Yesterday I blogged about my friend Sha and our friendship that was anchored in our pitcher/catcher relationship. The weird thing is that nobody seems to remember our team name. I got out the yearbooks and photo albums today to see if I could find any clues. It’s driving me crazy. I wore that uniform all the time. My Mother washed that uniform all the time, and so did Sha’s Mom. They can’t remember the team name either. Neither can my coaches remember the name of the sponsor of our team. I guess it’s one of those things that is just not that important in the scheme of things.
The truth is that there were numerous teams in my family. We were a family that grew up in athletics. Momma was always washing uniforms. Many times she washed uniforms in a few hours between tournament games. All of us participated in sports in varying degrees of enthusiasm. Uniforms, practice, whining, winning and losing were part of the backdrop of my childhood. Our first games were neighborhood baseball games. I remember playing hardball – not softball – in the neighborhood with my cousins. We’d all get together in the pasture next to our house and play all day long. Sometimes it would just be me and my brothers. One time, I hit my brother Terry over the head with a baseball bat. He was standing behind me when I took a swing. Luckily, he wasn’t injured badly, or it wouldn’t be so funny. We’d even play if there were just two of us. One would pitch and play the field. The other would bat. Sammy would hit the ball, and I’d have to run after it wherever it was and try to get him out. Baseball was definitely the game of choice. A few times I’d hit golf balls, and we’d shoot basketball from time to time. But I always, always owned a baseball glove.
When I was about 13 or so, they started the Live Oak Sports Association. My Dad, Marlin Cloud and a bunch of others (sorry I can’t remember their names) went to “bat” to get it started and secured some land up Highway 16 for a few baseball fields. The first years we had no lights. Later, lights were added and a permanent concession stand. It was where we lived in the summers. Now, there’s a state of the art Sports Complex where we used to play, but it wasn’t like that in the first days. It was dusty, and it was the parents who ran it. They umpired, they coached, they ran the concession stand in shifts, and they escorted their kids back and forth to their games and practice. It was where I got my first kiss. I went up there as much as I could because, in those days, we didn’t hang out with people on Facebook. We hung out at the ball-field. And, heaven forbid, if my heart-throb was up there with another girl while I was staying at home. That just would not do.
The rhythm of our household was sports. Our friends were involved with us in sports. Our lives … our vacations … our priorities were based on sports. I can’t think of a time when somebody wasn’t involved on a team or practicing. We practiced once or twice a week for softball out behind the Junior High School. It was hot, and we carried our water – no Gatorade back then – in those big Igloo coolers. We’d break for water, and the water was full of grass and dirt. I can still hear us whining about the water being dirty, and our coach Judy snapping, “There ain’t nothing wrong with that water. It’s just dirt and grass. You probably ate enough of it out here when you were practicing.” We’ drink the water because we had no choice, and I guess she was right. We never died from drinking that water.
Local companies sponsored the teams, and at the end of every season, they’d usually sponsor a team party. We’d have trophies sometimes, but, more often, we’d have fun and food. One time we went to Bikini Beach. Another time we went up to St. Francisville for a picnic. There was a ritual to the season, and the team party was the grand finale. I remember team names like Sport-N-Center, Live Oak Supermarket, The Eagles Nest, C.M. Penn & Sons and Holsum Bread. They may have advertised other ways, but the way I remembered their businesses were from the front of a uniform. And each team name was tied to the team’s reputation and success.
Through the years, people have talked to me about being an athlete. I suppose I’ve always been one. There are things I’ve learned, and there are things I’ve just been wired for internally. Being an athlete comes from my inner wiring. I always moved. I always treasured the joy of learning a new physical skill and moving my body through sweat. I never had to think about it. It was the expectation. It was our lifestyle. My Dad’s sport was basketball. I played basketball to please him and because there weren’t many sports for women back then. I hated the sport of basketball with its precision-based shooting and tactical plays. I loved the freedom of running, and we got to run a lot in basketball. When other people would complain about having to run suicides in the 95 degree un-air-conditioned gym, I thrived on it. I loved to be sweaty, muscles throbbing in fatigue and chasing a goal.
I gained the Freshmen 15 when I started college. I remember contemplating why I was gaining weight and what was different about my life. I realized that I had always been active, and in college I was starting to be inactive. It was then that I took up the sport of running. I ran with the boys because I was faster and more athletic than most of the girls in P.E. class. It was running that cured my first hangovers. I had a drinking problem, and I didn’t have time for hangovers. The first thing I did every morning after a night on the town was to go for a 5 mile run. I sweated out the booze and felt bad for 45 minutes or so, but I felt great the rest of the day. But I never loved running and exercise as much when I wasn’t part of a community of athletes. It wasn’t nearly as much fun sweating alone as it was to sweat with others.
I also learned the value of coaching. Our coaches growing up weren’t professionals. They didn’t have certifications or college educations in physiology. They were parents of friends. They were authority figures who knew a little more than we did about sports. They also could see more than I could about what was happening with my form, my attitude and my skill. Even though a sport may be an individual sport like distance running or cycling, it is done on a team. There are trainers, coaches, mentors and guides all along the way. And, though the subject we discuss may be sport, so many principles work their way into our everyday lives. Perseverance…. listening to your body … teamwork … sportsmanship …. drive … rest …. respect for others … dependence on others … following the rules and even asking for second opinions … all of these are concepts that are present at work, at home, in relationships and in faith. The athletic field is a great teacher.
When I was in my 30s, I bought a softball and a softball glove. I remember buying it. It just seemed like something was wrong if I didn’t have a softball and glove. I still have it. It sits in my storage shed not even broken in. But it’s there when I get ready. I also love the sport of running. I’ve struggled these last few months as I’ve been injured and worried that I may not be able to do it anymore. I love the social factor of athletics. I love that athletes of all kinds, sizes, ages and speeds are a community. I love the lessons I learn from pushing my body in competition with myself and others. I love the rhythm of training. I even love the washing of the clothes … the uniforms of my sport. I’d like to say that I never think about the benefits of my sport- the weight maintenance, the health benefits and the muscle tone – but that would be a lie. Of course I do it for that, too. But mostly I do it because I wouldn’t know how NOT to do it.