I’m 10 years-old, standing on the pitcher’s mound at the American Legion field in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Bottom of the ninth, two-outs. Double-elimination tournament. My team is already a game down.
The batter – frustrated from her first called strike and second swing at a ball – steadies her hands and readies to get the job done.
And this is where the story splits.
In my memory, I release a perfect pitch that gets her looking.
Ask the batter (and her Mom) and she’ll tell you that final pitch bounced off the plate, and the umpire (who happened to be the batter’s Dad) made the wrong call.
Jenny League Softball was (and remains) serious business in Southern New Hampshire, and prior to that last play of the game parents on both sides had been shouting and snickering nasty things about “playing favorites.”
I have the privilege of the batter’s (and her Mom’s) memory, because soon after this disputed incident, that batter, a girl named Emily, became one of my forever friends.
Once we got to high school Emily was the cool hippie who knew how to drive stick-shift, get in (or pass up) any party, and was the only person on the planet my Mom would let me go with to see the Allman Brothers.
I was the Class President, who was mostly scared shitless.
It was a small town, so, likely most kids knew we were friends, but I always felt like what they didn’t get was why a girl as smart, and kind, and cool, and connected as Emily, would run with me.
Then again, Emily ran with everyone – she could always find the best in anyone – so it’s also just as likely that no one ever thought twice about our friendship.
Emily and I don’t talk, or write, or connect nearly as frequently as we did when we were kids – but this week marked her 36th birthday, so I shot her a text:
Happy Birthday you beautiful changemaker – thanks for remaining an inspiration.
She texted back:
My Love! This made my day.
To which I responded:
If I could’ve I would’ve included it in a speech – like I did (18 years ago) at graduation. But, no stage today.
To which she responded:
I’m desperately looking forward to when we get to celebrate, and your stage has never left, young lady.
I don’t know if Emily is right about the called third-strike those many decades ago at the Legion (which PS – her team did go on to actually advance in the tournament), but there’s no disputing her call on the stage.
So, I’m using mine, to say from the bottom of my heart that I am eternally grateful to call Emily my friend and wish her another wonderful and be-you-tiful year of her.