Chapter One: The Beginning
The first time I approached a big dusty diamond, I felt nervous, as I stepped into the circle knowing everyone’s eyes were on me. It was a hot and humid day in July 2002, with temperatures in the mid nineties. I could see people wiping the sweat that trickled down their faces while they were waiting for the game to begin. I was only eleven years old, and I did not know what to expect of the game. I was three years younger than all the other girls on the team and I was the starting pitcher. Not even a year before had I begun my first pitching lesson. Now I was pitching, for the first time in my life, in a fourteen and under softball tournament which was held in my home town. I was the youngest player on the team, starting in one of the most important positions on the field. I had butterflies in my stomach the whole half hour I was warming up. The game was ready to start and the first batter of my career stepped to the plate with a bat in her hand. My heart began to race. To me this girl looked huge, about six feet tall, and she gave me a glare of death as I prayed that I would not throw the twelve inch yellow ball down the middle of the plate. If I did, I knew it would be trouble. The ball would come straight back at me and my teeth would be knocked out of my mouth. The umpire gave me the signal that the game was on. My catcher gave me a sign, fastball inside. I began my wind up, praying that everything I learned would all come together for this first pitch. As I released the ball from my hip, the girl made her move, she swung, strike one called the umpire! Before this moment, I thought softball was just a game to play, but after that first pitch, I decided that softball was going to be a major part of my life.
Chapter Two: Senior Year
For the past eight years I have been playing softball, and there is one game that I will always remember. It was my senior year in high school and my team, the Pine Grove Area Cardinals, was one of the top teams to beat for the Schuylkill League Division. I had been the team captain and so far, after ten games, we were undefeated. Our record was 10-0 and we had just beaten the number one team in the other league. We were now classified as "the team to beat". This victory made our team excited, but some people became extremely overconfident. They thought that we were the best and did not need to improve anything about our game. The following Wednesday, we were scheduled to play the North Schuylkill Spartans at our home field. When Wednesday arrived, I was anxious the whole day in school before the game. I just wanted the school day to end so I could go to the field. The last time we played the Spartans, we beat them 9 to 2 on their home turf. They had the attitude and determination that they were going to beat us coming into this game.
The girls on my team were confident that we would win because we beat them by seven runs our first meeting. What no one took into consideration is that they had practiced and improved their game since the last time we faced them.
It was precisely 3:00 pm, and all of my teammates were at our field getting ready to warm up. They were putting on their cleats and I heard Brittanie say, “This game is going to be easy. We killed them before. Why don’t we ten run them and end the game early so I can do homework and get ready for the boys game?”
So I turned around and said, “It’s a new game. It doesn’t matter if we beat them before. They had more practice and they are coming to play.”
Brittanie and everyone else just said, “I guess.” They all thought it was a joke to even be playing this game.
I was pitching that day, since I was my high schools starting pitcher. Karissa, my catcher, and I walked over to the bullpen after hitting soft toss, with the team, so I could start my normal "get loose" routine.
We started talking about how our day went in school and we discussed if we wanted to attend the baseball game right after our game or if we wanted to go home and take a shower first so we did not smell like sweat. I looked around and saw the rest of our team messing around in the outfield and not taking warm-ups or anything seriously. I began to get a bad feeling in my stomach which was not normal. A feeling that it was going to be a close game and the outcome would not be in our favor.
I turned and looked at Karissa and said, “I have a bad feeling about this game. No one on the team is taking it seriously. Look at them messing around in the outfield. They have the attitude that we will beat them like we did previously. And if no one takes it seriously, you know coach is going to be upset. I never experienced a feeling like this before a game.”
“I know” replied Karissa. “If we don’t play like we can, we won’t have off tomorrow. I think we need to have a talk before the game. Tell everyone we need to play to our full potential. We can’t take them lightly. Anything can happen.”
The remainder of the time warming up the feeling in my stomach would not go away. Everyone seemed overconfident and I knew something bad was going to happen.
After warming up, the team came into the huddle before captains, Karissa and I, were called to the field to go over the ground rules. In the huddle I said with a serious face, “Everyone has to focus right now. No more talking about what happened at school. Everyone is going to be standing up on the fence cheering as loud as they can until we score some runs.”
The freshman and sophomores had the word fear written all across their faces while the juniors just rolled their eyes. I wanted to strangle the juniors for being disrespectful, but luckily, at that moment, captains and coaches were called to the field. We reviewed the ground rules and while shaking the opponent’s hand, I could tell they were determined to play. Karissa and I ran back into the dugout, where the whole team came together, and on the count of three we yelled “Three up, three down, three outs” and took our positions on the field.
