Meet Melanie, another new character on the blog. Melanie is a fourteen-year-old girl who has just moved to a new town and is trying out for the high school softball team.
Melanie was an easy character for me to write. I’ve played softball my whole life, and I’ve coached for the past eight years or so. Most of my work is with girls who are 12-16, which is an interesting time period for girls. While they’re usually snarky and irritable with their parents, I’m lucky enough to get their nicer side. They tell me about the boy they like at school, the “mean girls” in their class, and how their parents don’t get them. I listen and give a word of wisdom or two, knowing I would have listened to someone like me before I would have paid any attention to my parents at that age.
It’s funny how they all have such different personalities, but face the same basic insecurities and decisions. Of course, they all think there are other girls who have it easier because they’re prettier, or more popular, or have a boyfriend. One day they’ll realize every girl feels the same way at that age. That’s one thing I’ve learned now that I’m older and can sit back and watch them.
So, Melanie and the other girls in her story are loosely based on my own experience at that age and those of the girls I’ve coached. No one character is based on any one person in particular, in case “my girls” (as I like to call them) are reading this. If my girls are reading this, however, please do me a favor and remember that there are bound to be Melanie’s and Julie’s as you’re trying out for softball this summer. Be the terrific people I know you are and make them feel welcome. You’ll feel better about yourself, and you just might make their day a little easier.
Stepping back to admire the clothes I’ve laid out for tomorrow, I can feel my heart racing with anticipation. I’m more excited than nervous about the first day of softball tryouts at my new school.
I’ve never had to start at a new school before, but I’ve decided it’s the best thing that could have happened to me. I get a clean slate. No one here will know that last year I cut my bangs myself and had to walk around school for weeks with my too-short, uneven look. They won’t ever see me with braces or without makeup; I left that ugly-duckling version of me back in middle school, in my old town. I get to be a whole new Melanie Clark this year.
Tomorrow I’ll wear my travel team practice jersey and they’ll all watch me, curious to see what I can do. I could be the star pitcher at this school. Then, they’ll all want to be my friend. When classes start in two weeks, I won’t have to worry about making friends, I’ll already have them in my teammates.
As I lay staring at my ceiling, begging sleep to take over, I keep telling myself the flutter in my stomach is excitment. Okay, maybe I’m a little nervous. I’ll just do all the things that likeable people seem to do. I’ll compliment the other girls when they make a good play, laugh at their jokes, and I won’t be shy. It’s all going to be fine, I just know it is.Normally I’m not a morning person, but I’m so anxious to meet my new friends that I’m dressed and ready to go twenty minutes early.
“Do you have your equipment bag?” my mom asks.
“Yes,” I say, rolling my eyes. Like I’d forget my glove and bat for softball tryouts.
“What about water? Do you have enough water?”
“Yes, mom, let’s go,” I say anxiously.
“Are you sure those two bottles of water are enough?” she asks, pointing at the bottles lined up in front of me on the kitchen table.
I’m fourteen; I can take care of myself. “Yes, it’s plenty,” I say, irritated. Does she still think I’m a baby?
“Well, you know, it’s hot out there. I guess if you run out there will be a water fountain or something you can use to refill your bottles,” she says, a worried look on her face. She seems more nervous than me. What is her problem?
“I can’t just chug water or I’ll puke on the field. I’ll be fine. Let’s go.” I say. My mother is always late, and I’m determined to get there on time today. How embarrassing would it be to walk up late in front of a bunch of people I don’t know?
We make it to the field with a few minutes to spare, an honest-to-God miracle with my mom. There are dozens of girls already here though, mostly in groups of four or five, hunched over equipment bags pulling out bats and gloves and helmets.
As I approach the first-base dugout, I notice six bags neatly lined up in a row, hanging from the fence. They’re all black with the same logo of a menacing snake, each with a different name and number embroidered at the top. As I get closer I can see it says Vipers under the logo. I guess that’s the travel team around here. I glance out towards the field and see six girls, all in Viper jerseys, warming up together.
