the Yankees and Cowboys, which were her favorite sports teams, the weather, the neighbor’s antics, life. She taught me different card games and we would play them as we spoke. I look back and just remember asking her so many questions. I’ve always wanted to learn as much as possible, and I still do. I would listen to her speak, ask questions when I could, and take everything she said to heart. Sometimes we would be up until 11:00 at night or later just talking. She would fall asleep in the chair in our living room as I watched television so I would wait for her to wake up and keep talking more. Maybe she was annoyed with me sometimes, who knows.

As I entered high school we got closer. I would go to work with her over the summer in Pawling. She worked at the funeral home for years, and would take the train from Dover to Pawling and walk to the funeral home, which was probably a mile or so. I marveled at her ability to do this, and it was her routine year round, up until she was in her mid-80’s. One morning we couldn’t take the train because the lines were doing maintenance so they provided a bus instead. The bus didn’t stop at the train station though, instead making a different stop in town, so we walked to the funeral home from there. We were crossing this one intersection and my grandma (in her 80’s) tripped over a small pothole and fell to the ground, scraping her elbow. I immediately helped her up and we kept walking. She never let the small things affect her, life was too important and not worth “crying over spilt milk,” as she would often tell me.

Entering my junior year, talk of going to prom came up. I had a girlfriend at the time but the topic wasn’t urgent for us, so I didn’t really pay attention to it. A few weeks before the tickets went on sale, I asked her to prom and she said “yes.” I was excited and felt happy to be included in something that you get one chance at in your life, unless you go to prom with someone older or younger, but I don’t count that because it’s not your prom. I told my grandma and she was happy for me, as she always was, being my biggest supporter. She told me she would pay for it all, and didn’t hesitate in making that offer. She put me to work making the necessary phone calls to order my tuxedo and a corsage for Kayla. I was on the phone with the tuxedo rental company when my phone beeped to notify me that there was an incoming call. It was Kayla. She broke up with me during that phone call and I came back on the line with the salesman and said, “Never mind, my girlfriend just broke up with me, so I won’t be going to prom, thank you anyway sir.” My grandma said she would still pay for me to go, regardless of if it was alone or not, but I respectfully declined. I loved her kindness, and it’s one of the great traits I carry with me to this day. She went above and beyond for me and wanted nothing in return, and that to me is greatness.

I graduated high school on June 23rd, 2007. My parents were bringing my grandma to the ceremony and I was looking forward to it. I always wanted her to be at my functions. They had planned a graduation party for me at my house afterwards, so the day was shaping up to be a good one. I remember being in the first row and looking into the crowd, scanning to see where they were. When I located my parents I did not see my grandmother, wondering where she was. They told me after the ceremony was over that she was having issues with her hip, which hurt on occasion, and she didn’t want to slow them down with her walking, so she was waiting for me at home. I remember being sad in that moment, because I really wanted her to be there.

That graduation party is very memorable for me because someone there took a photo of my grandmother and I standing side by side outside in the yard. I believe this is the only photo of her and I taken in my adult life, all the rest are of me as a child. I have the only copy of that photo and it hangs above me on the visor of my truck, held there by a “Guardian Angel” visor clip that my grandmother gave me and made sure I always had in my car. It reads: “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” I didn’t know when she gave it to me that the guardian angel it refers to would be her in the future. To be honest I never pictured a day where I would have to exist without her. I still don’t, it’s difficult to grasp when I dwell on it.

I went away to college from 2009-2010, attending SUNY Oswego, which was about five hours from home, and when the car left my driveway I cried. I sat in the back seat and broke down to myself, because I would miss out on so many talks and moments with her. Upon arriving and moving in, and throughout the semester I made sure to call home often. My grandma and I spoke the longest out of everyone, that’s always how it was. I was glad to move back home after college and reclaim the moments I treasured most.

