- A Few Things I Know about Softball
I learned to play softball when I was in sixth grade, from a man named Mr. Robbins. I have had far too much education in my lifetime, and far too many teachers, principals, music teachers, conductors, professors, bosses, senior colleagues—but of all those potential positive influences and mentors, only Mr. Robbins stands out in my mind as someone who gave me advice I still remember, believe, and occasionally find useful. Tall, skinny Mr. Robbins, with his thin hair hanging over his eyes and his little mustache. I didn't know much about the rest of his life, the part that took place away from the softball field. I don't think I ever knew, for example, what he did for a living. I looked to him for one thing only—how to play softball. For all I know, that was his only talent—I can't really say. But why should I care what else he knew, what else he did, to what he aspired, of what he dreamed? He taught a group of girls how to play softball. And I'm so grateful to Mr. Robbins for the knowledge he imparted that I feel some obligation to spread his teachings around.
So here, briefly, is what I know.
Lesson 1: Put your body in front of the ball.
My town—a small one with lots of trees, situated about a 45-minute drive west of Boston—had the usual Little League and Bantam Hockey League for the boys, but we also had something unusual for that time and place: the Sudbury Girls' Softball League. This was the mid-1970s, an era in which girls were required to take Home Ec while boys were required to take Shop. But nearly every girl in town played SGS.
The first year I played, I was placed on an expansion team in the Junior Division. All the teams in the Junior Division (fifth to eighth grades) had [End Page 117] bird names, and we were the Flickers. We were issued dark green short-sleeved T-shirts that said "Sudbury Girls Softball," with no apostrophe. We were small, and so were the shirts. I joined the league primarily because my best friend, Debbie Kutenplon, played in the Junior Division and said I should. Up until that point I had not shown much interest in sports, and my parents were somewhat taken aback to find me suddenly demanding to be driven to games and practices. My two older brothers played both Little League baseball and Bantam League hockey, as well as regular pick-up games of all sorts in the neighborhood. My father would frequently take them across the street and through the woods to the elementary school to play basketball, and if I expressed an interest in joining them, he would tell me I could stand on the side and cheer. He meant no harm, no negative judgment—it just was how he saw the world. I thought this unfair but I didn't push it, since I knew that on the bright side of my father's attitude lay the compensatory fact that he would never make me mow the lawn or shovel the driveway. My mother, meanwhile, boasted frequently about her own athletic abilities and took a lot of genetic credit for my brothers' accomplishments—told me because she was born left-handed she batted lefty, although she had been taught to catch righty—but not once do I recall ever seeing her hit, throw, or catch a ball.
So I was on my own. Usually, I needed only to stay between the high walls of parental expectation and keep up the brisk pace set by my brothers—I didn't really need to pay much attention to where I was going. But softball was a whole new open field upon which neither brother had ever set a cleated foot.
The first year I played, it was actually Mrs. Robbins who signed up to take the team. Mrs. Robbins was blonde and pretty—in the way that, say, professional female skiers are. We all liked her at first, because she was...