Rhonda Steen was the best pitcher in the Alexandria Girls’ Elementary School Summer league when I was in third, fourth and fifth grade. I can’t tell you the name of her team because we didn’t have uniforms, and in fact, each year we randomly chose new teams. We didn’t keep stats, so I have no actual proof that she was the best, I just remember that I could hit a home run off of almost every other pitcher but her. She brought something new to the game. It was slow pitch, so this was all technique. Every other pitcher up until then threw the ball gently toward home plate, almost as if they wanted you to hit it. Rhonda threw each pitch with the most aggressive arc we had ever seen. The ball seemed to sky into the blue, hover a bit over the batter (as they tried to swat it like a fly above their heads), and then drop directly behind them, magically in the strike zone. Most of us, with no sun glasses, no hats, certainly no tar beneath the eyes, lost every ball in the summer sun and just waited to see what the teenage umpire called… inevitably it was a strike.
We didn’t receive ribbons or trophies. Except for the year that my team lost every game, I don’t remember the wins or losses. I don’t remember that is was important. I remember riding my bike to the games. I remember the fields, the dirt, the girls. We were friends in the heat of summer, not tied together by uniforms or sponsors, but by friendship. We just played. We didn’t know it then, but I suppose Rhonda’s expert pitching was a sign that we would eventually separate, follow different paths…keep track of the scores, the wins, start worrying about whether or not this life was actually a success.
I still have my baseball glove. It was a hand-me-down from my brother, who’s name eventually wore off and I permanently inked my own. I introduced my husband’s grandchildren to the game. I pitch to them a tennis ball and if they hit it, they race each other around the trees until they fall over. It is pure and it is beautiful. And we all win.
I don’t think Rhonda made a career of her special skill, certainly I did not. But wait, maybe I did. I guess my job is to bring you the pure love of these and other stories, through pictures and words. And I hope I can do that. I hope you can feel that. When you reply “oh, that was my mother,” or “that was my neighborhood,” it connects us all. When we get down to the pureness of it all, in the disinfected light of a summer day, we truly are all connected. Sure, we can see we have different skills, different goals, different teams… but under that one sun’s warmth, wearing the same dust on our knees, we are one, we are more than winning, we are truly living.