Brooke was eight-years-old the first time a coach yelled at her.
She missed the base while rounding third, scored what she thought would be the tying run for the 10u State Championship, only to have the umpire call her out on an appeal.
Roger Thornton was always more of a dad than a coach. His daughter Paisley pitched. He wanted her to be the star pitcher – so, he volunteered for the job.
Roger saw Brooke miss the bag but hoped like hell that everyone else didn’t. When the umpire made the call, ending the game in favor of the other team, Roger spun on his heels and threw his hands to the heavens.
Then, as he marched toward Brooke, who stood with slumped shoulders near the plate. Roger started barking, “You missed the bag, Brooke. All you had to do was step on the damn base! Good Lord, how could you be so…” Roger Thornton stabbed at the air with a finger and said, “You let everyone down – nobody lost this game for us but you.”
He made such a show with his voice, everyone in the park knew how he felt about the mishap. Sadly, many of the parents on the team shared his anger and expressed as much while huddled together in tight circles, as they consoled their crying daughters.
For Brooke, her parents didn’t make the game. Her older sister had brought her and spent the first six innings plugged into her phone on the shady side of the concession stand. As luck would have it, she did catch Brooke’s base-running mistake - a point she reminded her kid sister about the entire way home.
Back at home, Brooke’s sister burst into the house, laughing and announcing to her parents, “Guess who lost the game for the team? If she doesn't miss the bag, her team would've won!”
Brooke’s father didn’t say a word, but the disgusted look on his face and the way he shook his head told Brooke all she needed to know about how he felt.
Brooke’s mother asked, “How could you? Did you really miss the base? Your poor teammates must be devastated.”
The sister chimed in, “Oh yeah, I saw it. She missed it by a mile. It’s like she didn’t even see it. And yeah, pretty much everyone hates her.”
Brooke sunk lower and dragged herself to her bedroom, closed the door behind, and cried with shame.
Ten years later…
“What do you think of #10,” asked the young assistant.
Brad Moss looked at the roster in his hand and glanced back to the field. “Maybe.”
The young assistant said, “She’s slick in the field – I haven’t seen anything that tells me she couldn’t play at our level.”
Moss said, “She doesn’t seem like she’s having any fun, though – that always concerns me. I’m a coach, not a cheerleader, so when I’m recruiting, poor body language is a red flag.”
“Okay, what about #7, on the blue team?”
“Now you’re talking. I have her name circled here,” he showed the proof, “I like the way she smiles and bounces around.”
“Says here she’s a senior. Want to talk to her after the game?”
“Let’s visit with her coach first.”
After the game, Coach Moss spoke with the club coach behind the blue team’s dugout.
“What can you tell me about your #7?”
The club coach manufactured a smile and motioned them away from the dugout.
The coach started with an eager voice, “She’s a headcase.”
Moss said, “Really? I got a different impression.”
“Don’t be fooled. The kid’s had a rough life. Divorced parents, older sibling suicide, she’s been in and out of trouble with booze, bad grades, and if there’s drama on our team, she’s usually the source. I should’ve cut her long ago.”
The coach cleared his throat and said with a softer tone, “Now, we do have some kids on our team that could probably play for you – our best is a pitcher, she’ll be throwing the next game.”
“Okay, thanks for the heads up, coach. I’ll scratch #7 off my list and we’ll stick around to see your pitcher throw,” Moss said.
He turned to his young assistant and said, “And that’s why we do our homework.”
The assistant twisted her mouth in response, which led Moss to ask, “What is it, Bridgette?”
“Something doesn’t add up,” she said.
“What's not to believe? I’ve seen it dozens of times. Kid has issues but uses a fake persona on the field. No thanks.”
“You think the coach was being honest?”
“Why wouldn’t he be?”
“No idea, but he seemed to pile on the kid we asked about and was quick to point us at a different one.”
“Nothing too unusual about that,” Moss said.
Bridgette disagreed, “Actually if you were coaching that same team, wouldn’t you be doing everything you could to help out every kid?”
“Sure, but I’m not going to lie for anyone.”
“Not saying you should. But why not help a disadvantaged kid? It would have been just as easy for the coach to have lauded her for overcoming so much in her life.”
Moss conceded the point, even if he didn’t fully agree.
The two coaches found a spot in the stands, away from the parents, for the next game, and watched as the pitcher recommended by the coach completed her warm-up tosses for the inning.
