I played softball as a kid, and quite frankly, I was awful. Every time up to bat I froze at the thought of striking out and as a result, did just that. I was a classic self-fulfilling prophecy. So it surprised me just how much I enjoyed watching both my daughters play the same game. Then again, they are both a whole lot better than I ever was. I will say though, that since those panic-stricken days at the plate, my self-redemption efforts succeeded, and I am now killer in the batting cage! It’s not my daughters’ level of play that hooked me. It was while I was watching one of my favorite movies, “A League of Their Own” that I really got it… it’s watching the dynamics of two sisters (what I call sister physics)and their personalities play out on the field. In the movie it’s sisters Dottie and Kit. In real life it’s my daughters Aine and Bridget. I have one younger brother and no sisters, so everything I did, I did without sister physics. I didn’t share a room, let alone a team.
My older daughter, Aine, is a perfectionist. She’s the serious one whose words are usually measured and powerful. She has no tolerance for substandard performance in her life, and her sense of justice never wavers. If she doesn’t think she can absolutely nail something, she beats herself up about it. Because she is such a perfectionist, she is often, in my opinion, unfairly hard on herself. She worries about how she is going to do right up until the moment the ball lands in her glove or meets her bat. She told me that even as she watches the ball head straight for her glove, she panics for a second at the thought of missing it. But she rarely does. When I watch her from the sidelines, she looks so confident to me, right down to the ninja-like look her black face guard and black softball pants give her. This is a kid who, at 15, got a brush cut and didn’t worry one bit about what anyone would say. “It’s just hair, mom. It’ll grow back. It’s not like I’m asking for a tattoo,” was her sound reasoning. The kind of moxie that takes at that age is impressive to me, yet she steps on that ball field and worries. My husband jokes that she is the Babe Ruth of her team because like The Colossus of Clout, “clean, healthy” living is not her ticket to success. She can throw down a greasy fast- food meal on the bench, then get up to bat and knock one out into the field or take the outfield and make a great catch. Post-game, she adds a bag of white cheddar popcorn and half a dozen Oreo cookies. Softball may not showcase her healthy lifestyle, but it does show her healthy work ethic. Whether she sees much playing time or not, she always shows up, does the work, doesn’t complain and does whatever she can to help her team. To me, she’s not the player you expect to hit the home run, but she’s that player you quietly pull for the most to do it.
My younger daughter, Bridget, is fearless. She’s the comedian who loves attention. She will go anywhere and try anything. She just wants to be a part of the action. She’s a small kid, barely tipping the scales at 80 pounds soaking wet. Her size made it difficult to get a good strike zone on her and that frustrated her more than the pitchers. She didn’t want to get walked. She wanted to hit, to hear the roar of the crowd as she blasted a homer over center field, and she never stopped believing she could do it. She gave catching a try, but when the smallest chest pad came up over her face mask when she squatted because she was so small, she moved on! She just seemed impossible to intimidate on the field. Unlike her sister, who would worry about how good the pitcher was and whether or not her own timing was right, Bridget would just step up to the plate assuming she was going to hit the ball. Who was pitching was irrelevant. She would face down pitchers twice her size, never afraid to take a swing, and when she did strike out, she always went down swinging. Her sister once told me “I wish I were as brave as Bridget. She’s not afraid of anything.” And much like Kit in “A League of Their Own”, I think Bridget liked the idea of trying to match her big sister’s skill on the field. She could associate with all that was admirable about her sister while making a name for herself too.
But it was the years they ended up on the same team due to division age thresholds that were my favorites. “It’s bad enough we have to share a room, but the same TEAM?” was the sisterly lament. Yet, as the season started, the shared allegiance became tolerable. This was about the game, the team. They would endure. There was sisterly advice doled out by Aine that made me think of the scenes in “A League of Their Own” in which Dottie doles out advice to her little sister Kit:
Dottie: “Lay off the high ones!”
Kit: “I like the high ones!”
The times when my daughters would be back-to-back in the batting order were ripe with sister physics too. Aine would get a base hit, and from first base, this kid who was never vocal on the field would yell, “C’mon Bridget!” as her sister stepped up to bat. It was delivered in the manner that “…or else” was clearly implied.
There was one game in particular though, when the sister physics played out like a movie on the field. Bridget was playing shortstop, and the batter hit a hard grounder right at her. The closest play was to throw the runner out at third. As if written in a script, it was her sister who was the third baseman. If Bridget missed the ball or didn’t get it to Aine fast enough, it was not going to be a good ride home. I’m not a vocal cheerer at games. It’s just not my style. So I stood there, watching the scene play out, quietly chanting under my breath, like a meditative mantra, “Get it to her. Get it to her. Get it to her.” In what seemed like slow motion, Bridget scooped it up, turned and threw it to Aine, who in turn tagged the runner out. It was a great play, but an even greater moment happened a minute or two after the play. I watched Aine stare at Bridget, seemingly willing her to look at her. When Bridget finally turned and caught her eye, Aine simply nodded slowly once at her sister. Nothing spoken, just simple, powerful acknowledgement from big sis that little sis had met the standard (and therefore would not have to sleep in the room they share with one eye open that night). A slow, wide smile spread across Bridget’s face, and I knew I’d witnessed a priceless sister physics moment. “Beautiful” I said out loud. “Yeah, it was,” the parent next to me said. I don’t think he knew it wasn’t the play I was talking about.
My daughter Aine still plays the game, but Bridget has found a new love in track, so the days of sharing a team are over. But the teams they did share really are an analogy of their life as sisters. They don’t always like each other. Sometimes they can barely tolerate each other. But they are on the same team. They can insult each other in a way that is cringe-worthy, but God help the reckless soul who thinks they can throw a barb at one of them without fear of incurring the wrath of the other. You don’t have to always like your teammates, but you always have their backs. You can tease your own teammates, but someone from another team had better not do it. My daughters may be done sharing the same uniform, but they will always occupy the same home team bench. There’s a scene in “A League of Their Own” where Dottie decides to leave the team because she says it has gotten too hard to continue. Tom Hanks’ character tells her that “It’s the hard that makes it great.” In baseball, in softball, in sisterhood…it absolutely is the hard that makes it great.