The first inning was about to begin. I stepped into the circle and looked around the field. I could smell the hot dogs and burgers from the concession stand and I could see the long line of people waiting to get their food. As I threw my last warm up pitch, I saw that the bleachers behind the backstop were filled with fans and our whole spectator side was filled with people sitting and standing along the fence waiting impatiently for the game to begin. The umpire called for the game to start. I retired the first three batters that I faced. I was feeling pretty good about my pitching. My curve ball was breaking sharp across the plate, my changeup was perfect, low and outside, and my rise ball was rising like crazy, but that feeling inside of me laid heavily in my stomach.
After the three outs, it was the bottom of the first and our turn to bat. After four batters, there was one out with players in scoring position, but none of them crossed home plate. Everyone on the team thought that this game was going to be extremely easy, but after the first inning, I knew the rest of the game was going to be tough. If we could not score with one out and runners in scoring position, how were we going to score throughout the rest of the game? The next couple innings of the game continued this way, three up three down. We had our opportunities but could not score any runs.
After the seventh inning of play, the game went into extra innings. North Schuylkill could not hit at all. For us it was different, we would get on base, but we could not score any runs. The game went into the tenth inning. In high school softball, when it gets to the tenth inning, the rule book states that it is played by an international tiebreaker. An international tie breaker is when the last batted out, on each team, gets placed on second base to start the inning. North Schuylkill was the visiting team so they had the opportunity to score first. The first batter bunted the ball right to our third baseman, Keandra. Keandra, who is a small, muscular, brown haired girl, screamed, “I got it." She picked up the ball with her bare hand and snapped the ball off with her wrist as hard as she could. Our first baseman, Miranda, caught the ball right before the runners foot hit the base and the umpire threw his arm up in the air and yelled, “Out!” That was out number one.
The runner who was on second base advanced to third. The second batter stepped to the plate. I struck her out in previous innings, so I was not too worried. I got my signal from the catcher and I started my wind up. After I released the ball, I could see, in slow motion, the girl’s hands on the bat slide down and she squared. She attempted a suicide squeeze. Everyone on the field yelled, “Bunt!” The bunt was laid a foot in front of the plate. Karissa came out from behind the plate, grabbed the ball with her bare hand and tagged the girl attempting to score at home plate. There was an enormous cloud of dust that filled the air and all of a sudden I could hear the umpire scream, “Out!”
The crowd was yelling. There was an enormous adrenaline rush that rushed through us after the spectacular play at home plate. I thought to myself, “Only one more out.”
All of a sudden I hear the field umpire yell, “Dead ball!” Everyone in the crowd started complaining, “That was not a dead ball. You aren’t being fair blue. Stop trying to fix the game.”
My coach called time out and walked calmly onto the field in his gray sweatpants and his camouflage shirt to speak to the umpire. He asked the umpire, “How was it a dead ball? It was a perfectly clean play.”
The field umpire replied, “The batter was out of the batters’ box when she bunted the ball. Therefore, the batter is out and the runner that advanced needs to go back to third.”
At that moment my heart dropped. My coach turned away from the umpire and called all of us into the mound for a pep talk. We could tell from his facial expression that he was not happy and we expected to hear a lecture. The first thing he said to us was, “It’s okay, we did this before right?” He then continued to say, “There is a runner on third and we have two outs, no hurt, you can do this. If they score we always have our opportunity to get the job done. So take a deep breath and play like you are capable of playing” and he walked off the field.
As everyone was running back to their positions, I thought to myself, “Focus. All I need is one more out. I’ll do it myself.”
We had two outs with a runner on third. North Schuylkill’s number three hitter was up to the plate. After a couple pitches the count was 2-2, two balls and two strikes. Then she fouled a couple of pitches off. My pitching coach called for the next pitch to be a rise ball. By this time the fans were on their feet. Screaming and cheering as loud as they could. I positioned my fingers with the grip on the ball, took a deep breath, and started my motion. Thoughts went through my mind “This is it. The game can be over. She won’t touch this pitch.”
I released the ball. It started to go up higher and higher. The girl swung her bat and made contact underneath the ball. The girl at third started booking for home while our shortstop, Jena, drop stepped back and as soon as the ball was coming down stuck her glove out into the air. I held my breath. All of a sudden, the ball fell right over the top of Jena’s glove.
Everyone was shocked as North Schuylkill’s team was celebrating. Coach, who is in his fifties, went over to the ball bucket and kicked it with full force scrambling the softballs all over the ground. We still had an opportunity to score. We refocused and got the third out of the inning. It was our turn to hit.
