My father's first hope for each of his four unborn children was simple. He wanted us to have penises. A Latino man can hide many things, not his machismo. Before we had time to take our first breaths, three of his newborn babies had time to disappoint him.
His desire for four sons probably came down to the predictable stuff. Boys carry the family name; girls drop it. Boys become men; girls become trouble. And, boys play baseball; girls play house.
Not this girl.
At age 7, my mom nudged me into softball on a whim. I showed up for each game with high enthusiasm but played with low performance. Our coach was a round woman named Lois who surrendered to the leadership position more than she volunteered for it.
Luckily, what I lacked in skills, I made up for in drive. With no guidance, I simply observed my one teammate who could really smack the ball and copied her swing, her timing, her follow-through. Strike-outs became line-drives. I also tossed a ball in the air in my backyard until darkness took it out of vision. Pop flies became instant outs.
My dad didn't take much of an interest in my first athletic endeavor - until I made the all-stars. You could almost hear the turn of his head, the perk of his ears.
Pretty soon, our garage boasted a wire basket brimming with softballs, a few mitts and a couple bats. We frequented a nearby park where he fed me pitch after pitch. He perfected my hitting and conditioned my fielding. My running never got much work. We just accepted my swing was much stronger than my stride.
Eventually, my little sister joined us. The older we grew, the faster the ball zoomed. We both became pitchers, my dad our faithful catcher.
Fast-pitch softball bonded us, there's no doubting that. But, with the attention of our family's patriarch came his criticism.
He usually waited for the post-season before making regular cameos in the bleachers. Except he never sat, he stood, giving the impression that he could leave at any minute. Sometimes he did, but not before a one-on-one coaching session through a chain link fence. "You're swinging behind the pitch. ... Get down on the ball. ... Communicate with your teammates."
He dished praise, too, but in much smaller helpings. The sight of my dad's folded arms and stoic expression in the crowd moistened my palms. The desire to have a good game ran deep. The desire for him to witness it ran deeper.
We honed my softball game through several all-star seasons, an accelerated team and high school varsity status. I remember a lot of losses and plenty of wins. But my memory gives one year, one game, the VIP treatment.
It was the all-star state championship tournament and I was 14 years old. Teams could lose two games before elimination. Our team, the Kearns All-Stars, had already lost one. On the final day, we played enough games to sunburn all our noses, dirty all our uniforms and stretch all our stamina. We had to beat the undefeated Murray All-Stars twice to go home champions.
By the time that second game started, every other championship for every other age group had been determined. Closing ceremonies couldn't start until we wrapped this thing up. That resulted in every player in the league, every parent and every umpire huddling our softball diamond, waiting for a conclusion. I knew somewhere in that crowd my dad stood with his arms folded, but I couldn't spot him. What a gift.
We had tied the game when I stepped up to the plate in that final inning. We had two outs on the board and no one on base. If your imagination foresees a homerun here, tell it my ego appreciates the confidence.
I hit a double. The next batter pushed me to third.
When the third base coach crouched down to look me in the eyes, my heart raced. When he told me what he expected of me, butterflies spread their wings in my stomach. I never noticed how blue his eyes were until that moment. And, apparently, he never noticed how slow my legs were, or he wouldn't have ordered me to steal home if a pitch snuck past the catcher.
"Please, please let her throw perfect strikes." No one heard my prayer.
I relied on my heart, not my legs, to muster speed when the catcher missed that ball. The pitcher and I sprinted to home plate like a big gold trophy depended on it.
It was a clean slide and a close call. The world, it seemed, waited for the umpire to make it. His arms swiped the air with the drama the play deserved as he bellowed, "She's safe!"
The crowd erupted in cheers. My teammates soaked me with love. Parents slapped high-fives in the bleachers. And, with all of them watching, my dad's cool demeanor imploded. Jumping up and down, dust collecting around him, fists punching the sky, he shouted something the man who wanted four sons probably never expected: "That's my daughter! That's my daughter!"
To this day, it's the most winning moment I ever had. Oh yeah, it made for a nice softball accomplishment, too.
Contact Xazmin Garza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.