Life moves in mysterious ways and after a few years I was living on my own. I remained in contact with her and still visited on weekends often. I visited my parents house for my grandma’s 91st birthday on September 8th, 2012. It was crazy to me, 91 years I thought, and it was like she never changed. She was always the same person, physically and mentally. That night I showed up and my mom warned me that my grandma wasn’t herself, and was in poor health. I entered her room to find her laying in bed, very frail and weak. This wasn’t the person I knew, not by any means, and the transformation seemed like it had happened overnight. She could still speak and I made sure she knew I was there and wished her a happy birthday. Her spirits were high despite her physical condition. My mom told me later that night that on Monday, they would seek to get her some medical care, which they did.

My brother Ray and I went to the hospital that Monday, September 10th, to see how she was doing and learned she had a few minor issues and needed some intravenous fluids to get her back on her feet. She need nutrients that her diet didn’t give her and by mid-week when we visited again she was her old healthy self again. We brought her a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, which she loved, and we sat and laughed and talked with her for hours before leaving around 10:00 that night. The hospital told us that they would monitor her and think about releasing her shortly, perhaps during the following week, which made us happy.

I received phone call, I believe it was Thursday, September 20th or Friday the 21st from my aunt telling me that my grandmother had suffered from cardiac arrest and that she may not make it. I remember driving down route 9 in Wappingers, I had just left work and was driving at the time of the call, and I broke down in traffic. I remember it being bumper to bumper traffic and I was speeding and darting in and out of the lanes to get to her as fast as I could. I knew the drive was over an hour and I had one stop to make. I stopped at a red light and there was a young girl in her car in the next lane looking at me as I cried and I made eye contact with her, realizing she had noticed me but didn’t really care. I pulled into the car dealership that Ray worked at and with tears pouring from my eyes, told him what our aunt had told me, and told him to come to the hospital with me. He told me he couldn’t leave work so I went by myself. I got there to find her asleep in the hospital bed and the nurse asked me to sit in the waiting room for a second, she wanted to speak to me.

(I just found the actual date by looking at my Facebook wall to a post I wrote that day) It read: “September 21st: One doctor just spoke with me, telling me my grandmother is a strong woman. Her heart recovered and bounced back from cardiac arrest.” She went on to tell me while she had come out of it, if she slipped into cardiac arrest again, they may not be able to bring her back and would have to let her go. I remember saying out loud “I don’t want to hear this, I didn’t come here for that talk.” I went into her room and spoke to her some, finding it hard to find the words. I haven’t always been the best about opening up in person about my emotions, and this time was no different. I said “hello” and told her I wasn’t here to say goodbye to her, because she was going to beat this and walk out of that hospital one day soon. I thanked her for everything she had ever given me in life, the lessons, the hard talks, the knowledge, the love. This wasn’t an ordinary person in that hospital bed, to me this was my hero, and she was fighting, not giving up. I made it my goal to make sure my other siblings got to see her before she left, if in fact she was going to leave. My sister went with my parents that weekend and I brought my brother Matt with me to see her at the end of that weekend. I went back myself and fell asleep in the chair next to her bed. I felt that if I left, I would never see her again, so I spent every minute I could with her. I would speak to her sometimes and she would nod to me. She could hear me, but couldn’t say anything back. She was fighting.

I woke up on Tuesday, September 25th at a little past 5:00 in the morning to my phone ringing, it was my aunt calling. I didn’t pick up the phone. I had an idea as to why she might be calling, but refused to hear the words. The call ended and I laid there in bed, my mind was totally blank. My phone beeped to tell me I had a voicemail and I said “Nope, I’m not listening to it.” After another half hour or so I went out into the driveway and listened to the voicemail, and my worst fear became my reality. I still remember my aunt’s words as if they are being spoken to me now, “Your grandmother went into cardiac arrest this morning after 4:00 and they let her go.” I hung up and the burden of telling my family members was on me. I was the first one to know, and I didn’t break down in that moment, I had to hold it together for now. I called my parents’ house phone, and no one answered. I called my sister’s cell phone, no answer. I tried the house phone again, and my mother answered. I told her, and she began crying, she woke up my dad and brother Matt and told them. She said Megan had went to school and it would be best to tell her after she got out of school, so I agreed. Megan must have noticed the missed call shortly after because she texted me asking what was up, and I told her that I had something to tell her but wanted to wait until after school. She told me “Rob it’s ok to tell me now, I’ll be ok,” almost as if she knew, and she called me and I told her, both of us crying. One person remained, and I knew it was going to be the hardest discussion yet.

