Just A Game
by Eileen McCann, Iona College
Our 2013 season was vastly different than any other I’ve had in my career as a Gael. To go into every detail of how this season contrasted with my others will create a blog post so long that even I wouldn’t give it a second look, so I’ll spare you that rambling disaster.
Strictly from my perspective, the biggest difference this season was that I didn’t play. I sustained an injury in early spring, and while I didn’t know it at the time, I was not to pick up a softball again for the rest of the season. I haven’t posted an entry since I was shut down, and that’s not a coincidence. I never made the conscious decision to stop posting, but whenever I thought that it was a good time to write I always decided against it. I struggled with not playing. I had a hard time establishing a new, but practical role for myself that would help the team be successful. It was because of this that I was reluctant to post throughout the season, I almost felt as if it wasn’t my place to do so, as someone that was only watching from the dugout. Looking back now, I realize how foolish that thinking was. So I come to you now with this post, better late than never.
While I have been no stranger to injuries in my career, this last one was unlike any other because I simply could not play through it. For the first time in my life, I was completely and entirely shut down from playing. No hitting, running, throwing or catching. I was even instructed to cheer modestly (which I disregarded).
When I first got the news that I was to finish out the remainder of my senior year from the dugout, I felt a swelling wave of claustrophobia. The walls caved in and the tears started to fall. But throwing myself a "pity-party" wasn’t going to help my team. It wasn’t about me. Our season didn’t come to a halt simply because I could no longer play, and that was something I have to admit I had a hard time accepting. And so the show went on, and as each game passed I watched as my teammates and best friends pushed through a season with more peaks and valleys than Yosemite National Park.
I have played in three, very eventful, full seasons at Iona. In those three seasons I’ve been a part of three championships, played in three NCAA regionals and played against some of the best players in the country. In those three years I’ve made life-long friends with which I’ve shared beautiful and inspirational moments, the memories of which I’ll carry for the rest of my life. But it was this time I spent sitting in the dugout over the past three months watching my team play that will prove to be the most important experience of my college career.
As I mentioned earlier, I have never been so separated from the game of softball as I was this past spring (and currently remain). In the beginning, I spent a few weeks in denial. Thinking that if I down-played the gravity of the situation, maybe it would disappear and I’d be back on the field in time for MAAC play. Once I snapped out of my delusional state, I began to watch the games calmly knowing that I had no place on the field. I shifted my perspective and I began watching as a fan and a friend, rather than a player and a teammate.
When you’ve been doing something your entire life and you practice it every week of each month of every year, you can get wrapped up in it. It can swallow you up and cause you to lose sight of yourself, or why you got started with it in the first place. During nearly every pre-game huddle it seemed that someone would remind the rest of us to “just have fun”. It is a game, after all. But we so easily forget how fun it can be when the stakes seem so high; if you’ve been slumping, if your boyfriend is in the stands (insert eye-roll here) or if one swing of your bat can get your team to playoffs.
More than anything, my injury-induced hiatus allowed me to truly understand the meaning of the phrase: IT'S JUST A GAME. I was there game after game after game and watched as we would lose and then beat ourselves up over and over again. I watched as my teammates would shut down after a bad at-bat or making an error, just as I had done so often. It’s a vicious cycle that’s easy to get lost in without even being aware. Witnessing this made me realize how worthless and detrimental these emotions are. It made me aware of how much of my time spent in the Iona uniform I’ve wasted with these feelings, beating myself up over things that didn’t matter and allowing pressure to mount on my shoulders when it was completely unnecessary.
Softball is just a game. It’s a game that I’ve structured my entire life around. It’s a game that I can thank for shaping my personality, friendships, education and physical and mental strength. For everything that this game has given me, it deserves the absolute best out of me in return, every practice, every at-bat, every game. I can not honestly say I’ve given that in the entirety of my career. I’ve let my emotions and expectations get the best of me at times and, without realizing it, I handicapped myself in the process.
I am so grateful to have been granted another year of eligibility. I can’t recall a time in my career that I have so drastically readjusted my perspective of the game and how I see myself within it. I feel as though this is a realization that many athletes have after their career has ended, and they watch the game they once played carry on without them, wishing they could do it all over again and just have fun. I am lucky enough to have that chance.
Throughout my posts I’ve always expressed our program's hunger for the championship. While I have no intention of readjusting that within myself or our team’s culture, I no longer believe that it dictates the success of our season. What matters most isn’t where we end up, but rather how we get there. What matters most is to recognize what a privilege it is to be playing this game, at this level, with these girls who are your best friends. To never to take a single throw, hit or dive for granted as it may be your last. If we succeed in doing that, then all that other stuff; wins, records, championships, and everything in between is just icing on the cake.