“How many professional girl softball players do you know? How many professional softball players period?” he almost shouted as he pulled his blue pickup into the park’s entrance. His daughter starred into his eyes. A question was brewing in her little mind, he could sense it.
“So, that’s why I’m gonna play baseball?” Her face crinkled with confusion.
“Yes baby, you see baseball is intense. At the beginning it’s the pitcher, the batter, and the catcher, playing a game of tricks with a ball and a stick. The other guys on the field, they don’t know where the ball is going! Then if there’s runners on base, the fielders gotta know what they’re gonna do the second the ball is hit. Then bam! It’s a homerun. And everyone watches the batter, the hero, walk around the bases. And that’s why you‘re gonna play baseball.
Her awkward face gave way to a relaxed smile as her dad didn’t really answer her question, but that was okay, she realized she didn’t understand. Sometimes when she didn’t understand things she’d say so and ask questions till she felt she got a valid enough answer, but when it came to her dad, she didn’t question much. If she needed to know more, he’d tell her. If she wanted to know, she could ask. Most times, she just took his word on the matter.
“You like sports, right? You like running and winning and stuff like that, right?”
“Yeah dad,“ her grin was huge as she imagined the days of her being the leader in class, heading the line to the bathroom or playground, changing the date on the calendar, going high on the swings on the playground.
“So why don’t you wanna play basketball, Susie babe?” He knew the answer to his own question but he wanted to try and let her figure out why he thought baseball was the sport for her.
“The ball is too big for me in basketball, plus I‘m not tall enough,” she answered.
“Do you wanna try to be a girl football player or a fighter, like boxing or karate?”
“No dad, I don’t wanna have to hit somebody.”
“So,” he began to explain.
“So that’s why I’m gonna be a baseball player.” She cut him off. She understood now. “And that’s why, today, you are gonna show me how to hit!”
A smile settled across Mike‘s mouth. “So,” he continued the conversation, “how is school going?”
“School? The same. I’m ahead of my group again. It’s because you already taught me sign language and Spanish, Mrs. Greene says it all the time. The past four days she’s been taking me to see the older kids practice softball and baseball because she is one of the coaches. The guys play on the big field and the girls on the small one; I watch the boys though. They’re better and I have someone to talk to in their dugout.”
“Oh yeah, who do you talk to?”
“His name is Reggie. He is a black kid. He’s twelve. He practiced with the team the first day I went but then, the next day he had a broken arm so he’s been sitting with me and telling me everything about the game, and like, yelling at the team from the dugout and stuff like that. His dad works with the Houston Astros and some other team, he’s some kinda coach. Reggie says his dad coulda played in the pros but his foot got chopped off when he was working at the, umm, the oil things that we see in the water.
“Oil rigs.” Mike said.
“Yeah! Oil rigs, and Reggie is the best player on the team, you shoulda seen him that one day he wasn’t hurt, he‘s awesome dad. He’s told me all about fielding, like, keep your palms up, knees bent, and butt down; He told me about how the pitcher can hold the ball a different way and move his wrist different to make the pitch a “curve ball”; He told me all about stealing bases and the two step lead off. He knows a bunch about baseball. He even yells at the team more then the coach does. He’s got a big nose. Sometimes I like, accidentally stare in it. Not at it, like I’m staring at your’s, but in it, like when you look under a rock to look for spiders or snakes or like when I look up my own nose in the mirror,” she giggled as she explained.
Mike took a deep breath in and released slowly, meditating on his satisfaction. “She’s gotta be the most interesting seven year old on the planet,” Mike thought. “You take care of my baby God,” Mike demanded in his mind.
He was always talking to God in his head, or sometimes aloud; Either way, he spoke to God as if they were good close friends. “I am the only one responsible for the life and the well being of my daughter,” he would declare for self motivation, “And there is the two of us, and you God. I will not mess this up. No pressure, just faith, in myself, my daughter, and life,”
He never had plans nor desires to be the father or the coach of the first female major league ball player, but he thought this would be fun for him and his daughter. She was his greatest investment of time, money, and tender loving care. Susie Eve Rodriguez by birth, but she tells the kids at school and everyone she meets to call her Suez. Below her dangling feet wass a bucket of baseballs. Twenty two brand new baseballs of gleaming white and striking red. Mike killed the truck and the two of them stared at the freshly cut and painted baseball diamond. “Pretty.” she said ever so calmly.
