Right now in our country, people are jobless, homeless, and hurting.
Pride is wounded. Spirits, battered. Hope hangs its head in a distant oasis.
A lot of people out there simply need something -- anything -- to smile about.
But I digress...
Randomly, and spur-of-the-moment, I decided to drive up to a softball game last week between Florida and Florida State. Pardon me-- that's your "# 1-in-the-country Florida" vs. 21st-ranked Florida State. A girl I've known for quite a while, but in recent years haven't had the opportunity to spend a whole lot of quality time with, decided to come along. She's my younger sister, Meggie.
But on Wednesday night, if only for a few hours even, all of that "stuff" was gone and forgotten. All because of a single game of fast-pitch softball.
The thing about last week's game was this-- A 4-3 box score does it absolutely ZERO justice. Even a front-page recap from the most skilled of sports scribes could never capture what happened in that ball park.
With Florida leading 2-0 in the top of the 6th, Florida State catcher Kaleigh Rafter slapped a 2-run bomb about 202 feet out of left field. That would be precisely 2 feet farther than the fence. Just like that, the Lady 'Noles snagged all the momentum, and doubled Florida in hits shortly after (6 to 3).
Next inning, a solo homer put FSU on top 3-2. Tomahawk chop chants began to take over the crowd of roughly 2,500. Folk was gettin' restless! But in the bottom half of the 7th, with 2 outs and nobody on, Megan Bush changed all that with 1 sweet swing of aluminum. A solo bomb that cleared the deepest part of the yard pelted the Pepsi sign on the center field scoreboard. "You dropped a bomb on me... Baby... You dropped a bomb on me!" (Insert awesome bomb-dropping sound affect here)
The game stayed deadlocked at 3 apiece all the way through the top of the 9th. With the sun already set, and temps in the high 50's, senior lead off hitter Franscesca Enea walked up to home plate as cool as the late-evening air. She couldn't have known...
And I'll tell you what... Very first pitch of that "do-something-or-we're-going-to extra-frames-inning"... Enea swings... AND CONNECTS!
Meggs and I, seated 1 row back behind home plate staring down the 3rd base line, jumped to our feet along with a couple thousand others. The bright yellow ball took off like a comet into the night sky. Sailing directly over the left field foul line I immediately thought of Carlton Fisk. Hell, I WAS Carlton Fisk!
I waved that sucker fair like an airport landing marshal guiding in a plane. As the ball approached the bright orange foul pole... IT WAS STAYING STRAIGHT! It's flight path still ascending, I immediately became a field-goal judge... "IT'S GOOD!", I signaled, taking foolish pride in believing I was the first person in the park to call it a game.
The ball soared on. And would you believe -- like magic -- that softball-on-a-string never strayed from its path! Right up and OVER the foul pole! Walk-off home run... LADY GATORS WIN!
The park exploded like the 4th of July. Strangers high-fiving. Girls from age 6 to 66 cheering. People dancing in the aisles. A guy (27 years old named Scott) stood up on his seat and took pictures of a joyful pile-on at home plate like an awe-struck 9 year-old. It was incredible.
But here's the kicker...
Often times, we sports fans fail to appreciate the simple wonders of our sports world. We think only multi-million dollar professionals who occasionally defy gravity, or laws of speed, merit the term "amazing", or the expression "worth the price of admission".
I didn't pay a penny to enter the park last night. Admission was free. But you cannot put a price on the simple thrill and pure joy my little sister and I shared that unassuming evening in Gainesville. It was a moment I won't soon forget, and one we marveled at long after our dollar drafts went dry.
It's been said sport has a unique ability to move you. A power to bring people together in ways few other things can. I have a group of college girls age 18-22 to thank for reaffirming that magnificent truth.
A 4-3 win will eventually appear as just another game on the collective season schedule. This one, much to my good fortune, was anything but that. It was one of the very best moments I've ever experienced inside any sporting venue... With one of my very best friends.