As we were in the dugout getting ready to bat I said to the team, “Let’s do this right now. Show them who wants this more!”
Our first batter approached the plate, she tried to bunt the girl at second over to third, but that attempt failed. This resulted in the first out. Our second batter was up and there was a wild pitch. Everyone screamed, “Go!” for the girl on second to advance to third. The next pitch came in and the girl swung and hit a weak grounder to the second baseman for out number two. With two outs and our weakest hitter up to bat, Cassie Lapotsky, the North Schuylkill pitcher, got into the count of 3 and 2, three balls and two strikes. You could see the determination on her face, for this pitch. She was going to give it all she had. She started her wind up, pushed off the mound as hard as she could and released the ball. I was pacing back and forth in the dugout, knowing that this could be the end of the game, trying not to watch what was going to happen I turned to Karissa and said “let me know what happens.”
My heart was beating fast as everyone was watching in anticipation. My whole team was up on the fence screaming, “Base Hit, Ball Four!” As the pitch came in, everyone saw that it was going to be high. Unfortunately the girl swung as the ball was at her head and struck out. I turned and yelled, “No!”
The North Schuylkill fans went crazy; they had beaten us for the first time in three years. They had just beaten the undefeated team in the league which allowed them to advance in the running for the Schuylkill league championship.
After lining up at home plate to slap hands with the other team and say “Good game”, Karissa and I lead the team to the outfield where we usually go after every game, center field. As we were in our huddle waiting for coach everyone was speaking at once. “Did you see coach kick the bucket?” “He is really mad.” “You should have heard what he was saying when you were out on the field.”
I stepped up and said, “Okay enough. Coach is not happy. When he comes out here make sure when he is talking you are paying attention and making eye contact.”
At that moment most of the girls that had sunglasses put them over their eyes to avoid eye contact with him. We waited patiently as it took coach approximately five minutes to join us in the outfield. I had never seen him that angry in my whole life.
As he walked out to where we were standing he said sternly, “Take a seat.”
We all sat down in a circle. Then he began to yell, “You played like the bad news bears. None of you deserved to be on the field today! You are a disgrace to Pine Grove Softball!” “You girls played lazily, like you were going to win the whole time, and look what it did. It bit you in the butt. You let a team who isn’t even close to being as good as you are beat you. This is going to be all over the paper tomorrow morning “North Schuylkill beats undefeated Pine Grove.”
He paused. I looked around and everyone had their heads down. In a disgusted voice he began again, “I hope you’re happy. You just made it harder for yourselves to accomplish your season goals. One more loss and you will not be able to compete in the championship game. Congratulations, this is up to you ladies now. I cannot preach any more to you girls. See you at practice tomorrow and be ready to run” and he turned and walked away from us.
That day I learned valuable life lessons. If people are too overconfident, by thinking that they are the best, bad things will happen. We lost the game because the team did not play the way they were capable of playing. But it also taught me that nobody in life is perfect. I am not always going to be perfect because perfect does not exist. I am going to encounter some hard times and I am going to fail, but somewhere along the way I will succeed.
It is a good thing to fail every now and then. That game made the whole team realize that nothing comes easy. We have to work hard for the rest of the season to accomplish our goals. Most people do not like knowing that they were defeated but there are things that could be learned from that failure. The criticism that we received after the game finally made everyone realize that this was a serious matter and if we lost one more game, we would not be able to play Minersville for the gold. We came to the conclusion that this game was one loss out of the way; now we were able to refocus and concentrate on the things we needed to improve so we would not lose again.
Chapter Three: The District Game
Softball helps a person realize that people are going to fail in life but they have to take the lessons learned to prepare them for the upcoming battle. The way to do that is by hard work, teamwork, determination and the strength to never give in.
After our loss, we had defeated Pottsville for the opportunity to play in the Schuylkill League Championship, which we lost 2-1 the previous year against Tri-valley, a school in Eastern Pennsylvania. We were scheduled to play Minersville. This game was on the front page of the sports section in the Pottsville Republican and Herald, a paper in my home town. Minersville has always had an amazing softball team and they were a single A school. This year, we played them during our regular season as a non league game and our team beat them about 7-2. So Minersville was willing to seek their revenge.
We knew we had to work hard, as a team, and that we could not rely on one person to accomplish this goal. Each practice consisted of working extremely hard and giving 100% until our coach was satisfied with our performance, even if it meant practicing for four hours after school. We worked on batting, swinging from tees, softball toss, hitting balls off the pitching machine, and we worked on defense, fielding ground balls cleanly and making accurate throws.
