How sitting on the bench became a home run

For my entire baseball/softball career (I played baseball until I was 13 and have played softball since), I’ve never sat on the bench for more than an inning at a time. In my first two years of high school ball, I started all but three games. In travel ball, I’m the only catcher on my team so I get an abundance of playing time.

As a catcher I take more of a beating than other players do; I get sore knees and legs, and my arm will sometimes ache because I’m constantly throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Even when I’m physically and mentally exhausted, I still want to be out on the field more than anything else. Like most athletes, I have that competitive gene in my blood that constantly pushes me to be the best player that I can be.

This year, as a junior on the varsity softball team, I haven’t played in every game like I was previously used to. For the first time in my playing career, I found myself splitting starts with the two other varsity catchers, two girls I now consider some of my closest friends.

I would be lying if I said it was easy for me to adjust to not playing often. At the beginning of the season, it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough to play at the varsity level. I felt like all of the work I had put in over the off-season was for nothing. Now I know that sitting on the bench has been one of the best things to ever happen to me.

See, the second that I fully bought into the “team” mentality, I became a better person, friend and softball player. Sitting on the bench has made me more coachable, more emotionally strong and more motivated to be the best I can be on an everyday basis.

Being a bench player has taught me how to truly play a team sport. When we beat Marist, a perennial softball powerhouse, I felt happier than I did when I made my first travel team. When we were eliminated from the playoffs, I was more emotionally crushed than I had ever been before on a softball field. Sitting on the bench made me emotionally invested in my teammates and the mission that we were on together.

As far as softball goes, I’m going to be a better player once I earn a starting spot next season. In the dugout, I get to see a situation occur on the field, analyze how I would handle it and store that situation in my head for next season.

Mentally, sitting on the bench has made me stronger. I’ve had to learn how to convince myself of my self-worth and find confidence in the smaller things I do to make my team better. When you don’t get a ton of playing time, it’s tough to quantitatively measure your individual success.

While an everyday starter can use their batting average to place a numerical value on their success, bench players have to find other ways to contribute to the team. It becomes less about individual statistics and more about the little things, like calming the starting pitcher’s nerves before an important game or explaining signs to a player after she missed one.

This season has gone in the opposite direction that I once imagined it would, but sometimes in life we have to be challenged in order to truly grow. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been a better experience had I physically been on the field with my teammates, but then I’m reminded of the person that I now get to become because of my time spent on the bench and I know that I needed this season in my life, that I needed my incredible, hilarious teammates to help make me the person that I’m supposed to be.

To my wonderful team: I love each and every one of you and wouldn’t change a second of our season for the world. Thank you for giving me the best athletic experience of my life thus far and for giving me a million and one reasons to live my life with an Attitude of Gratitude.