Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Championship Game

She had never started a game on the mound ever, but this was the championship game and the title rested on Suzie's performance.

Throughout the season, our top draft pick and pitching phenom, a girl named Jamie Schukle pitched a majority of the innings with a ferocious windmill fastball terrifying hitters with its power and periodic wildness. Jamie, though, was one of those overextended middle class kids who juggled school, three sports and the occasion family vacation to Tahiti. The championship game happened to fall during a scheduled trip to Washington, D.C.

We had been through so much that season, Suzie was 17 and playing her last season of organized softball. I became the manager of the team because, of course, my father couldn't do it. He didn't know the difference between the ball and a ball. From the first day, the other coaches snickered over our team of misfits led by supposed troublemakers; Suzie and her friend Michelle Hand and their coach, who was a kid. Sometimes they didn't even try to conceal their laughter and did it in our face.

The first game of the season we inihilated the perceived best team in the league who was managed by one of those beet red-faced old dudes who secretly wished they had produced a boy instead of a brood of girls. Our opening day thrashing was further punctuated by playing the Queen song, "We are the Champions" after the game. This labeled us as sure rabblerousers for the rest of the season.

We would proceed to win the first 10 games of the season on the way to finishing 11-1. We were a buzzsaw that blew teams away early. Many times the other team was intimidated before stepping onto the field. A growl and a snicker from Suzie was usually the culprit..

A league president nicknamed, "Doobie Dooley" by our team, had told me that Suzie was rated the number one player in the draft. The old guys loved the way Suzie played the game. While many girls played softball as a chance to doll themselves up for the boys, Suzie was all business. She wore her uniform with the sleeves rolled up and wore her infamous neon green batting gloves. The same ones that Rickey Henderson made famous in the 90's. At one point, her and Michelle even added eye black to their desperado personas.

She played the game hard. By her last season, she wasn't the most gifted player by any stretch, but nobody played harder than Suzie. It was typical to see her arms pumping around thirdbase and grunting towards homeplate like you might have seen Kirk Gibson doing on the Saturday Game of the Week. Her tenaciousness, won over many with a great knowledge of the game.

Because a pitcher was allotted only a certain amount of innings a week, the need for a second pitcher was paramount to our success. Aside from our phenom, we had nobody with any ptiching experience. Suzie volunteered to be tutored by Jamie's over-possessive father, who claimed to be an expert on the mechanics of pitching. He also was handsome for an older man and Suzie liked them old. So, it was agreed that we would pitch Suzie an inning or two every so often and see where it goes.

It was a surprise to many that she succeeded from the beginning. After a few games, she became our stopper in the bullpen and was fairly effective. After securing the top seed in the playoffs, we lost the opening game of the round robin tournament before winning the next game and advancing to the championship game. During this period it became known that our best pitcher would be deserting us. The only solution would be to start Suzie and see what happened.

Never had Suzie pithced more than two innings in any game when she fully accept the task of possibly pitching six or seven. We were going to rely on Suzie's toughness and guile to get us the trophy.

She had been known, at least to me, to intentionally hit girls that she didn't like. It would be that sort of intimidation that would be our only hope against a team that also possessed their own pitching phenom.

On the mound now stood Suzie. She would surely hit a few batters and mix in a little wildness to keep the opposing hitters off guard, but because Suzie didn't possess much power in her pitches, our defense would be needed to keep us in the game and it came through.

Unfortunately, so did the other teams.

The opposing pitcher zipped through our lineup blowing fastballs by our hitters and heaping frustration upon our team. Despite Suzie's heroic performance, we were no match for them. We lost the championship, 3-1, but in many ways exhibited far more heart.

The memory of Suzie on that mound was one of the most precise pictures of the strength that she held inside. That whole season she had something to prove. She played like she would never play the game again. She played like she only believed in succeeding.

About seven years later, she would show that same heart with her life on the line. Unfortunately, the outcome was the same as our championship game, but like those two instances, she showed that the fight would be fought until the last moments. Her strength, faith and love is something that we'll remember when we step on the softball field once again in her memory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed a lot! »