Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Run! Bob! Run!

Nyssa and Coach Hewell. Ready to run.
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"The true harbinger of spring is not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of the bat on the ball." ~ Bill Veeck
A few weeks ago, Paul at Writing from the Hip had a contest to see if anyone knew the 8th way a runner gets on base. I knew this! But how did I know this? Sure I've watched baseball on TV, and at times it is as exciting as watching grass grow; but I am not a big baseball fan. I think they should cut out the hundreds of games in the spring and summer and go straight to the playoffs. So how did I know this answer?
When Nyssa was in eighth grade she decided to play softball for her school. It was a very small school so everyone had a chance to play some sport and hardly anyone was excluded. She chose basketball, cheerleading and softball. That's wonderful, you say and it was; except that she had never picked up a bat, had a glove on her hand or thrown a softball before. There were no T-ball games or girls summer camp leagues in her past. Summer camps with cooking, computers, drama, art and swimming, yes but softball? Never! But who am I to say she shouldn't try.

So the first day of practice she was there, and the next and the next. We got the spiked shoes and the uniform and a glove. We even tried to practice catching at home. One day she came home and stated very matter-of-factly, "Well! I can't catch, I can't throw and I can't hit!" OK, to me this seems to be all there is of softball or baseball. If you can't do those three things, what else is there? "I can run," Nyssa replied. And so it was. Nyssa became the pinch runner. There were those who could hit the ball out of the infield but they couldn't navigate the bases fast enough to keep ahead of the runner behind them. Nyssa would run for them. She was swift as the wind and furthermore, didn't mind getting dirty in a slide or taking out a catcher on her way to home plate.

So I went to every softball game and cheered the team and watched my girl run. On occasions she did get to bat. It would seem unlikely, yet often her inability to bat and her excellent running worked together in her favor. She did not know enough to know how to bunt. Most often, however, her full swings at the softball ended up being bunts. I saw her lean back and put her whole effort into smacking that ball with the bat. The bat contacted the leather and then the ball dribbled eighteen inches out into the infield; a fair ball. The other team just stood there. I don't know if they were waiting for it to roll further or just amazed that it sat there but she took off running and beat the throw to first base. Coach Hewell just shook his head and laughed at those times.

One of the other coaches, a parent, had a hard time pronouncing her name. He tried all variations including: Nissa, with the long "i" sound; Nessa, with the long "e" sound; Nassa, with the short "a" sound; sometimes the Nassa with an "er" sound added on the end. Never, was he able to say Nyssa with the short "i" and the short "a" sound at the end. Finally, he gave up and said, "I'm just going to call her 'Bob'." And so he did. I'd sit in the bleachers next to the dugout and here him call her to go run. "Bob! Take first base!" And he'd yell as she ran the bases, "RUN! BOB! RUN!"

That spring his daughter graduated. She had been a star athlete and homecoming queen as well. The following homecoming he returned to escort her as she passed the title on to the next girl. Nyssa was voted Freshman Maid that year and was on the field in her formal, with makeup done, hair nicely coiffed, and on the arm of a handsome young man. This father saw her, turned to me and said, "Is that Bob? (pause) Wow! She really cleans up nicely!" Yes, Bob cleaned up very nicely indeed.

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