I dropped my head in my hands as my daughter stepped out of the batter’s box.
Spring had ushered in another season of softball. She made the team but would undoubtedly not be a starter. Every night, we practiced in our backyard. I threw dozens of pitches only to hear the familiar thud against the backdrop of the play house again and again.
My thirteen year old smiled sheepishly and dared a wave in my direction. I gave her a thumbs up. She flashed her braces and wiped back an unwanted tear.
“Have fun.” I reminded her before each game. “It’s only a game. Just do your best.”
We bought her spikes, a glove and a bat that fit her hand perfectly. We also purchased a batter’s glove in the team’s colors. We outfitted her like a professional. In appearance, she should be a starter. In performance, she was a benchwarmer.
She smiled again at me as she took her seat on the bench.
“Good try, Shell!” I yelled over the other parents’ heads. I wanted her to know that I was proud of her attempt although part of me made mental notes to change the way she held her bat.
I thought of another recent attempt of hers as I blew on my fingers in the crisp spring air.
“Mary doesn’t know Jesus, Dad. I tried to talk with her but I wasn’t sure how. I don’t want her to think I’m weird or anything.” Shelly had shared her concerns as we walked to the truck after the last practice. She’d met Mary on the team several weeks before. From their conversations, my daughter had discovered that her new friend was not a Christian.
“You have the all the tools you need, honey. You just need to pray about the timing and say whatever comes from your heart. God will do the rest.” I swung her bat into the pick-up bed. “You’re prepared. All God expects from you is to try your best.”
“Just try your best.” My words tripped my heart. I had been eyeing my watch and the clouds judging how much practice time we could get in after the game. I knew she could get on base if we just practiced more. I’d even left my construction job early a few nights so that we could warm up before the games. It hadn’t helped her performance. I was beginning to fear that what I was seeing was ‘her best’. My dream of her earning the Most Valuable Player award at the end of the season was slowing fading. There might not be another season if she didn’t improve in the next couple of games.
I watched her slide closer to her new friend. They were chatting about something and it bothered me that they weren’t watching the game. How would they ever become winners? I whistled our private signal and motioned to the field when she looked up.
15-2. Shelly called goodbye to her team and hurried to meet me at our truck. Her red and blue bands from her braces were arched in a wide smile.
“You lost. Didn’t the coach yell?” I exchanged her gear for a hot chocolate purchased from the team mom. She inhaled her first sip and wiped a foam mustache from her upper lip.
“I know we lost, dad. That’s not what I’m excited about!” She jumped into the cab.
“Did the coach say you get to start in the next game?” I asked with undisguised hope.
“No, dad,” she giggled. “Are you kidding or what?” A roll of her eyes followed. “It’s Mary. I did what you told me to do. I prayed first and then started saying whatever came to my mind. She didn’t think I was weird. Anyways, she’s going to come to Sunday School with us this week if that’s okay with you.”
I swallowed and tugged the brim of her cap. “Of course she can. You did your best and I’m proud of you. Hey, why don’t you invite her over after school for dinner before the game on Friday? I know mom won’t mind.”
“What about our batting practice?” She turned in her seat. We hadn’t missed a backyard practice yet.
“I think you are doing pretty well already.” I winked. “Besides, you have more important plays to make.” We slapped our hands together in a high-five salute.
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