That day in school my one close friend, Scott, came up to me in my Animal Science class and said, “Hey Hope, did you know that Minersville had a pancake breakfast this morning and the theme behind it was “Hope’s Pancakes”.
I did not believe him because he likes to joke around about a lot of things, so I said sarcastically, “Yeah okay. I don’t believe you. Who told you that?”
He said in a serious tone, “Look.” He showed me the text message his girlfriend sent to him. It said, “We just got done eating pancakes, they were yummy.”
I just laughed. Could they have made it any more original? I talked to Karissa, and she thought it was funny as well and asked, “How immature can a high school team be?”
The Schuylkill League Championship game was underway and around 2:30 pm, our coach bus was pulling into Blue Mountain High School’s field for our 4:00 pm scheduled time. As a team, we unloaded the equipment from the bus and carried it to our dugout. I instructed the people in the front of the bus to wait till everyone is off the bus and we will walk over together. While walking over, Minersville was staring and making rude comments. We ignored them, got on our cleats and started to loosen up with our pre game routine which was taking a little jog, stretching, throwing, soft toss, and eventually infield and outfield practice. Everyone on the team was ready to put Minersville in their place because of the little pre celebration that they had in school that morning. The game was fifteen minutes away from show time, and everyone was nervous but anxious and determined to beat this team. Karissa and I went out onto the field for the rules like every other game. I looked at Karissa before the other team came out and said, “Do you think I should inquire how their pancakes were?”
She replied, “No, we will let them know after we beat them.”
After going over the ground rules for the game, we shook hands with the opposing players, and it was time to take the field.
Bottom of the first inning, I ran into the circle and started throwing my five warm up pitches, pushing and snapping as hard as I could to get speed on the ball. After the first warm up pitch, I looked up and saw people packing into the stadium to watch the game. The spectator section is located on top of a hill and when I looked up people were lining their chairs from the deep left field foul pole to the right. There must have been over 200 people in attendance, which is a lot for softball, especially for my small town. Spectators from surrounding towns came out to watch the game, even the team we beat to make it to the championship game was there to cheer us on. I finished my last four pitches. The umpire called the batter over. The batter stepped into the batter’s box; I took a step onto the mound, the umpire put on his face mask and said while pointing to me, “game on!”
The first four innings for my team on the field were easy, three up, three down. But we still did not score on offense. The fans in the background were screaming and yelling, not only at the game, but at each other. Minersville fans are extremely arrogant and make rude comments. Not only were comments directed to the parents, they were also directed to our players on the team. “You got lucky last time.” “We will show you how to truly play softball.” “Pine Grove softball isn’t that good.” Even though the team heard it, we just laughed it off or ignored it.
The game was in the sixth. Finally our leadoff batter, after striking out every time at bat, lead off with a walk. Our second hitter had a sacrifice bunt, and I was walked. Our number four hitter came up to the plate and on the second pitch, hit a line drive to the outfield for a run to score! Everyone was screaming; there was an air horn going off, our team was excited because they said whoever scored first would win the game. But what people say is not always correct. Minersville got their last two outs of the inning and we were on the field, to make it the bottom of the sixth.
As the batter stepped into the box, I pitched the ball. She swung and hit a short hopper to the third baseman. Keandra fielded the ball and made a wild throw. The ball went flying over Miranda’s head at first base. The runner was safe. Fortunately for us, she did not advance to second because Brittanie, our right fielder, hustled in to backup the throw. Once I got the ball back in the circle I turned to Keandra and said, “Brush it off. It is not a big deal. We will pick you up.”
In softball you have to be able to trust other players on your team to get the job done, and once there is an error made, you have to shake it off and refocus. If someone’s head is down, it will affect the whole team, and that causes other errors to occur.
The next two batters I faced got out. The first batter got out a short fly ball to center field, where our center fielder made an amazing play on the ball. The other hit was to the shortstop where she fielded the ball cleanly and launched it over to first base for the out. We had two outs and only needed one more.
With a runner on second, I took a deep breath and stepped onto the mound, without making eye contact with the batter. I started doing what I did best. After a few pitches, the count was 1 and 2, one ball and two strikes. I thought to myself, “curveball outside, she will never touch it.” I threw the pitch and it didn’t break as far to the outside of the plate as I wanted it to. The girl swung her bat and ripped a line drive to the outfield which advanced the runner on second base to score. Minersville fans were cursing and saying, “Pine Grove sucks! Minersville is going to win it all.” This comment gave our team more of an urge to push ourselves. I struck the next batter out and it was our last chance to score, before extra innings would occur.