“Susie Q, I want you to stand right here and kinda just watch daddy throw. Look at how fast the ball is coming and just try to swing right when the ball is close. Daddy is gonna warm up. I’m gonna put this target up, and I’ma try to hit it. Okay?
She was standing about eight feet or so from home plate, in a perfect batters stance wearing a yellow sun visor from which her two curly pig tails sprouted out the top. The beads of sweat were surfacing on her upper lip and brow as she took a couple of practice swings. She was wearing a white t-shirt with a big yellow smiling flower, a pair of pink shorts, and her new pair of Adidas baseball cleats. “How’s my swing dad?
“Looks good baby, looks good. Take a couple more steps back and you just watch daddy here.” Mike stood straight up, covering his mouth with his baseball glove, gazing at the imaginary catcher. Twenty years of rust about to be cracked, he lifted a leg up and across his body almost like a flamingo, then out kicked his leg, taking a great step towards home plate. The ball seemed to come from nowhere as it was suddenly catapulted from his thick solid arm. It flew stunningly fast into the ground not even halfway to home plate.
“You missed dad.”
“Yeah, I know baby. You just keep on swinging.” He taught her how to swing when she started playing tee-ball a few years back. He knew her swing was solid and he knew he could muster up his old skills. He lifted his hat up off his head and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the wrist of his gloved hand. He was really upset with his throw. “Come on ‘Spooner.’ Lets get this.” He went through the motion again, smooth as a yoga instructor, primed and ready to explode. Then the ball launched and flew slamming up against the backstop fence, five feet above the target.
“Almost,” she was sincere and had an encouraging tone.
The third was high still and off to the left; the fourth throw was even farther left. The balls continued to fly with less speed, but also with no consistency, no pattern, nor improvement. Susie was taking her warm up swings seriously and was getting her timing down good. Mike could hear her making remarks but they weren’t nearly loud enough for him to hear exactly what she was saying.
“Hey dad? Do you think baseball is in my blood? I mean, you were a good baseball player, so maybe I‘ll be a good baseball player, right?” She was almost yelling at the top of her lungs now, and Mike could hear her just fine. “You’ll be fine baby, I’m sure,” he replied.
Her swings keep getting smoother and more fierce as she concentrated on each pitch. “‘Suez the Muse’ is gonna knock one out today folks,” she was using her quieter voice again and trying to talk like a sportscaster, and she sounded pretty good. Her dad liked to call her “Suez the muse” she didn’t know what it meant but she liked the way it sounded. “Oh! That woulda got me in the face,” she moaned. The pitch, the swing, “ Ohhh! That one woulda hit me too!” she grunted after her swing. “Too high. Too far. Woulda hit me. Woulda hit me, again,” she continued rating the pitches.
Mike put both hands on his hips, sighed and looked down into his bucket. “Two more ‘Spooner.’ Lets get these muthas,” he demanded of himself as he felt more frustrated and determined. Sweat shaded the neck of his gray t-shirt. He took a quick stare into the distant yellow globe of life behind first base. Then, he closed his eyes, and soaked in the sun’s energy. He looked back towards home plate. “Okay Susie, why don‘t you step up.”
“Okay dad! she yelled. She held the bat across the plate and measured how far to take her stance. “Suez is gonna get one here today folks,“ she yelled as she placed her feet carefully. She took a couple of quick tiny steps in place and then started digging her cleats into the red dirt like a little bull, making a small orange cloud rise around her. “Shouldn’t I have a helmet or something?” she asked her dad.
“Nah, you’ll be fine. Daddy‘s got this,” Mike answered.
“Okay dad, I’m ready.”
He went into the motion, smooth as a yoga instructor.