On a field in Warner Robins, Georgia this Sunday past a group of thirteen 12-year-old girls from Charlotte, North Carolina made a date with destiny. The newly crowned state champion, Rowan County All-Stars were 2 and 0 in the Little League Softball Southeast Regional tournament, set to play the returning championship team from Tennessee, also undefeated in the tournament so far.
Solid, back and forth play from both teams found the score tied, North Carolina at bat in the bottom of the sixth and possibly last, inning with two outs and a runner in scoring position. At bat was my grand-daughter, number 16. Lovingly referred to as ‘the softball warrior,’ she ate, slept and bled softball, playing basketball, volleyball or anything else at a high level to kill the time in between softball seasons.
Living as we did a laundry list of interstate highways apart I seemed to retain the images of our last meeting several years back even in the onslaught of hundreds of social media posts and regular barrages of school portraits and sporting events. She ever remained the small, slender waif with round, rosy cheeks and long, beautiful, brown hair, the apple of her papa’s eye. Watching her team progress through this tournament showed something new, something unexpected.
This wasn’t a child with a bat, a ball and a cherubic smile, but a practiced team player, snagging string-straight liners and making 6-3 putouts with ease. She took practice cuts with the bat as she settled into the batters’ box, ignoring everything around her except the pitcher, 43 feet away. If I was guessing, she never heard the contact but felt it as the ball sailed over the first baseman’s head, landing in fair territory several steps in front of the right fielder. The runner on third had scored well ahead of the fielder’s throw to home and she looked at the crowd gathering around the plate as they and the rest of her team began running towards her, not yet realizing that her hit had won the game.
I stared blankly at my TV as an epiphany began to wash over me. At that moment she would never again be thought of as a child. She had led her team that day, led by example, with singular purpose and fervent resolve. I would forevermore be the student, she was now the teacher. She had flown high up into the clouds and would never be satisfied with the ground again. I chuckle to myself when I think of her older brother’s one word summary of his little sister’s performance, ‘Clutch.’