Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Just one of the Girls

Girls …

We’ve all heard the stories about how some prissy young thing refuses to delve into any type of physical activity because she doesn’t want to break a nail. But you never really expect to hear someone say that. I mean, really … it’s just a literary allusion of mythical proportions, isn’t it? Especially in West Texas where little girls grow up dipping Garrett’s sweet snuff and showing livestock at the county fair. Sure, they may dress cute, but when they are pushing a hog or steer around the show ring, you realize there is nothing cute about them. They’re tough.

My last few posts have concerned the 9- and 10-year-old softball team that I was coaching with my brother-in-law. Girls, of course. We were down to the last week of the season, engulfed in tournament play. Each game was crucial. We needed to win if we wanted to keep playing.

I missed the first three games of the tournament due to a work retreat. Our girls won two of those games. After one loss, we were riding the fence. One more loss and we were out of the tournament.

After two days of brainstorming and planning with co-workers in the mountains of New Mexico, we loaded up the vehicles and headed for home, arriving in town about 45 minutes before our teams’ next scheduled game. I quickly changed into my softball duds and headed for the field.

As we were sitting in the dugout, waiting for the game, little KW walked in. This girl is quite an athlete. When the season started it was obvious that we weren’t going to have enough girls to regularly field a team, so another player basically recruited her to play for us.

KW was willing to play every position. She was fast and quick and threw the ball harder than most boys her age. There were times in practice when I would back up first base while she was at shortstop, or I would catch while she worked on her pitching. I was frightened. The girl had an unorthodox motion in which she didn’t really throw the ball, but whipped it across the diamond. Therefore, although the ball generally reached its intended target, it never got there by traveling a straight line. We eventually moved her to first base when she wasn’t pitching because our other first basemen would run away when she tried to throw them the ball. This girl wasn’t scared of anything.

After comparing our haircuts prior to a game (my spiked do was considerably shorter than her lengthy locks), I told her that I would cut her hair like mine if she didn’t pitch better. She dug in and fired off some good pitches, then looked at me and grinned. The other coach nicknamed her “Trouble” because she was inevitably giving someone fits – usually members of the other team. After every game she would run the length of the foul line doing flips, and it was her idea for the team to circle up at home plate and kick dirt on the plate in a show of team unity after every win.

She was scrappy. She was tough. She was sitting in the dugout staring at me with a look of uncertainty clouding her big brown eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Slowly she uncovered her hands and lifted them up where I could see. There, before my eyes, were perfectly symmetrical nails, gleaming with a clear coat of polish. Not a nick. Not a scratch. Perfectly manicured hands.

“I don’t want to hurt my nails,” she said.

I suddenly realized that amid all the bravado, the talk, the chatter, the steely 9-year-old eyes glaring out from under that visor, that in fact, deep down, this bastion of athletic ability was still a little girl.