“I still like #7,” Bridgette said defiantly.
Moss glanced at #7 again and couldn’t help but appreciate the way she smiled and encouraged teammates.
After a few innings, they concluded that the coach was wrong. The pitcher he said could play for them, unequivocally could not. But #7, as Bridgette continued to point out, she could.
So, the two agreed to stay after and visit directly with the shortstop.
The club coach caught a glimpse of the college coaches, once again standing behind the dugout as the game ended. He rushed out to greet them and boasted, “I told you. No runs, two hits, ten strikeouts – she’s still wide-open with her recruitment.”
Moss nodded and folded his arms across his chest. “Coach, she did a good job, but we’d really like to talk to your shortstop, if you could let her know.”
The coach said, “She doesn’t have any interest in playing college ball.”
Bridgette stepped in, “That’s okay, we’d still like to let her know how much we enjoyed watching her play.”
The coach’s cheeks puffed, and his face flushed with red, but he couldn’t find a way to argue. He waddled away and within a few minutes, the shortstop emerged with a smile on her face.
Moss introduced himself and Bridgette stepped forward with a handshake.
The shortstop said her name was Brooke.
“We like the way you play, Brooke,” Moss said. “Have you ever thought about MSU?”
Brooke’s eyes welled with tears. “Me?”, she asked. “Why would anyone want me?”
Bridgette said, “Well, for one, you never stopped smiling and encouraging your teammates.”
Moss added, “And you’re a heck of a good shortstop.”
“Thank you,” Brooke said sheepishly. “Nobody’s ever complimented me like that.”
Moss and his young assistant shared a look of disbelief.
“You’re kidding?” Bridgette asked.
“No,” Brooke said. “Actually all I ever hear is what I’m doing wrong. I don’t know any different, I guess.”
Moss said, “That’s not the way we do it at MSU. If you earn praise, we give it to you.”
“That sounds nice,” Brooke said, and her pearly white smile splashed across her face.
Bridgette asked, “Brooke if all you ever hear is what you’re doing wrong, how do you keep that smile on your face?”
Brooke nodded and bit her lip, seeming a little apprehensive to say.
“I’d like to know, too,” Moss agreed.
Brooke said, “Alright, but you might think it’s a little weird.”
“Try us,” Bridgette laughed.
“Ever since I first started playing, coaches have yelled at me. I used to cry about it – all the time. Then, one day, I decided that crying only made it worse for the people around me – so, I stopped and started smiling instead.”
Bridgette commented, “That’s a great way to handle it, knowing how hard it is to just blow off hurtful comments and not let them bother you.”
Brooked stammered before saying, “That's not exactly it.”
The coaches waited for a moment and then Brooke continued, “I smile to hide my feelings. When I get yelled at, it hurts. It hurts a lot. Then, I take it home with me.” Brooke put her hand flat against her stomach. “I keep it balled-up, right here, it burns and makes my stomach feel uneasy.”
“I’m sorry,” said Bridgette. “You do a great job of hiding it.”
Brooke nodded and dropped her eyes, “Maybe on the field, but it’s hard for me to feel good about myself. I just keep hearing a voice inside my head that tells me I’m not good enough. So, after a while, I just stopped trying to be good in everything but softball.”
Moss said, “Have you thought about college?”
Brooke continued, “I’m not a good student. I gave up a long time ago. I plan on getting a job after the summer – maybe go to work as a waitress – I hear they make good tips.”
Bridgette slowly closed her eyes and wished she could have been in Brooke’s life sooner.
Moss said to Brooke, “It’s never too late to change course. I’d be willing to give you a second chance at MSU if you're willing to give me a chance to show you that not every coach is the same.”
Brooke said, “Why?”
“We could use a shortstop,” Moss said plainly.
“But I’m not good enough.”
Moss smiled and said, “Brooke, it’s about time you stop telling yourself that. Anyone who’s been through what you have and can show the most enthusiasm of any player on the field – well, that’s someone, I want on my team.”
Brooke glanced back at the dugout before saying to the coaches, “What about our pitcher, Abby Thornton? Her dad, he’s our coach, he told us all before the game that you were here recruiting her.”
Bridgette chuckled and waited for Moss to respond.
“Yeah, well, I get the feeling that your coach gets a lot of things wrong.”
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