The game was tied 1-1. The whole team was up on the fence cheering as loud as we could. Our first batter hit a line drive down the right field line for a double. Our second batter laid down a nice sacrifice bunt, which let the runner on second advance to third. We now had one out. The next batter up, who was one of our better hitters, hit a week ground ball to the third baseman for an easy second out. At this point we had a runner on third, with two outs. My heart was pounding; it was our number six hitter in our lineups turn to bat. I ran over to her and said, “Ethel, take a deep breath. It’s just another at bat. Do the basic mechanics and everything will come together” and I walked away.
I could see the nervousness and fear in her eyes. We were relying on her to get the job done and she was a freshman. I took my position at the fence. As Ethel stepped into the batter’s box all of us locked arms and screamed as loud as we could. As each pitch went by, my heart started pounding harder and faster and my throat became extremely dry. Ethel kept fouling pitches off. On the 9th pitch after fouling off four balls in a row, Ethel took the bat off her shoulders threw her hands at the ball, and rotated her hips as hard as she could. The ball hit off the bat and shot like a rocket into the right center gap.
The team jumped up and down! Everyone was on their feet. Ethel’s hit allowed the runner on third to score. We were ahead 2-1. The next batter struck out which made it the bottom of the seventh inning. I ran over to Ethel as she was jogging off the field from second base. I threw my arms around her and gave her a huge hug.
“I told you that you would do it!” The smile on her face was indescribable. Now it was our turn to take the field; if they scored more than one run the game would be over.
On the field the first batter approached the plate. She hit an easy ground ball to the short stop where she miss played it. The ball went right between her legs.
I turned to her and said, “Jena, shake it off and focus on the next one.”
There was now a runner on first base. It was no big threat, this had happened before. The next batter bunted a ball to Miranda at first base. She fielded the ball cleanly and tagged the runner out. Now the runner was on second. I turned around and yelled, “Got one!” while holding my finger up in the air.
The next batter hit a long fly ball to left field where our fielder had to run back on the ball. I was thinking “Please catch this, please!” At the last moment she stuck her glove out, tripping over her feet as she sprinted back, the ball landed in the tip of her glove. The runner saw it and she tagged up and headed for third. Our center fielder positioned her feet and threw a bullet to our third basemen. The umpire yelled “Safe!” The girl beat the ball to the bag. As the next batter was walking up to the plate I yelled “Two outs!” holding up my pinky and my forefinger allowing the outfielders to see how many out we had.
As I stepped onto the mound I knew it was all up to me to throw the correct pitch. This batter kept fouling off balls; no matter what pitch I threw, she would tip the ball with her bat. The count became 3 and 2. I took a deep breath and looked at my infielders who all gave me the signal that they were ready. I stepped onto the rubber and positioned my fingers on the ball. I got into my wind up and threw the pitch as hard as I could, screw ball inside. The girl swung and put the ball into play. The runner from third was booking home, while our short stop fielded the ball. Everyone on the field screamed, “One! One! One!” Jena took the ball from her glove with her right hand and fired the ball over to first base. The girl was running like a cheetah. The ball went into Miranda’s glove right as the runners foot was up in the air getting ready to hit the bag. The umpire yelled, “Out!” Jena threw the girl out by one step! We threw our gloves up in the air. I ran in to Karissa and jumped on her, she gave me a big hug and while the rest of the team was running to us she whispered, “Hopie, we did it!”
The game was over. All you could see were camera flashes and people coming towards us in every direction and screaming their heads off. Pine Grove Area Cardinals won the Schuylkill League Title!
While we were receiving our first place medals, all the parents started talking about the pancake breakfast that Minersville had that morning, making fun of my last name. I will never forget the look on Minersville’s faces when the one parent who had the video camera said, “You just won the championship, what are you going to do now?” Everyone screamed, “Go and eat pancakes!”
The facial expression on the teams faces were priceless. They were so embarrassed. Their faces turned bright red like a tomato. All of a sudden everyone screamed, “Pancakes! Pancakes! Pancakes!”
I will never forget that moment. It was the best moment in my life. We beat Minersville, our rival, and we made them feel so small that their little secret of what happened in school that day was out in the open. They were expecting to win the gold, but we gave it all we had and proved we were the better team and had to settle for second best, silver.
Without teamwork, we would have never accomplished this goal. If our team would have put their heads down after the errors that were made, we would have lost this game. It’s the same in life. People are there to support you when you need it. It taught me how to be a leader and to trust that someone will be there to support me, whether it is in school, on the job, or on a team. With teamwork you could accomplish anything. As for our team motto, “Teamwork: divides the task, and doubles the success.”