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Hanging Up the Cleats

By Nicole Pierick
On April 19, 2019

Photo by Sammie Ford

I haven’t known what to say about a sport that I’ve played my whole life. I’ll no longer be playing it; my time has run out. It didn’t hit me until I realized that my dad would never get to watch me on the field again. I would never get to look up in the stands while in the on-deck circle to see my dad give me a head nod to let me know “I got this.”

People always told me that this day would be coming quicker than I thought it would, but I’d always shake my head and laugh. I figured I always had more time. Slowly, it started to become clear to me that they were right and I only had a few weeks left of practice, a few more games and a few more memories to make with my teammates.

I’m going to attempt to capture everything I can about this sport that tested me more than anything else ever has in my life, but I know I can’t capture everything in this short article.

When I was six, my dad brought me to a community field at FES Elementary School. One of the dads who was going to be my coach told me to grab a glove and throw with his daughter. I put the glove on my right hand, since I’m right handed. The coach looked at me and laughed. The glove was supposed to go on my left hand so I could throw with my right hand. I looked at him, unsure of what I was doing, but said, “OK” and got to throwing.

I couldn’t hit that girl’s glove to save my life. I remember being so upset that I was supposed to use my left hand to catch. I laugh about that now: What did I think I was supposed to do? But with more practice, I could do it, and do it well.

When I was 12, I wanted to be a pitcher. I think all softball players want to be pitchers at some point in their life. But ... I was terrible. I used to make my sister practice in the yard with me. I hit that poor girl so many times -- in the arm, the leg, even her face. We laugh about it now, but I know that it hurt at the time. Being a pitcher only lasted a year, then I started playing second base.

That was my love. I loved being a middle infielder. My dad would spend hours with me making me a better player. I would get frustrated and upset, but he would always be there to calm me down and get me back out there.

When I was 15, I was put on JV for my high school team. I hated it, but I accepted it. But then, I got to pinch hit for Varsity and was able to work my way into the line up. High school softball was fun for me. I got to play second base and was surrounded by all the people I played softball with my whole life. My best friends were on my team and we made many great memories.

It wasn’t always easy. There were still times when I doubted myself and didn’t want to play anymore. But my parents talked me off the ledge, and we moved forward. I got better.

When I was 17, we went to the state tournament. That’s my favorite softball memory of all time. We were escorted out of the school parking lot by emergency vehicles. Everyone I knew was congratulating the team (and me) on making it to the tournament. I felt like I was on top of the world.

When I was 18, I started playing for Ottawa University. No longer at second base, I played right field. I hated it. I wasn’t fast and my arm was sore from the significantly longer throws. There was one practice that I ran 13 foul poles because my throws weren’t on. I was tired and wanted to quit.

Off season came and I expected a small break, but our off season was harder than season. We had these things called Champion Days, or as the players like to call them, Hell Days. Our first Champion Day was 40 100-yard sprints with push-ups and sit-ups at the end of each sprint. That day traumatized me.

Coach told us what we were doing that day and the returners sighed and got on the line. I thought to myself that it was a joke, that they wouldn’t actually make us do that. WRONG. We did them all. I remember telling myself that quitting that workout was not an option and that if I did quit, I would be disappointing my whole family and the girls I grew up playing ball with. I didn’t quit and finished that workout. People say that you feel great after finishing things like that, but I didn’t. I felt sick.

We had a lot more Champion Days that year. It was hard. I would get so worried about the workouts that I would make myself sick to my stomach. It was unhealthy, but I kept going to keep from disappointing anyone.

After my freshman year, I spent that summer losing 25 pounds in hopes that it would help me perform better in the outfield. When sophomore year came, I was moved to first base. I’d never played there before, so I spent a lot of time outside of practice learning the position. It was frustrating, but I caught on and workouts got easier.

My junior year came around. At the start, I knew that was it because I was on track to graduate early. I was still playing first base and my hitting was better than it had ever been before. But the year didn’t go as I had hoped.

I found my role and decided I would be the person to cheer everyone on and to keep spirits high. It wasn’t easy playing this role. There were days I didn’t want to be the happy person or try to pick the pieces back up to keep things moving. Some days, I wanted to be selfish and feel bad more myself, but I couldn’t.

Looking back, I’m grateful I had this role. It taught me to put others before myself. Treat others the way I want to be treated. Don’t take things so seriously or to heart. Appreciate every chance that I got.

No, I was never an all-star player. I wasn’t known for hitting home-runs and didn’t even hit one until my junior year of college. I wasn’t known for being the fastest girl on the field or for diving plays or great throws.

But you know what I was known for? Finding happiness in everything we did. I think that’s what I’m most thankful for from this game. It gave me a lot of things: memories, confidence, team-building skills, laughs, tears and so much more. I love all that I’ve been given, but I’m most thankful for the mental game that softball challenged me with every single day. It wasn’t easy to be a softball player, but I am so happy I was.

I think back on all the times I spent at the local community field with my dad. We would spend hours at a time there, hitting and fielding balls. My dad is the best coach I ever had, and I am so thankful and lucky to have him, as my dad and coach.

I think back on all the early mornings and late nights at the ball fields, all the hours spent in the car traveling to visits or games. I think back on all the times I said I was ready to be done because of frustration, then feeling guilty that I wished some days away or just went through the motions some others. I think back on all the times I took this game and time spent with my parents and teammates for granted.

I promise you, no matter how much you say you’re ready to be done, you’re really not. When it’s all said and done, you’ll wish you could look up in the stands and see your dad give you that head nod one more time. You’ll wish you had one more chance to play the game you love.

I want to end this by saying thank you. Thank you to all of my coaches, all of my teammates and, of course, my family. Thank you for pushing me to get better every day, whether that was on or off the field. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for allowing me to play the game that challenged me more than anything ever has before. Thank you for the years and the laughs.

Softball has made me into the woman I am today, and I can’t thank this game enough for everything it has ever taught or given me. I’ll always love this game. Now I’ll just have to love it from the stands.

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