I took the hill for the first game that day. Coach told me that it was a good team so I needed to pitch my best. Problem was: I didn’t have my best stuff. Changeup would only make it 59 feet, two-seamer was staying flat, and my worst pitch – a looping “curveball” – was the only pitch I could consistently throw a strike with. So there I was, 13 years old, laboring to even find the strike zone, and my defense kept letting me down. Seriously, there must have been four or five errors in those four innings I pitched. I felt very much like I was fighting a battle by myself.
That’s when it happened. I left a fastball over the heart of the plate and the righty did not miss it. He scorched a liner just to my right and I didn’t even have time to react. I watched it fly past my face and expected it to sail into center field but… there was a flash of leather and the ball vanished. You had completely laid out from your position at SS and made one of the greatest catches I’ve seen to this day. In that moment, I remembered that I wasn’t alone. You had my back, just like you always had.
The game? Yeah I went on to pitch 4 innings and gave up 7 runs (a lot of them unearned). When I exited the game, it was 7-3. By the end of the 5th inning, it was 17-3 and we lost via slaughter rule. It was the last game I started as a pitcher. I guess that’s why your catch remains ingrained in my memory.
We’ve had a lot of other experiences together. I can’t count the number of basestealers we teamed up to catch – my throws from catcher and your tags both at second and third. There was no one else I trusted more to catch the ball and make the tag. We used to try and outdo one another on the diamond with diving plays. It became harder for me to top you the later we went on in high school because I was always catching and you were always on the left side of the infield. I made my fair share of cool plays, but I think you won that one if I’m being honest. We even went to game 6 of the 2011 NLCS at Miller Park and watched the Cardinals go the World Series. We both dreamed of getting the chance to play on that stage some day,
Alas, it was not meant to be. Your elbow and my overall decline in ability kept that from even being close to reality. I went on to play in college and it was your encouragement that helped me press on through the struggles there. I always felt like I was continuing the dream for us. I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere, but any success I had was for the two of us. We worked too hard to walk away from the game with nothing to show for it.
We have played a lot of golf since then and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to beat you. I tied you once but you won the putt off at the end. You are my only friend from pre-college baseball that I still keep in touch with. That means more to me than I can describe.
Today is your day. It’s the start of one journey, one that is going to take a few months or even years to get used to, and the continuation of your bigger journey. You have been on my mind all day and I hope and pray that all has been successful. This is a new chapter for you and I know this isn’t going to be easy, but it’s what you want and I’m so happy for you. While many things have changed, you are still you and I’m so proud of you.
You have taught me a lot in the past year or so. Seriously, you have opened another world for me that I would never have tried to understand had you not walked in. I remember feeling completely unprepared and embarrassed talking with you last year, but you have given me so much grace and mercy. You have let me ask my questions, as stupid as some might be, and you have answered me in kindness and compassion. You knew me during some of the most embarrassing parts of my life (I was a conservative! Like what??) and for some reason you put up with me then. The fact that you have let me continue to be a part of your life is a blessing.
Now is my chance to have your back. I am with you through this continued change and I will help whenever you need. I hope you know that I am a phone call or snapchat away. You are one of my dearest friends and I’ll always be right here. So do whatever you gotta do; throw whatever pitch you gotta throw. I’m right behind you.
You go girl.