Amanda was ten years old when she and her nine year old sister signed up for baseball at the local YMCA. I had decided to help in coaching duties that year and the girls were assigned to our team. Amanda's sister was a tom boy deluxe. She could throw the ball and knew how to use her glove. Her skills at the plate weren't too good but a little work with her would fix that.
Amanda on the other hand did not posses the skills her sister did. It took me all of ten minutes working with her and a baseball to know that this was going to be an adventure for the both of us. I started out with the basics teaching her the proper way to throw a ball. Things like taking a step when making a throw and how to throw to an intended target instead of throwing the ball and seeing where it would land with in a radius of where she was standing. I taught her how to catch a ball with a glove. She eventually came to the conclusion that a glove made a better shield to protect her then a catching implement. I could deal with that as long as she knocked the ball down when it came her direction so she wouldn't be chasing it fifty feet behind her every time It came towards her.
I had conceded the job of manager of the team to another father. My thinking was that he would have to deal with the paper work and make sure each player got the proper amount of playing time. He would also be responsible for getting all of the equipment to the field. This left me more time to do what I really wanted to do. I wanted to spend time with the kids and have fun with them. The only drawback to this was that the manager set the starting lineup and positions that each player would play each game.
This was not a problem until the second game of the season. He had sent the kids out to start the game when a tragedy waiting to happen caught my eye. Amanda was standing on second base. I don't mean to say she was in the position of second base but she was actually standing on the base. I casually walked over to the manager and suggested that he might want to move Amanda from the infield to the outfield. When he asked why I answered matter of factly that if she played the infield she was going to get hurt. He thought about it a moment and swapped positions with the center fielder who happened to be my son. Fair enough in my mind. Brett had played no other position except second base during his young career. Amanda would be safe.
During the game a few balls were hit out to Amanda. She did what I had done many times while I was growing up. She would move out of the way of the ball coming at her and then have to run back towards the fence to gather it before throwing it back to the infield. The other team was scoring a few runs on Amanda's fear of the baseball.
I decided I would work with Amanda on catching fly balls. This would be my project for the summer. I started out the next week by standing next to her and tossing the baseball into the air like a fly ball. We worked on how to the the glove. We worked on getting to the ball instead of away from it. I taught her to stand her ground and not let the ball intimidate her. Things were moving along pretty well.
Over the next few weeks I began hitting her small fly balls from off of a bat. She started to seem to be getting the idea of catching the ball instead of running away from it. We worked on this over and over again as I tried to build her confidence in herself. I had to hit the balls pretty close to where she was standing. While she had stopped running away from the ball she still wasn't running to the ball to catch it.
I started moving her further and further out from me as I continued to build her confidence up. Before either of us knew it she was actually in the outfield and I was hitting long fly balls to her. If the balls were close enough to her she had a fifty percent chance of catching them. This was much better than where she had started from. She still couldn't hit and she couldn't run. Her throwing arm was not exactly strong or precise but she was making progress. I was starting to feel good about how far she had come during the course of the season.
When the team met on the field to play the third game from the end of the season I decided to give Amanda some more one on one time with the fly balls. She was standing in left field as I stood next to the back stop and tried to hit fly balls as close to her as I could. Things were going pretty well until I miss hit one of the balls. I had been tossing them up with with my left hand then hitting them out to Amanda as the ball fell in front of me. Then as I was swinging at one of the baseballs I did not get the bat under it.. I hit the ball squarely on the sweet spot of the bat and the baseball took off like it was shot out of a cannon. It was a line drive not getting more then ten feet off of the ground and it was moving fast. It was also moving directly at Amanda. The thought of dread immediately entered my mind as I watched the ball close in on her. She held her glove out in front of her palm up. She stood her ground as the hard little white sphere closed in on her. She did not run. Actually she did not move at all. She stood there waiting for what I am sure she thought would be a good catch.
The ball finally arrived and it hit Amanda's glove. She did not catch the ball though. Not with her gloved hand anyway. The ball hit the heel of her glove and ricocheted up to her face slicing through the skin on her cheek bone. As I stood and watched everything seemed to be going very slow until that moment when contact between ball and face occurred. Amanda then dropped like a rock to the ground. She dropped fast and she dropped hard into a heap out in the grass.
I dropped the bat and ran as fast as I could out to her. I saw the blood oozing from her face and I felt sick. I had caused injury to her. I picked her up and ran carrying her in my arms back to the shade of a tree behind the backstop. I laid her down gently as her mother came over to see what had happened. Someone gave me a towel and I started to gently wipe the blood away from the wound. It did not look like it would need stitches. As I sat there trying to comfort Amanda while tears were coming from her eyes she looked down at her uniform and asked, "Did I get blood on my uniform?" That was what she was concerned with. The uniform was important to her and she needed to look good in it. Blood on a uniform would take away from the stylish factor it displayed while she wore it. No concern for her face, just a deep concern on whether the uniform would look good on her. At that moment I remember thinking that a boy or Amanda's sister would be proud to have blood on their uniform. It would be a badge of honor. But to Amanda it was a flaw.
Amanda did not play the next game but did come back for the final game of the season. We sent her out to play right field that day. As the game was beginning to start I glanced out at Amanda. She was not quite in right field. She was standing in the right field area but on the out of play side of the foul line. I walked out to her and gently told her that she had to play the position in fair territory. She looked up at me with just a hint of fear in her eyes. She then stepped over the line and stood only inches in fair territory. She played the whole game like that and did a lot of running after baseballs that were actually hit into right field. After chasing down each ball she always returned to her set position just inside fair territory.
Fair enough I thought. Amanda had earned the right to be a little fearful and play right field the way she wanted to.