The last pitch was thrown and the Herkimer Generals had lost the 2019 National Championships. It came and went, and my heart hurt for the sophomores who wouldn’t get a National Championship ceremony; who wouldn’t have the opportunity to wear a ring that doesn’t only represent a win at the end of the season, but a series of wins throughout hard work at practice, mental sessions, and six a.m. lifts. I still had another opportunity though, and I wouldn’t feel that hurt again—I was right about the latter.
In September of 2019, six sophomores, myself included, were faced with the challenge of teaching a freshmen-heavy team what it takes to be a Herkimer General. That meant holding the rope for your team, checking your attitude before practice, and waking up at three a.m. on Saturdays for a full five-hour practice. It wasn’t easy, but neither is being a National Champion—one team gets to hold up that trophy, and to get there, you have to be different from every other program in America. We were different.
Both years that I’d been a part of the Herkimer Softball program, there had been a turning point in the season. It seemed that our team chemistry clicked right around the time we got back from winter break—this was also when our “Hell Week” took place. “Hell Week” entailed seven days of hard-core training, practice, and mental sessions. We had an hour to ourselves, give or take; the rest of our day was spent with the team. I can tell you from experience that this week lives up to its name, however, it also brought me closer to my teammates. We had gone through Hell and back, but we did it together; we became a team.
Coach PJ tested our physical stamina day in and day out, but more importantly, he challenged us mentally. Mental toughness is not about how many push-ups you think you can do, it’s about telling yourself you can do as many as coach needs you to, and then some. It’s about overcoming your biggest limitation—your own mind. He taught us that no matter how bad things seemed, there was always a silver lining, and there was always someone who had it worse. A quote that he’d read to us occasionally will always particularly stick out in my head; it goes, “I used to complain about my shoes until I met the man with no feet.” He liked to put things in perspective like that for us—not to make us feel bad necessarily, but to get us to think differently. That’s what I mean when I say we were different.
It’s hard to stand back and watch your season slip through your hands right in front of you, and it’d be easy to blame it on society or the school board. My team stayed silent when they told us our spring trip was canceled—to me, that’s as admirable as hustling your butt back to the dugout after a strikeout without arguing balls and strikes with the umpire. It’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you. We were able to keep them under control because our training throughout the season had prepared us for that very moment—that adversity. Yeah, it hurt—but when I looked around at my teammates taking the news with such class, I knew that my freshman-heavy team had learned what it takes to be a General, and I was proud to call them my girls.
Our softball field wasn’t smooth—it hurt to slide or dive on, and it didn’t drain very well. It was our field though. We tarped it, and we weeded it, and we even shoveled snow off of it. No one would come to our field and beat us; that was our home and we took pride in that because we made it our own. Nothing was handed to us. Even if there was an easier way to do something, Coach PJ always insisted on completing the task at hand in the most tedious way he could come up with. In the moment I couldn’t see it, and a lot of times it seemed he’d put us through that just because he could, but that’s what built our characters. Herkimer Softball was the team that tarped and un-tarped other team’s fields while on the road. Herkimer Softball were the ones who volunteered time to help around the school. Herkimer Softball was at every school event that wasn’t taking place during practice. This kind of training had prepared us for those weeks ahead of us. We prepared for the worst, always. We’d gone the extra mile in everything that we’d done. We were the underdogs and had to fight our way out of every situation. Could we have gotten by with an hour less of practice, or maybe an hour more of sleep? Probably, but I, along with twenty-two other girls, learned what it means to work hard for something that is everything to you, and not even a canceled season can take that away from us.
I wouldn’t feel the hurt of losing another National Championship because I wouldn’t be admitted to participate in another one. It’s so easy to take for granted what’s right in front of you. It was a hard lesson learned, and maybe necessary, considering my softball career is coming to an end quicker than I’d like to admit. The sport that has always been there for me won’t always be here—the physical aspect of it at least. But what the sport and all of my coaches throughout my career, particularly Coach PJ, have taught me will be with me for the rest of my life. Though my heart aches for the season that could have been, I wouldn’t trade a single ounce of the blood, sweat, or tears that I’d left on that softball field.