Behind the Ballgame

Missy had been pulling out the bright yellow T-shirt for a month.

“Not yet, Miss.”

With two weeks to go, it became more frequent and insistent.

“Almost…”

Finally, last Monday, the shirt went on. Opening Day came. And excitement with it.

The Niwot Nightmares were back on the field.

If you’re new to this space – or to the ebb and flow at Clark Centennial Field – the yellow-clad Nightmares are long-standing veterans of “Softball for All,” a summer league for the disabled. Missy pretty much goes back to the start, with a run of consecutive seasons that would leave Nolan Ryan pop-eyed. When summer comes, Missy goes, reluctantly slathered with sunscreen and eagerly waiting to greet the first coach to come into view.

“Hi, you!”

You see, the game is only part of it for Missy. Oh, she enjoys her chance to chuck the ball from the infield or cross the plate with a beaming smile and a tilt of her batting helmet. But that’s just the prelude to the real prize: people.

I’ve often called Missy the world’s quietest extrovert. With her developmental disability, she doesn’t say many words. But she will bask in attention and revel in people. She waves at passing dog-walkers, shouts out a greeting to familiar store clerks and is ready to find her newest friend at every moment.

So when she hits the field, she’s in her element. Other players. Cheering parents and guardians. Coaches and volunteers and rec workers and more.

It’s fun to watch. And it’s a valuable reminder. Because when you see the field through Missy’s eyes, you remember that the games don’t happen in a vacuum.

There’s a not-so-small army out there.

It sounds obvious, I’m sure. And yet, we overlook it every day. All around us are invisible hands and quiet efforts, making the necessary happen.

When Apollo 11 went to the moon, two people walked in the view of the world … thanks to the hundreds of others that calculated, engineered, purchased, labored and planned.

When a major movie hits the screen, Hollywood’s biggest names play before millions … and stand on the efforts of those who rarely enter the spotlight, but are essential to keeping it lit.

And yes, no Softball for All season could get underway without everyone behind the players: organizing schedules, bringing snacks, tending the field, and walking the players from base to base to the cheers of the crowd.  

It’s easy to take for granted. Too easy. Many of us have been on the other end of that, laboring quietly without recognition or attention, tempted to wonder if anyone would notice our absence.

But a puzzle needs every piece. Miss one, and the hole stands out.

We’ve all got something to bring.

Take a moment to see each other – and maybe to see yourself, as well. Bring the invisible into view. Remember the many that we count on every day … and know that many could say the same to you.

You matter. We matter. Always.

And when all that mattering starts to get exhausting, may I suggest relaxing with a Monday night softball game?  There’s a new friend who’s just dying to meet you.

Just look for the yellow shirt.

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