The enchantment of girls softball

Between COVID-19 and the cold, wet weather, many scheduled games were canceled, but there was an enchantment in those they played.

It’s an attraction I wish to describe.

Fascinated, I’ve spent hours seated on bleachers, watching local girls softball teams play, experiencing what I can see and feel but have been unable to explain.

I’ve reached out to players and coaches, sports editors, and fans and learned a fair amount, but still, something is missing in my understanding.

Maybe by putting what I do know down on paper, it will become apparent what I’ve missed — perhaps then I can determine the nature of this elusive attraction to the game.

Longtime coaches Karl Grambau, of Rogers City, and Paul Marwede, of Alpena, together with Alpena Community College coach Christin Sobeck and The News’ assistant managing editor, James Andersen, all spoke with me. All were patient with my inquiries.

Here’s what I learned.

Girls fastpitch softball moves, so, if you play this game, you need to hustle. The baselines are shorter, the pitcher’s mound not so far away, the outfield fence closer, so, when things happen — as they continuously do — they happen sooner than what you’re used to. A complete game is played in seven innings.

If you’re a spectator, you best be on the ball.

Disabuse yourself of any notion that, just because the baselines are shorter, the competitive intensity is diminished, or that the level of excitement is in some way minimized. Be ready, instead, for teamwork, talent, and an expression of team spirit seldom otherwise displayed.

No matter your gender, you will be caught up in the moment, absorbed in the pace of the game, mentally transported from your bleacher seat or lawn chair onto the field and into the action.

Did you bring your glove?

Now you can see yourself as that outfielder who somehow snagged the high, lazy flyball momentarily lost in the sun, or as the infielder who expertly fielded the hot grounder, turning with rhythm and throwing to second base, initiating the double play.

No matter, the important thing is you’re there helping in some way — at-bat, on deck, or in the stands. Knowing, too, that if you make a mistake, you’ll own it, because that’s the way this game is played — here, rules are followed, even in your imagination.

Major League Baseball can regularly devolve into stretches of boredom only occasionally relieved by outstanding athleticism. So they have scoreboards that show you more than just the score, using lights that flash and giant TV screens displaying action — some of which occurred elsewhere.

With girls softball, the game is enough.

Karl Grambau has coached Rogers City High School teams to more wins than losses, and, in 2014, the Hurons won the state championship in their division.

The community celebrated with a big parade along the main street of Rogers City. They gathered deeply all along that parade route, expressing their congratulations to the excited teens moving past them in their team bus.

Until the bus stopped.

Then, the entire team exited, leaving Coach Grambau and Assistant Coach Gary Bisson to manage on their own. Now walking, the girls interacted with those gathered, thanking them for their contributions to the victory — aware they could never have done it on their own.

But not all days are winning days — even for champions. Before the Hurons could walk that victory route congratulating their fans, they, like us, had to lose a game or two.

Coach Grambau told me how a team’s losses help define who they are; that, sometimes, a team can learn more losing than if they had won. But, either way, the coach said — win or lose — there’s a positive feeling when you know you’ve done the best you could.

Then it hit me; what the beauty of girls softball is.

In this world of fabrication and dissension, selfishness, greed, false idols, and ambitions, girls softball shows us how the game should be played — and invites our participation.

The enchantment of girls softball is that girls softball is not a lie.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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