How Softball Encourages Me to Keep Going in My Mental Health Journey
Everything hurts. Then I remember that feeling of lacing up my cleats, picking up my glove, and gripping the seams in my right hand.
The softball field at the back of my high school is where I sought refuge when I felt like everything around me was collapsing. It was the one place I could go to where I was not judged for the color of my skin, the physical build I carried or my intelligence. I was accepted as who I was, and the coaches worked with what showed up that day on the field.
Unlike any other sport I have come across, softball (and baseball) does not require you to have a specific build or physique. You can be small and petite, tall and strong, or anything in-between and you have a place on the field. If you were the former, you could be a lead-off hitter, poke the ball in a hole and get on base. Then you could steal second and score in a single up the middle. If you were the latter, you could be the clean-up hitter, driving in runs with doubles off the fence and legging out a triple from a double. There was always a place for you, no matter what.
At my high school, the coach of the varsity team once told me I was the first Asian player he had ever coached. You see, my high school was academically high achieving. We compared grades from the minute classes started in the fall and had to one-up each other with our SAT scores. My high school demographics were roughly 80 percent Asian when I attended over a decade ago. Nobody in their right mind played such an American, westernized sport such as softball. If you did take part in a sport, it was either badminton (we were Central Coast Section champions too many times to count, as I recall) or tennis (always went to state finals) or swimming. Yet, I played softball.
I had played since I was 6 years old and worked my way up from recreational league, to travel ball starting summer before eighth grade, to varsity freshmen year. I do not remember ever feeling out of place on the field when I was standing ready in left field. Being on the softball field allowed me to forget the troubles at home, the fact I did not have any friends at school or that my grades were sub-par because I had softball practice every day of the week, plus tournaments on the weekends, plus band rehearsal and volunteer hours to squeeze in. Never mind homework and studying at that point.
I was a part of something larger than myself. I was a crucial member of the band of girls who stepped out onto the field twice a week to face their opponents. I had a role to play and if I did not show up one day, I was going to be missed.
On my senior night, my teammate told the crowd of gathered parents and supporters that I could be heard from miles away. She told them I had a unique voice that could not be missed, and that even though I was small, I had a big presence on the field and in the dugout. My coach told the crowd I was the smartest player he had ever coached, always knowing what is going on at the school with the bell schedules and release times but also on the field and academically. He said I always knew the answers before he even knew what question to ask and that, at the end of the day, I was always ready to do whatever it took to help the team win and succeed.
I write this with tears streaming down my face. My eyes are already bruised and stinging from crying uncontrollably and dabbing tears dry. To the girl who sits on her apartment living room floor, her service dog gently breathing next to her: do not forget this feeling. You belong. You are a part of something larger. And you will contribute to society in a greater way than you can ever imagine. You have a gift nobody else has. Strangers meet you and cannot help but see your empathy, your hurt, your pain, and how you radiate kindness and warmth. Girl, do not forget you are wise beyond your years and that your trauma does not define you. You can love so deeply sometimes it is hard to believe you never received it. How do you know how to love when you never got it yourself? Because, girl, you have a heart of gold and the guy that your higher power has in mind for you would be lucky to hold you up and share you with the world.
Do not give up yet, girl. Your higher power has a plan for you. Keep going. Keep fucking going.
Image via contributor