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Sunday, Apr. 28, 2002
As weekends go, this one ain't half over.

How's that for a typical Southern colloquialism? Sunday mornings before everybody else in the house arises and begin the process of aging the house with vibrating stereos, pantry raiding and pointedly partial attempts to clean up the residue from the night before. Sunday mornings. I love 'em, they love me.

Eldest daughter Beth started the weekend off with a bang by doing the softball thing on Friday against her arch rival high school. The one with the perfect record. The one with the terrific coach and the Scary Fast pitcher. This is the game that her team really gets up for all year, the one game looked forward to over the winter, the one that is talked about all summer and fall.

With a tie score in the next to last inning and the large crowd reaching into its' collective diaphragms for one last bellow of cheering, Beth's team got up to bat. A little freshman lass hit a double off Miss Scary Fast, advanced to third on a bunt, scored on a single to put the team ahead by one. A one run lead against the team with the perfect record.

It's at this point that the psychology of fast pitch softball really kicks in. When you have a perfect record a one run lead isn't going to scare or intimidate you. Knowing that you have one last at-bats coming up, with three good hitters, you can create a 50/50 scenario that will score you one run and get you into extra innings. Perfect records aren't achieved without smart coaching and gutty players. However, this theory only holds for one run leads. Multiple run leads tend to work on the psyche of even the best players and coaches. The chances for a comeback dwindle to next to nothing.

Subsequent batters for Beth's team got them into a two out, runners on second and third situation. Ahead by one. Next to last inning. And entering stage left came our Beth. Up to bat. And the cheers and the rattling of chain link fences and the mouths covered with prayerful hands hit a peak and stayed there. The hot sun and the dust. The video cameras and the TV guy and the water bottles. Everything, every living soul suspended in anticipation. Runners poised, defenders crouched, Beth swinging the bat in the on-deck circle with wooshing authority.

I looked at her, and I was probably the only one in the park who noticed, but she had the look. That tiniest of smiles, white heat from the eyes look that she gets sometimes. And I knew. It tightens my throat even at this moment because it's the look that I know. The look of a thousand warriors, the gaze of the punisher.

I knew that she'd just read the future and found it good.

She took the first pitch and fouled back the second just for the drama of it all, I think. It was perfunctory and necessary to the event at hand.

The third pitch she cracked hard over second and it landed on the green grass and everything was instant motion.

The runners dug and got up to speed while the ball was not yet four feet from the end of Beth's bat. The girl at third scored easily while the one coming from second had to motor in like a deer and slide under the throw from the centerfielder to the catcher. But the throw was late, late enough to where everyone in the place could call her safe while Beth ran stealthily to second amidst the commotion. The dust swirled and the umpire called time with his arms raised high.

Beth's team: 4. Perfect record team: 1.

The whole thing took like ten seconds. But the joy was going to last a lot longer than that.

Beth stood on second base, bent at the waist and hugged her legs in a release of nervous energy. Two hundred people roared her name, high-fived with strangers, shimmied and danced and hooted. She stood tall again, and the warrior look was gone, replaced by a 500 watt smile and a laugh that spoke not of disdain for the other team, or relief from the tension of the moment. She laughed at life, and how good it can be every now and then. She clapped her hands over her head even as we fans stood and did a bit of clapping of our own.

She'd done it again. She's tasted this cup many times, and each time the importance and the difficulty level are greater than the time before, but the taste is sweet and it is what keeps her going through freezing winters in the weight room, running through rain and sitting in her room late at night staring at the ceiling with wordless anticipation.

The game was as good as over. Perfect record team took their last cuts at bat in desperation, whiffed, and were perfect no more. There were tears, and dejection, and only the hint of another game to come to console them. On another day.

But this day belonged to Beth.

It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that whatever would be left of a weekend would be anti-climactic after a Friday afternoon like that. Within thirty minutes she and I were piled in the car speeding south to pick up her Bestest buddy at college and bring her back here. We giggled through the first 50 miles, reliving the game and savoring the goodness that is softball talk. Play by play, each seemingly insignificant throw and hit and look that the casual eye misses but is so apparent to the players. I catch a lot of it, I've been involved in the game for a long time but I still miss out on some of the tiny details that go on. She fills me in on the mindset and the little dramas that go on unseen.

After a while we grew silent and she curled into a ball on the front seat and napped while Virginia and North Carolina flew by outside the window. She returned to being the 17-year-old daughter, the little girl, the world where Dad could help and be beside her through whatever.

I kind of like that world. I'm holding onto it as best I can, it will be over so soon. She flits in and out of my day in brief snatches of time, bursting in and racing out to one more practice or school day, a hug in the morning, a "See ya" as she goes to bed early. Next year at this time will be the last of her. College bound, out of the shelter and missed already.

And when I take the time to look at my life and I feel myself growing old, I have days like that to add to the memory closet. They hang from the bar like clothes that no longer fit, but are too precious to ever give away.

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