Something about those girls terrifies me a little. My travel team was called the Ponies. I can’t remember if vipers squeeze you to death or inject venom when they bite you, but either way, I bet they eat ponies.
As I walk into the dugout, I see a group of three girls just outside the far end of the dugout, laughing and not wearing matching jerseys. In fact, they’re not wearing jerseys at all, just shorts and t-shirts.
I busy myself with hanging my equipment bag – far away from the Viper bags – glancing at the girls out of the corner of my eye. I can make out a little of their conversation, and they seem nice enough. I can feel my heart racing as I take my time unpacking my bag, buying myself time to come up with something to say to them.
I decide to grab a ball and see if one of them wants to throw with me since they’ve got an odd number. By the time I approach, they’ve unpacked their bags and are starting to stretch. Perfect timing.
“Hi,” I say, trying not to sound as hesitant as I feel, “would one of you want to throw with me? I’m new here and don’t really know anybody.”
Three sets of eyes are on me, sizing me up. I’m beginning to think none of them is going to answer when the only brunette in the group says, “I’m Jenny, what’s your name?”
“Melanie,” I answer, standing there with my ball and glove in hand, silently begging for one of them to volunteer to throw with me.
“This is Courtney,” Jenny says pointing to the shorter of the two blondes next to her, “and this is Danielle,” she says pointing to the taller blonde.
Courtney, still stretching out her arms, asks, “What position do you play?”
“I’m a pitcher,” I answer, hoping none of them pitch. The less competition, the better. I really want to make this team.
“Danielle pitches,” Courtney says matter-of-factly. “What grade are you going into?”
“Ninth,” I reply. “What about you all?” I say looking around the group.
“Us too,” says Jenny.
As they all grab their gloves from the ground, I’m excited to to have met girls my age. So what if one of them is a pitcher? The ninth grade team needs more than one pitcher, right?
I start to follow them out to the field, still unsure which one will throw with me, when another brunette comes bouncing up beside us. She and Courtney exchange a hug and do some kind of secret handshake thing together, bumping fists one on top of the other before knocking their knuckles together and making a move that looks like an explosion.
“This is Victoria,” Courtney turns and tells me. “She’s our fourth. Sorry.” She didn’t really sound sorry at all.
My heart sinks. I look at Jenny, pleading a little with my eyes. She seems like the nice one. Surely she’ll take pity on me.
“Sorry,” Jenny says, “but we always throw together. It’s a good luck sort of thing.” Pointing back at the dugout she says, “The girl in the blue shorts in the dugout, that’s Julie. She doesn’t play on a travel team or anything like the rest of us, so maybe she can warm up with you.”
Gee, thanks for throwing me a bone. I look back at Julie, and just by the way she’s walking around the dugout I can tell she’s not that athletic. Her mannerisms are a little awkward, every step hesitant. Her glove is too big for her hand and looks like it might weigh more than she does.
She looks unsure of herself though, and I feel a little sorry for her. Besides, I’m in no position to be picky about friends or throwing partners at this point.
I walk back to the dugout and say, “Hi, my name is Melanie. I’m new here, but those girls over there told me your name is Julie. Do you want to throw together?”
Julie’s face lights up like a Christmas tree. “Sure,” she says.
We head out to the field and line up a little away from the other girls. The last thing I wanted to do was isolate myself on day one, but they’re all grouped up with their teammates. It’s not like I can just walk up while they’re throwing and introduce myself.
Turns out I was right about Julie. She throws like a girl. There’s nothing natural about her motion, and her arm flops around in the air like a wet noodle. My seven-year-old brother can throw harder than her.
The worst part about it is that I’m not really getting warmed up. I’m throwing the ball about as softly as I can, and Julie is literally hiding her face behind her glove as she catches the ball. She mostly just swats at the ball with her glove, knocking it to the ground instead of actually catching it.
I hope the coaches aren’t watching. Or the other girls. This is not how I pictured this day starting.