Since I had slept over Erin’s house that night, I still had to go home. I made arrangements to not work that day, drove home to where Ray and I lived, and just stood in the driveway for about three hours in a hoodie and jeans shooting a basketball through a hoop. I have no idea why I did this, and really didn’t put much thought into it other than doing it. My friend Joe, whose house it was, came outside and asked me what I was doing, I told him and he just left for work without asking me anything else. I finally went inside and sat on the couch for about twenty minutes, pondering how to tell Ray. Finally I walked down the hallway to his room, knocked on the door and said “Hey man, nan passed away shortly after 5:00 this morning” and walked back outside. Shortly after, Ray came out and left for work and we didn’t speak much that day. We’re much in the same, in times of crisis, we don’t say much.

It’s taken me over three years to write this, as I said earlier. I’ve drafted so many pieces in my head over those three years, never committing to put the thoughts into words. I didn’t know where to start. How do I write and accurately describe someone who meant more than words on a screen ever could? Why was she gone? Why did I feel as if it was a lie somehow? Many questions, hours of thought, no answers.

I always joke about never dying. People balk at it, because obviously no one lives forever. I beg to differ however, as I found my solution to that riddle at a very young age. You can only truly die if no one remembers you. Even if only one person carries your memory with them, you still exist. And to me, my grandma is still alive today, because even if everyone else forgot about her, I never could. I’ll write her story and have someone read it to me if I should be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease one day, because I love the story.

She will live on so long as I am physically alive, because in many ways, her personality and mine are parallel. I have so many traits now as a young adult that I look back and realize she had as well, the most important of which is altruism. By definition, altruism is the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. It means that you are kind and generous to others always, without ever looking for or receiving compensation for your actions. It’s a marvelous trait, and one I’m glad she bestowed upon me. I have learned to ignore people, another very important one. In my younger days when someone was mouthing off to me I had the habit of wanting to say something back all the time. My grandma would take me aside and tell me “Robert just let them talk, don’t pay any mind to it, it’s not worth it.” I’ve dealt with much controversy using that line of thought. I wake up every day and look for purpose, choosing not to live a boring life. I surround myself with few people, because you can’t rely on everyone. I’m smart with my money, often frugal regardless of the amount in the bank. I believe in hard work, in doing the dishes every day, and in eating my vegetables. I “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” I drink hot tea all of the time, I enjoy the simple parts of life, such as birds chirping, and I never take anything for granted. Above all, I’m lucky to have shared this Earth with Bernita M. Bailey. That’s my proudest achievement.

My grandmother passed away almost 5 months to the day before my oldest son, Peyton, being born. She knew he was coming, but didn’t survive long enough to become a great-grandmother for the first time. She didn’t get to meet my two other children, Landon or Savannah either, and that makes me sad. I hope wherever her spirit lies, if she can look down on them now, she smiles at the sight of them. I hope she continues to lead me in some small way as I’ve always looked to her for guidance. And I hope she knows just how much I miss her every day, and can one day correct the battles I face within on a daily basis of the thought of her no longer being here.

My grandma and I had a tradition that developed when I was a child and continued into my twenties. Before I went to bed every night I would kiss her cheek and say four small phrases, in the same order every night:

“Goodnight, see you in the morning, I love you, sweet dreams.”

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Return (to the computer screen and the bike)

I often find that as my time is taken up with other things, it is my true passions that fall to the wayside. Writing has been a hobby of mine since my youth, and I always find myself stepping away from it for periods of time. I say I’ll be back, write more, post more, keep up on it, but I hardly ever keep my word. As I sat in front of the computer this evening, I saw my opportunity to open my life’s book again and add to its pages, so here I am. 

