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The Adventure of the Softball Tournament
I'm at the back of my car. Its approaching 4pm on a Sunday. I lift the cooler into the back, fitting it into its slot like an incoming Tetris shape ... next to the suitcase. I had to move the car over here a few minutes ago to improve the softball getaway. The car is parked far from home plate, hidden behind a tall pickup truck and behind the park chalet. It is safe from foul balls and ready to hit the road at a moment's notice. The park layout is important. Its 2 fields home run fence to home run fence. 2 separate parking lots. To drag all of our stuff to the other parking lot would cost us 10 minutes.

For those of you on the softball tournament circuit, or for any sport for that matter, if you're playing the 4pm Sunday game, things went well. Today, we are playing. After going 5-0 in pool play, we exhaled in the 4th inning of the quarters game when the runs started coming. The semi-finals required a 6th inning squeeze play (the daughter) with a subsequent double (to score the daughter), giving us the lead 2-1. The top of the 7th had a 1st and 3rd with no outs before a bunt that was pushed a bit too hard allowed our 1b to gun out a paralyzed runner at 3b. Now, we are in the finals, against the #1 team in the province. After 7 straight wins (11 if you include some games in Quebec), we are on the cusp of our biggest challenge and the parents are both bracing for a challenging/stressful game and preparing their cars for the quick/long getaway back to Quebec.

The tournament life is adventure. Sure, we are sitting in our chairs most of the time. Sometimes at the field watching a game. Sometimes between fields waiting for a game. Sometimes at the hotel, having some drinks and sometimes in the car, travelling to and fro cities, parks, hotels and restaurants with an occasional shopping trip in between for either pleasure or necessity. Some trips require bringing groceries while others necessitate buying at the location. The kids are 16-19 and they are self-starters now. They don't need us watching over them as much and in fact, with a solid coaching staff, barely even need us to be on these trips and yet every single girl on this team has at least 1 parent in their entourage along for the ride, if not to look over their daughter, then to watch a special team play ball. We are 30 strong with few siblings. Its all parents and grandparents with divorced families having double-representation in some cases.

The final game is against the top ranked team. We must win. Our ultimate goal is to beat an all-star team (Team Ontario) of all the best players at this tournament in the Canada Games. Winning this tournament is the 1st step on our journey. The first 3 innings are scoreless and we begin the 4th inning with my daughter hitting a flyball single that lands safely in the green in front of the left fielder in left-center. The 2nd hitter is asked to bunt and does so successfully with botched coverage at 1b. The 3rd hitter grounds a hard single up the middle that is knocked down by the shortstop but my daughter speeds around 3b and scores on a backdoor slide to put us up 1-0. We would score 2 more runs to take a 3-0 lead and never look back. The #1 ranked team scores 1 in the 7th but our star pitcher, on fumes, in her 6th game, strikes out the last hitter on a rise ball. We go through the end-of-tournament procedure. We thrust our hands into the air with excitement. We stand. We are excited. The kids line up. We begin packing our chairs. The speech from the organizer. We are gathering all our belongings into one place. They receive their trophies and high-five opponents and teammates. We plan our trip to the bathroom. Team picture. We go onto the field. The winners put up 1 finger as champions and we click the photo and then the escape begins. Parents head to the car while kids head to the dugout to collect their gear. The game of Tetris continues as parents take stuff out of the back of the car to make room for the new shapes. Object distribution is shifted and the process of re-packing begins. The kid arrives with slots already pre-planned for the bownets, the bats, the team whiffle balls and the daughter's softball bag. She has clothes pre-planned for escape and she heads to the bathroom. I metaphorically rev the engine, ready to get out of Dodge. I look around and the synchronicity of softball parents and our internal tournament clocks never ceases to amaze me. We are all doing the same thing. Everything is planned to the minute. The reverse math of first game minus warmup arrival time minus distance from the hotel minus time required to eat breakfast minus time to even get to breakfast whether at hotel or Tim Hortons or from our cooler. A 9:30am game can become a 6am wakeup or even worse depending on the delta time between hotel and park and the availability of breakfast. Its a math equation, that, at u19, most of us have long since figured out. Being 6 hours from home on a Sunday night at 6:30pm leaves us little time to play around. Getaway is serious business.

We hit the road and the daughter is amped. "She is living her best life" my wife says to both of us. She was 0/3 in the quarters and like a bad father I started to panic but like a good father, I kept it to myself. She was a big difference-maker in both the semis and finals with the tying rbi and eventual winning run in the semis and the ignitor of the 3-run rally in the finals. We got the trifecta of success for the trip home. The Championship, the strong performance over the entire tournament and the strong contribution at the end. Its all good. We talk about the games and the players and the narratives. We carried 3 injured players for this tournament and they struggled not being able to contribute. She saw 1 of them crying. 1 grew distant from the team and a talk with the coach only moderately made things better. We had a college player just return who struggled with timing. We had a callup who DH'd for us but barely played the field. We had the same lineup every game. The #8 hitter played out of her mind. We talked about the 2 players we could potentially add for the Canada Games. We talked about every little detail of every little play that was of interest and this lasted for an hour until the conversation ran its course and we settled into the drive when the daughter put on her airpods and went back to being a normal teenager.

And true to the rules of the road for softball, at our first stop, where we planned our only stop to combine bathroom, coffee, food and gas, we ran into some teammates. In my 8 years of travel softball, I don't believe I have ever stopped at an Ontario rest area without running into another softball player from the same tournament. We ran into the father of the 3rd hitter. He heads to the washroom as we stand at the Popeyes to order. And then a pitcher walks in with her dad, a family who has been side by side with us through this entire travel softball experience. 8th straight year together. And then we sit down together like we are family. And in some ways, at least when it comes to softball, we are. And as we leave, to go our separate ways in the same direction to adjacent towns, we run into the college softball player and her mother just arriving and we chat for a few moments. And as we leave, I here my daughter say to my wife "I love this team" and we head back out to the 401 where my wife and I talk softball for 4 more hours.