By Bailey Cummings
The day was overcast but every once in a while, the sun would peek through the thick gray clouds that hovered above, striking the three sets of towering bleachers that lined the sides and back of home plate at O’Keefe Field. As the clouds rolled and the sun’s reflection made its way to the silver stands, it would catch my eye. I should’ve worn my hat today, I thought as I shifted my Nike headband back and forth, centering the swoosh symbol just above my forehead. There was a slight breeze; a breeze only strong enough to push my high-placed ponytail towards my ears, brushing them lightly, but cold enough to send the occasional shiver down my arms and back. I adjusted the sleeves of my green long sleeve Under Armour shirt, as they often bunched up with every throw I made. The weather wasn’t the best but it also wasn’t the worst.
The infield, a territory I was so familiar with, was, however, the worst. Maine has such boring dirt. It’s so plain. It’s so beige. This infield, hard as a rock underneath the thin layer of bland topsoil, was painful to play on, but as I walked across it to reach the shallows of the outfield, I was reminded of its importance in my athletic career.
I had played on this field before, earlier on in our spring season as well as earlier on that day. Our first game in the North Atlantic Conference Championship was a frustrating loss to an obnoxious group of young women from New England College, a group that would shriek rather than cheer. The words “I hate number 99” and “I hate the pitcher” could be heard throughout our dugout on the right-field line as we played the game, scoring zero runs and giving up two. We were then set to play the number-one seed and host of the tournament, Husson University, next.
This field, a field my team had lost games on three times so far, was going to be the last field I ever played on. Why does the dirt have to be so bad?
Standing on the warning track in right field, I soaked up the bits of sun that came out, the last minutes of throwing I would share with my best friend—her long blonde hair bouncing side-to-side with every movement—and the last warm-up I would have as a softball player. The ragged red laces that snaked around the once bright yellow ball, now scuffed and worn, felt sharp against the pads of my fingers as I tossed it. This was a feeling I had felt since I was six-years-old and it was a feeling I would miss. My camel colored glove, a Golden Glove Elite 12-inch Rawlings baseball glove, adorned my left hand. Each pop of the ball hitting the basket-like webbing sent a small burst of energy up my arm, into my shoulder, and to my spine. Each catch was like an adrenaline rush and I would miss that feeling, too.
I started my last game at second base, the position that had been my home throughout my years of competitive softball. Wearing my “343 green” jersey, the number “3” embossed on the back, I took the field as we prepared to play the Eagles. The emerald green painted bricks of the dugouts—faded by age, weather, and dust—cornered me on the expansive field. I looked up, seeing my mother, father, and two younger brothers sitting in the shining stands; they waved, their grins taking up most of the space on their faces. They had made the six-hour and 16-minute drive to see me play in my last game and I couldn’t help but think, I have the best fans. Rolling grounders from my first baseman seemed to be moving in slow motion as we waited for our pitcher to warm up on the mound. But, before I knew it, the first pitch was being thrown.
Well, this is it. You better play well. Grounder to you, going one. Grounder to short, cover two. Pop-up to right, cut-off. Just get the out.
In the last game of my career at the plate, I was walked in the second inning and struck out swinging in the fifth. So much for getting a hit in my last game. In the fourth inning, I fielded two grounders and recorded the outs at first base. In the seventh, I jumped for a line drive, catching it and recording the first out of the inning. Thank you, Derek Jeter.
This game, the game that would cap off my career, felt slow. While the seniors I shared the field with were struggling with the sadness of this being their last game as well, they expressed it with one another. I, on the other hand, felt the sadness and basked in the beauty of the end of a chapter, alone. Just a freshman in college, I had decided to transfer schools and had yet to tell my coaches or teammates, playing my final game with no one but myself in my thoughts.
We played seven innings that ended in a loss of four to zero. As the team packed up our equipment and bags, sniffles and sobs could be heard throughout the dugout and crowd. My team, along with parents, were mourning the end of a season and the end of the senior’s college careers. Surrounded by tears and group hugs, I packed my bag and joined my parents outside of the fence. I didn’t cry.
I boarded the large coach bus that would take the team from Bangor, Maine back to rinky-dink Castleton, Vermont, and made my way to the back seat. Setting my gray softball bag with my two bats, child-sized helmet, and glove in the seat to the left of me, I leaned back and thought. That’s it. It was a good ride. How do I tell Coach that I’m transferring? I played alright. I’ll take it.
I began to cry.