I want to fill sections of my life in that I normally write about, but have neglected to. I think I’ll start with my return to the bike marathon I began taking part in during my first year of college in 2007. This would be the marathon that I race in for charity, with the proceeds going to individuals with vision impairments who are in need of research, glasses, and other things related to that field. In 2007 I finished 5th out of 30, followed by a 2008 finish of 4th out of 20, which lead to a 2009 victory in a field of 28. From 2009-2011 I did not take part in the race and I had been missing it. After moving to Pleasant Valley, NY and into walking distance of where the race begins, I saw an opportunity to jump back into the race, and I did. 

I had a few weeks to prepare for the race but didn’t have a bike to use, a problem that was solved one day while I was at work. I had to run to the plumbing parts store to pick up some material and I passed a tag sale on the way. After noticing that it had a road bike for sale, I told myself that I would stop on the way back and purchase it, allthewhile hoping it would still be there. As it turns out, it was and for the small bargain price of ten dollars, it was all mine. The bike needed a little work and it wasn’t the type of bike I typically use (I like to go with an 18 or 21 speed, this bike was only a 10, which holds significant disadvantages) but it would have to do. 

The morning of the race, I had the same exact attire on that I had won the 2009 race in, black shorts and my long sleeve Under Armour top (the race is in September and tends to be cold, especially with the 9 a.m. start time.) I did my usual pre-race routine of a few laps around the parking lot and it was time. All I could think about was the possibility of a repeat, but I hadn’t entered this race in three years, which, coincidentally is the last time I had ridden a bike for any amount of time, so I wasn’t getting too ahead of myself. My main goal was my usual goal, to finish the race, number one, and number two, to never get off the bike, no matter what.

I started off in about 7th and for most of the race I was somewhere between 7th and 1st place. I noticed early on that I wasn’t going to dominate the hills as I had in past races because my physical condition wasn’t up to par with the demands of a 26.2 mile race. I struggled on the hardest hills but pushed on, leading about 5-7 miles of the race before surrendering the lead and eventually finishing 5th out of 23. It wasn’t a repeat win, but it was a victory for me. 

What I was most proud of was a moment in the middle of the race. I had been leading and two guys passed me, moving me to third. One of them slowed down and said he remembered me from the year I won, asking me “You used to run in this race, you won a few years back right?” That made me feel good. It’s always nice when someone on this planet notices or remembers me, especially since in most crowds I’m the quiet guy who lets his actions, not his words, show his true character.

Finishing 5th was only a disappointment because I expect the best results, and didn’t achieve them. But I gave this race all that I had physically and knew I had reached my limits, so I have nothing to complain about. I’ve been training on stationary bikes and in the gym since that race though and next year I expect the results to be much better. As with every sport that I play, I expect to win. That never changes.

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Intro to Comeback

I’ve missed writing, I truly have. I write for many reasons, but mostly because it allows me peace of mind when I’m able to sit down and take hours at a time to project my thoughts onto paper. It is my release from my inner analysis, both of life in general and more importantly, my own life. All I’ve thought about this week is writing, and I’ll start with the post that follows this one.

At the end of every summer since this blog’s existence, I’ve concluded my summer with a list of memorable things from that summer, and I am going to do so again. I usually go for 40-50 things, so I’ll shoot for that and see how it goes. It’s been a summer to remember, that’s for sure.

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Into Deep Left Center…and GONE!

On Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 I watched the flight of the 42nd home run in Yellow Team franchise history, a shot to deep left center field that was a sure thing from the moment contact was made. It was hit on the last day of the Fall 2011 regular season, an eventual 24-23 loss to one of the two best teams this league has to offer. It came off the bat of a player who had never hit a regular season home run, inside-the-park or over the wall. That player had watched seven other players, including one female, hit a home run while donning a Yellow Team jersey. Perhaps, it was just time.

