“Least Valuable Player,” Friend, Aug. 1991, 32
My mom joined a softball team this summer. “It’ll be good exercise,” she said when she first told us at dinner one night. “Maybe it’ll get me out of my rut.” If saying things like “Eat all your brussels sprouts, Scott, or no dessert,” was being in a rut, I was glad to see her getting out of it.
“Way to go, Mom,” I said, I didn’t think it had anything to do with me.
I was wrong. The next thing I knew, she had bought a glove and some cleats and was after me to practice with her. Between school and my soccer team and hanging out with my friends, I didn’t have much time to play catch with my mother, but I tried.
She wasn’t very good. She spent a lot of time chasing after balls she didn’t catch, and I stayed busy running down her wild throws. At least when I’m playing with my friends, I can yell things like, “Get a net,” but you can’t do that to your mother.
“I can tell the coach hates having to play me,” she told us at dinner one night. I knew she was upset—she forgot to fix garlic bread to go with the spaghetti.
“Give yourself a chance,” Dad said. “You’re getting better all the time—isn’t she, Scott?”
I nodded, since I’m not supposed to talk with my mouth full.
After that, Mom was after me even more to practice with her. It reminded me a little bit of when I started playing soccer. I was only seven, and I kept falling because I’d get my feet tangled up with the ball.
“You just have to get up one more time than you fall down,” she always told me. “You’re getting better every day.” That kind of thing.
So I tried to encourage her too. “You almost got that one, Mom!” “Try holding your glove like this.” That kind of thing.
She was really discouraged after one particular game. She had been in right field, where she says the coach puts her because hardly anything ever comes there. In that game something did come there, but Mom didn’t catch it, and by the time she’d chased it down, the other team had scored three runs. Her team lost by two runs, and she felt personally responsible, especially since she struck out every time she got up to bat.
“I’m thinking about quitting,” she said that night. We were having hamburgers for dinner, and she had forgotten the french fries. “They all try to be nice to me, but I know that they’d be relieved if I’d quit. It’s hard, knowing that I’m the team’s least valuable player.”
“Don’t punish yourself,” Dad said. “If you’re not having fun, quit.”
My jaw fell open. “Hey!” I protested. “That isn’t what I heard when I wanted to quit soccer. You both told me, ‘Don’t be a quitter,’ and ‘What do you think we’ll do with that soccer ball and uniform we bought?’”
“But, Scott,” Dad said, “we were right, weren’t we? You just needed to get over the rough spots. Look how much you’ve enjoyed it since then. You’re the high scorer on your team now.”
“Yes,” Mom chimed in. “Look what you’d have missed. If you had quit while you were down, you’d have had a sour feeling about it for the rest of your life.”
“That’s what I mean,” I argued. “The rest of your life may not be as long as the rest of mine, but do you want to feel sour about softball for the rest of it? Could I have another hamburger?”
I guess Mom thought about what I said. Or maybe about how much she had spent on the glove and cleats. Anyway, she didn’t quit. And she did get better. I’m not talking about a miracle. But before the season was over, she was sometimes getting hits and sometimes catching what came her way out in right field. She must have stopped feeling sour about it, too, because the meals got back to normal at our house.