This may be hard to believe (or, at least, I’m finding it hard to believe), but this marks my 500th post on The Baseball Attic. In celebration of this milestone, I thought I’d share a little something about myself and my personal interest in baseball. Initially, I considered talking about my earliest introductions to the game, but lately, I find myself reflecting more on my experiences playing softball in high school. In light of that, I decided to talk instead about playing for my high school and summer teams during those years.
After the Marine Corps transferred my dad to the Kansas City area, shortly before my tenth birthday, I did not take part in any organized sports again until I reached middle school. In the eighth grade, I went out for the track team, where I threw discus and ran as part of a 4×100 relay team. In all honesty, I wasn’t that good — I was too small to be much of a thrower, and I’m arguably a better runner now, at thirty, than I was at the age of thirteen — but it certainly beat sitting around doing nothing. That year, I also joined my brother in taking taekwondo classes. The three years of inactivity that had taken their toll on my pre-adolescent body gradually shed themselves as I started down the road of getting back into shape. In the meantime, I always made a point to play slow pitch softball at school mixers and even joined an early morning club for girls interested in playing for the high school (fast pitch) team.
Going into my freshman year of high school, I finally had the opportunity to really play the sport that I was most interested in — or, at least, the version that society dictated girls ought to play. That August (Missouri’s high school softball season takes place in the fall), I tried out for the school’s softball team and was named starting shortstop for the JV squad, though the varsity coach also penciled me in as a backup second baseman for the varsity team. That year, I led the JV team in batting average (I don’t recall the exact statistic, but it was well over .300) and even had the opportunity to make late appearances in a few varsity games.
I made the varsity team as a starter going into my sophomore year, but on an unexpected condition: our coach decided that it was time for me to learn how to play the outfield. The veteran players who had once made up the team’s outfield graduated at the conclusion of my freshman year, and I really think that our coach’s line of thinking in the face of this ran along the lines of, “Well, Sanders is fast. She has a strong arm. Let’s put her out there.” While I felt a bit put off about having to give up my comfort zone in the middle infield, the excitement over making the varsity team quelled this small disappointment, and I put everything I had into conquering my new territory. That year, I also began training outside of team practices, as I signed up for a weight training and conditioning class to help fulfill my physical education requirements. The previous year, I had also taken up running to help condition for taekwondo tournaments, but now started doing it for softball too. I played most of my sophomore season in left field, and was named second team All-Conference at the conclusion of the season.
The summers following my freshman and sophomore years, I played for a fast pitch league through the local parks and recreation. I enjoyed playing for the league immensely, and team schedules usually included two to three games per week. But as a recreational league, the level of play did not quite match up to what I faced playing for my high school team. Thus, the winter following my junior season, I tried out for and started practicing with a competitive tournament team.
Things worked a little differently playing in a competitive league those last two years. Team practices began in late January to early February, and the season started in early spring, lasting right up until practices began for our high school teams. Our season consisted of a long string of tournaments: a new tournament every weekend, starting on Friday evening and lasting throughout the weekend. We often played between five and ten games in a single weekend against teams from all over the region, and sometimes other parts of the country. My teammates came from all over the Kansas City area, and we did quite a bit of traveling throughout the summer. Looking back on it, I realize that my parents were really, very understanding in terms of the money that they sacrificed in order for me to do this.
As for my remaining high school seasons, I played center field for both my junior and senior years. As a junior, I was once again named second team All-Conference, and this time, All-District as well. My senior year, I made first team All-Conference, All-District, and was even nominated for the Greater Kansas City All-Metro list. I wish I could say I actually received All-Metro honors, but just being nominated was pretty cool in itself.
One of my favorite memories from my entire high school career came during the season-opening tournament of my junior year. I believe it was our second game of the tournament, and we were down 2-0, on the verge of elimination. With two runners on base, our catcher drove both runners home with a triple that tied the game. I then came to the plate and launched a pitch deep into left-center, where it hit the bottom of the fence. As I rounded second base, I looked up and was surprised to see our coach not only telling me to come to third, but waving me all the way home. The throw to the plate wasn’t even close, and the final score of the game was 4-2. It was the only home run I have ever hit, and we went on to win the entire tournament.
For the most part, those final two years passed in a firestorm of activity. Most of my days ran from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Each morning, I woke up and went for a run. During the school season, I went to batting practice for an hour before classes started. My senior year, I took weight training and conditioning once again and grew as strong and fit as I have ever been. After school, of course, was softball, and some nights I also had taekwondo or piano lessons. Throughout high school, there were also band practices, meetings and activities for various school organizations, band concerts and piano recitals, and, of course, as much of a social life as I could squeeze out, which wasn’t much. When I finally made it home each evening, usually fairly late, I would do my homework and go to bed, resting up so that I could do it all over again.
I read an article once that talked about how the most successful students are usually the ones who are so busy that they hardly have any free time, and I really believe there is a lot of truth to that. I sometimes look back and wonder how I maintained such an insane schedule, but doing so taught me a lot about time management, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. It helped that I was so deeply involved in an activity that I loved so much, and in a sense, this blog has become a way through which I get to maintain a level of involvement. My life isn’t quite as crazy as it was in high school, but I do still manage to take on projects that keep me busier than most. I suppose that’s another thing that baseball offers to those of us who love it — if we work it right, it can be the fuel that powers our ambitions.