February 5, 2018
There was a time when baseball fields were my home. When hard, sun-splintered bleachers were my couch and when concession-stand hot dogs, a bag of chips and ice-cold Diet Cokes were what was for dinner. There was music, too–the National Anthem playing over a crackling sound system, while all of the people–big and small–got quiet for just a bit. There were little sweaty boys–a few of them mine– with dirt under their nails, standing on the field with their hats off and their hands over their hearts. I guarantee that every single one of them was imagining the possibility of hitting a home run that night. No need for a television in the “baseball-field home,” because on any given night it was the best entertainment to be had for miles.
I was a baseball mom for about four months a year for fourteen years. Despite the fact I never had a moment to myself and it was my chubbiest time in life, (hot dogs, chips and soft drinks are only too happy to take up residence on the hips, if given half a chance), it was one of the dearest seasons in my life, and I would do it all over again without so much as a seconds hesitation.
I was good at being a baseball mom. And I wasn’t alone. We ran in a pack.
My closest friends were other baseball moms, who like me, all wished we’d bought stock in Gatorade and Clorox 2. We drove vehicles that had a third seat for hauling almost an entire team plus some extras, with plenty of room in the back for a load of baseball bags. We were a village, traveling en masse to games and camps and tournaments. We made spirit signs. We traded photographs. We wore team t-shirts. We calmed each other down when we got over-excited about a bad call.
Stupid umps. (JK.)
We looked after each other’s kids, cheering them and reprimanding them–whichever was called for. We watched these kids change right before our eyes, from stinky little boys to young men who knew the value of a good deodorant. Even the strongest and most sensible among us cried when the last season came to an end.
I’m 57. It’s been fourteen years since the last season ended.
Before you start having thoughts about how I need to let it go and move on, I’ll tell you this whole thing really isn’t about baseball at all.
It’s about the fourteen years that came after. Some of them, anyway.
All of this is on my mind because last night I had dinner with one of the baseball moms–one of the first to welcome my family to town all those years ago. She’s one of my favorites, though in the last fourteen years, I can count on one hand the times we’ve seen each other. Life happened. Our kids went to different colleges, some got married, grandkids came along. We changed churches. Just the usual, run-of- the-mill life stuff.
And then stuff that wasn’t so usual.
I knew my friend had suffered during many of those years–life-altering events that have the power to break us. In a small town, you never suffer in private, which is the best part of living in a small town and the worst part of living in a small town. For some years, she simply disappeared from my sight.
As we sat across from each other in a busy restaurant, with our husbands sitting next to us engaged in their own sort of man-speak, my friend and I caught up with each other, somewhat awkwardly at first. It had been so long. The elephant in the room was the thing that she and her family had endured. She of course knew I knew. She didn’t skirt the topic, though, addressing it head on, like a survivor does. She looked me in the eye and spoke about truths and ugliness and goodness. About lessons learned. About perspective. About life going on. About letting things go. She was completely transparent.
I owed her the same.
And so I let it spill out.
Ironically, in the years she disappeared from me, I was trying to do the very same thing–trying to disappear from sight, as I prayed I could keep treading water just one more day until “the great humbling” passed.
Dear Lord. The Great Humbling just about did me in.
But it didn’t. And hers didn’t take her out, either.
No sir. We did not strike out. We were “baseball-mom strong”!
And I’ll be darned if right there at that table, in a restaurant packed with people, I didn’t feel our loads of burdens lighten. Though we’d been friends for more than twenty years, a different kind of friendship was born right then and there. It happens when there’s good, honest talk. It happens when we are strong enough to speak freely, without fear of anything–because the anything we were once afraid of is now in our rearview mirror, and well, here we are! Standing right smack dab in the light at the end of the tunnel.
We are the proof that’s in the pudding! The proof that God is good. That he never leaves us. That he goes before us and clears a path. That he doesn’t let go of us, even when we doubt him. That he sees us through and that he is never, ever finishes teaching us good and holy things–things that make us stronger. And better.
My friend and I found a brand new friendship. On second thought, it’s not brand new at all. It is a “new brand” of friendship.
And this time, it has nothing to do with baseball.
It has everything to do with surviving. And living in a new, better way.
The years the locusts had eaten away from both of us have indeed been restored, and it felt beyond good to tell each other about how God helped us slay those nasty creatures.
We were the very last ones to leave the restaurant, and then we stood outside in the January cold shivering and talking more–about “super blue moons” and drives through the backroads of Wyoming.
Our guys cracked jokes with each other, the way they do, and my friend and I hugged goodbye, saying how much we’d enjoyed the evening. As I turned to leave, she reached out again–to give me a second, longer hug.
The first one, I think, was for the old days we shared. For days spent at the baseball field.
The last one, I believe, was for the new days. The new versions of us–the strong gals wearing a thicker skin, a few more wrinkles and some serious confidence regarding all future battles! The gals who hope not to repeat history, but who know that if it’s required, without a doubt, we will slay it.
Psalm 138:3. “When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.”
Psalm 27:1,3. “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.”