The Girls of Summer

It’s July and ‘Tis the Season.

Softball season, that is. True, there’s that other sport the boys play– the one that pays big salaries when boys grow up.  But July is when the girls play their sport – the one that doesn’t pay, the one you play simply because you love it.  Summer belongs to Girls Fastpitch Softball: weekend tournaments in sweltering heat, fast food and Gatorade, and the girls of summer.

I watched my daughter play softball from the age of 5 until she hung up her glove after freshman year playing at UCSD. She’d accomplished what she wanted to accomplish with the sport: She’d been drafted by a great school (a difficult college to get into, but softball got her into it), played in her freshman year (not as much as she was used to playing, but she played nonetheless), got her home run in a college  game (along with 5 RBIs), and she was named athlete of the week at UCSD. After freshman year, it was time to figure out what she wanted to really do with her life. So in her sophomore year she quit the sport. I took it harder than she did, I think. I missed watching her play, and the enjoyment I had at observing the spectacle of a team hard at work.

It’s different when boys play ball.

I’m lucky to also be blessed with a son who played sports.  But every time I watched him in the field, or on a court, I couldn’t help but think his manhood was being tested.  The boys looked so serious with their game faces on for the coaches.  There weren’t a lot of laughs, not unless they wanted to be called “girls” or “ladies.”  And absolutely no tears!  There’s no crying in baseball, as Tom Hanks told us in “A League of Their Own.”  Not that girls in softball cry.  It’s just that nobody ever expects them to be so tough.

But girls are tough.

They play just as hard, under a blistering sun, and 100-degree heat, four games a day, sometimes until midnight in tournament play.  Crushing the ball with their bats, sliding fearlessly, striking out batters on a full count with bases loaded, and all at the age of 10.  Making the outs, stealing those bases, coming through with a hit or a bunt when they’re losing by three runs, and winning seems out of the question.  They never give up, these girls of summer.  They work hard, they play hard, and most importantly, they learn how to depend on each other, and to cheer each team member on.

After my daughter’s 10 and under team lost a squeaker of a game at the Nationals in Oakdale, California, the parents took the girls to MacDonald’s.  It was almost midnight, and the team had skipped dinner to play back-to-back games and the last game of the night was to determine which team would go to the finals the following day. We had lost, but every one of the girls was wearing a huge smile, and they were filled with excitement.

After placing our order (chicken nuggets, of course), I took a seat next to our shortstop/second string pitcher named Melissa. With a bridge of freckles across a freshly sunburned nose, and still wearing her cleats, she quietly licked at a well-earned chocolate-dipped ice cream cone.

“How are you doing?” I asked her, concerned by her silence.

She thought a moment, and then said with great pride:

“We played good together.”

I will always remember her answer.  Every time I hear someone say, “Women don’t get along,” or “Women don’t trust each other,” I think of Melissa.  I think of softball and watching the girls on a softball team:  playing their hardest for each other; sharing sunflower seeds in a dugout; doing cheers together;  hugs at a home plate; high fives in the field; sleepovers in tournament motel rooms; braiding their hair with colorful ribbons; sneaking a swim together when the coaches weren’t looking; pushing each other to go further, try harder, dig deeper, to laugh, giggle, and maybe even shed a tear when the game is over, and it’s time to move on.

And then they grow up

There comes a time when the girls of summer do move on – when those ten and unders with the scabby knees, wearing the scent of sunblock, grow up and become women. Women who are beautiful, strong, and confident; women who know that hard work always pays off.  You may not always win but you play your hardest anyway, and you’re not afraid to try, even if it means that sometimes you lose.

So the next time you hear a male coach yelling at his boys, trying to motivate his team by calling them girls –  Don’t think of it as an insult.  Think of softball, and those grueling weekend tournaments. Remember how hard girls play, and how “good they play together.” They’re more than just players: they’re a team.

They’re the girls of summer.

(Photo courtesy Lynne Pariseau)

For all you parents who are missing those days…

(Kudos to Shania Twain singing “Feel Like a Woman”)

16 thoughts on “The Girls of Summer

  1. you brought tears to my eyes, Darlene!! Those were great days for our girls and for us too. I truly think softball made better women of them! and maybe better parents of us!! Great movie, btw, did you take it?

    • I was just running over to Facebook to let you know about this post. But you found it anyway!!! I thought about you and Jessie when I wrote this the other day. Yes, I made that little film after the College Station, Texas ASA National Tournament. And I agree with you: Softball helped our daughters grow up to be the great women they are today. If my daughter is reading this right now, she’s just shaking her head, and saying: “My Mom is obsessed with softball!”

      • mine probably too!! I think I enjoyed those games, tournaments and traveling as much as she did. You took that little movie the same time Jess’s team was in Midland TX at the Nationals…I think they had more fun socializing with the Texas team that adopted them than they did playing softball!! Can’t believe we drove all the way there with I think 6 girls in our Suburban and stopped off in Mexico on our way back because Jess was the only player on the team who had ever been there!

  2. Darlene, I think this is my favorite of your blog entries so far — of course it may be because I have a vested interest in it!! LOL!! but truly you caught the spirit of those summers!

  3. I was always amazed how just how hard and how good the girls’ softball team at my former school played. I’ve never been into sports, but those girls took their game seriously and it was infectious.

    • Yep, so true. I learned a lot about courage watching my daughter and all the girls play the sport. Just going up to bat is a triumph against fear – Can you imagine what it must feel like to strike out and then having to go up to bat again? There aren’t too many times in life when you risk failing in front of a lot of people. And then, you have to try all over again as people watch you. Being able to do that – risking public failure in order to be a productive part of a team, creates an inner strength like no other. My daughter taught me important life lessons as I watched her play softball.

      • I have to agree with you, Darlene, especially your last sentence!

      • so very true, Darlene!! I sometimes think we had more invested in the games than the girls did especially when they were very young. I can remember several games when Jess was 6 and 7 when after the game and the always present team cheer, several girls would say “who won”? Only goes to show that they enjoyed the playing every bit as much as or more than the winning!! (maybe can’t say the same for the coaches and parents though – LOL!!). They played hard all the time – but I guess not for the win but for the satisfaction of doing their best and not letting down their teammates!!

  4. Reading this lovely post, I couldn’t help thinking how lucky we women are in the western world.. But the pressures we put on our little boys, who often don’t seem as emotionally strong as our daughters, saddens me – then we wonder why we have macho men!

    • What you write is true. There are gender expectations that affect our sons as well as our daughters. But the effects have marginalized women, and the immediate concern has been to first address misogyny within our culture. Hopefully, specific inequalities within hierarchies of masculinity also can be addressed once we have a more level playing field for both genders.

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