I was in my dorm room at SUNY Oswego during the Spring of 2009 when I decided that I wanted to introduce my very own co-ed softball team into the league in my town. I had a falling out with my best friend, Jim, in August of the previous year and we had not communicated in eight months. My first recruiting calls were to my brother Ray and another of my best friends, Clayton. I had to form some kind of initial roster before presenting my idea to the recreation director, who ran the league. I didn’t want to throw out the idea of my own team and not follow through with it.

A month or so later, I received an instant message from someone who I hadn’t in a long time. It was Jim, expressing his sadness over our loss of friendship. I had been thinking this same thing myself as time went on, but stubbornness coupled with the fear of contacting him without him being open to it kept me from initiating anything. It didn’t take long before softball was brought up and it was agreed that we would both represent the team as captains when the season began. He aided me in the recruiting process and the Yellow Team was born.

Fast forward to this past October and Jim steps into the batter’s box, the score is 19-18 them, top of the 6th, one out. The game had been going back and forth all night, with no team leading by more than seven runs. With seemingly no pressure on a player who has seen the pressure mount on him over the seasons, Jim tied the game with a solo homer. I speak of pressure because Jim has seen more pressure, even adversity, than probably any player in this league during my 6 seasons. He has been criticized by opponents, fans, even players who sit next to him in our dugout. I’ve continually been steadfast in my support of Jim, refusing to drop him in the lineup and refusing to make changes others seem to think I need to make. I say it all the time, and continue to, I believe Jim has the makeup to be the very best player on our team. The potential is all there: power, speed, commitment, everything that we look for in players who put our jersey on.

The home run, for me, was an adrenaline rush in itself. I remember watching Clayton’s first home run and just having this feeling inside me that made me yell as soon as he made contact. As everyone, umpire included, looked on to see if the ball was fair, I was already celebrating. I had the same response with Jim’s homer, somehow I just knew it was gone. I was driven to this conclusion first of all just because it was a fly ball, which Jim NEVER hits. He simply, for whatever reason, does not sky the ball, in pop-up form or fly ball form. As soon as I saw the lift, I sat up from the bench and watched it sail over the wall.

When looking at Jim’s career stats, I notice that this moment was long overdue. He had shown improvement offensively in every one of his 5 seasons. His years look like this:

Summer 2009: 7-24 (.292), 8 runs, 10 RBI, 7 singles, 5 walks, 1 sac fly, 13 strikeouts, .400 OBP

Fall 2009: 15-39 (.385), 17 runs, 17 RBI, 10 singles, 3 doubles, 2 triples, 10 walks, 6 strikeouts, .510 OBP

Summer 2010: 13-30 (.433), 11 runs, 27 RBI, 12 singles, 1 double, 8 walks, 6 strikeouts, .553 OBP

Summer 2011: 22-41 (.537), 12 runs, 16 RBI, 18 singles, 2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 walks, 2 sac flies, 7 strikeouts, .533 OBP

Fall 2011: 17-32 (.531), 12 runs, 10 RBI, 9 singles, 6 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 2 walks, 1 sac fly, 5 strikeouts, .543 OBP

Long overdue indeed and something that seems lopsided for someone who has 80 career runs batted in and only one of them is via a home run.

This post has been sitting in the “Drafts” section of my blog’s dashboard since last October. I have been thinking about it on and off at work everyday, thinking about finishing it, thinking about why it was left to sit, thinking about the future of  my softball team. I’ve thought a lot about number 13 and what he has meant to this team, win or lose. I’ve thought, more importantly, about what number 13 has meant to me.

My ultimate point is one of celebration. Irony would intervene, as it sometimes does, and allow for Jim’s first home run to come off of a pitcher named Norm, a former player on our team, and one of Jim’s biggest critics. I think that this home run was a way of showing people that hard work and preparation, teamed with sincere dedication (Jim lost over 70 pounds before the 2011 seasons) will bring anyone the results that they truly desire.

I feel like a father when I say it, but I’m proud. And I’m still cheering, even when everyone else isn’t.

