Summer baseball was a ritual for all the kids in our house, and Noni was no exception. Then again, yes, she was.
She enjoyed playing baseball wi th her special needs friends, she absolutely did. But I wanted more for her. I hoped she could have the experience of being on a typical girls' baseball team also.
My best shot at making this happen was to piggyback on her younger sister, a little slugger at the plate. Could I propose them as a package deal, a twofer, a BOGO? Could I summon up the nerve to ask the coach? How could we make it work and become a win-win for everybody?
The answer came out of right field, when the coach was open to having her play extra right field on her sister's team, and the league agreed.
Batting was a little trickier, but we worked that out too. She would lead off in the first and fourth innings, swing the bat hand over hand with a coach, run to first base, then step off the bag to become the assistant first-base coach.
And when she did, the crowd on both sides of the field cheered.
What a thrill for Noni! All season long, she never touched a ball in the outfield, but she was good at talking it up. “Two down, one to go.” “Play’s at second.” Sometimes she had no idea what she was talking about, and it didn’t matter.
She got to wear a cool team T-shirt, go for ice cream with everyone after the game, and take home a trophy when the team came in first place. We couldn’t ask for more.
But there was more. The shocker came at the end of the season when Noni won the top hitter award for highest batting average. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. She rarely hit the ball past pitcher’s mound.
“She batted 1.000,” smiled the coach. “She made it to first base every time she was up.“
It hadn’t occurred to me until then but, come to think of it, she was always safe at first. Funny thing, no player on any of the opposing teams could ever manage to get her out. They muffed the ball, overthrew it, or couldn’t outrun her. And they did it all on their own.
They played with heart.