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Looking Back

I’m an enormous fan of reflection, I’m always looking back. When softball seasons end, I stand on the field and just look out towards the outfield, reminiscing and taking in all that happened on that field over the past season. After turning 23 roughly two weeks ago, I took a step back and reflected on my past year. I looked back on the good, the bad, the sad, and the in-between. Some of my memories were fond ones while others made me wish they had never occurred. In any case, I wanted to list 23 memories that crossed my mind, in no specific order, from the past calendar year, they are as follows:

1. I (despite what you may have heard to the contrary) ended the single worst relationship that I have ever been in.

2. I hit my first career over-the-wall home run in co-ed softball, a two run shot to right center field.

3. I quit working for Neckles Builders, removing myself from the grip of an employer who treated his employees like garbage and chose to become self-employed. This decision has proved to be more than worthwhile in many ways, including financially and in terms of opportunity.

4. I watched as one of my best friends quit being a full-time smoker, and watched the other become one.

5. I watched as my father broke his leg on New Year’s, bringing the toughest human being I’ve ever met to near tears.

6. My belt was too loose at work so I decided to take out my drill and put two new holes in the belt. This resulted in me drilling into my hip because I forgot to pull the belt away from my body as I drilled through it. Woops.

7. I gave my time, and sometimes money, to people who I feel were not deserving of either.

8. I bench pressed 200 pounds twice consecutively without a spotter, something I didn’t expect to do given my 6’3, 175 pound thin frame.

9. I decided to experiment and let my hair grow out for 2 months, then decided it looked stupid and subsequently cut it.

10. I, for the 23rd straight year, did not smoke a single cigarette or do drugs of any sort.

11. I also continued my streak of not drinking soda, raising it to 7 straight years without so much as a sip.

12. I dabbled in the club scene, later deciding it wasn’t for me.

13. I realized that I am addicted to shopping at Home Depot, which I guess isn’t a bad thing given my line of work.

14. On the day of my birthday I got to experience some different emotions: laughter at the voicemail left for me by one of my best friends, Clayton; tears of joy at the birthday card given to me by my girlfriend Amber; and dismay and sadness at the fact that my best friend of 9+ years didn’t so much as say Happy Birthday to me.

15. I sold my car that I had purchased for $150.00 in 2010 after putting over $4,000.00 of my own money into it. The final sale price was $900.00.

16. I, on multiple occasions, chased the deer that creep into my yard down on foot, one time getting within 5 feet of one of them. I have no explanation as to why I do this.

17. I had the opportunity to date two ex-girlfriends, a Hooters girl, a dear friend, and a close friend who I had been emotionally and physically attracted to for years. I gave all of those opportunities up to date a mother of two who lived an hour and a half away from me.

18. I tearfully said goodbye to Clayton as he left to move to Texas to go to school. After all we had been through as friends and all the time we had spent together, I truly was going to miss him and I absolutely have.

19. I feel that after several years of turmoil, my family finally collected itself and united once more. Taking a picture on Christmas morning featuring both of my brothers meant the world to me.

20. I got my first experience as a DJ alongside Clayton and thoroughly enjoyed it.

21. I got my third tattoo.

22. I attended church for the first time in my life.

23. I missed Melissa yet again, go figure. Perhaps 2012 will be the end of that streak.

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We Want You!

As is usually the way things work out for us, the Yellow Team is in desperate need of female players for the upcoming Fall Co-ed league. The majority of our female players are leaving for school or have binds in their schedule due to schooling locally, so we need to fill these voids. We have all defensive positions available so depending on your wants, we can make arrangements. The fee this season will be substantially less than the summer league because we do not have to repay fees for insurance and ASA. The fee will fall between $30.00 and $50.00, after I receive the team fee and then input my own money, as I normally do. You’ll also receive a jersey with the number of your choice, as long as that number is available, provided by the team free of charge. Please contact me via text or Facebook if you are interested. The season begins the weekend after Labor Day, so we have a little bit of time. Thank you.

Uncle Sam agrees with me when I say we want you.

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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)

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