Boomerang Days: Home Game

 

A Longhorn does college all over again.

Softball?” Jodi asks. “Is that the one with nets?”

I’m not exactly sporty. As a UT undergrad in the 1990s, I was more often sipping coffee at Quack’s than sitting at DKR watching other people exercise. But compared to my wife, Jodi Egerton, MA ’00, PhD ’06, I’m the Greek god of kinesiology.

So in an effort to become more fully rounded Longhorns, I’m taking the family to cheer on the UT women’s softball team as they battle the Islanders of Texas A&M–Corpus Christi. But first I have to explain to Jodi what softball is.

Jodi has good reason for avoiding sports. She’s a brilliant writer, scholar, and mother, but the woman has never successfully caught a ball in her life. Any spherical object—apples, balloons, balls of lint—tossed in her direction is destined to collide with her screaming face or be swatted away by her frantically waving arms. Sometimes I lob a grape in her direction just to watch the fireworks.

With our combined genetic influence, you’d think our kids would have as much athletic ability as a Trekkie convention. But 8-year-old Oscar! (he insists on spelling his name with an exclamation point) is a dedicated runner and 12-year-old Arden is a fierce force on the roller derby track. Their athletic accomplishments throw Mendel’s theories into serious question.

The Longhorn softball team plays at the Red and Charline McCombs Field. The stadium’s intimidating larger cousin, UFCU Disch-Falk Field, stands next door with a seating capacity larger than some religions. Personally, I prefer the charm of McCombs. We’re close enough to see the sweat on pitcher Erica Wright’s face, the determination in the eyes of Kelli Hanzel on first base, and the mole on the back of the umpire’s neck (he should really get that looked at).

Oscar! wants to know what the numbers on the scoreboard mean. I have no idea, so I make things up.

“That one there counts the number of times the shortstop lied to her parents.”

“They know?”

“Sure,” I say. “That’s why the eyes of Texas are upon you. They see everything.”

One fan sitting behind us is particularly excited. He shouts advice and encouragement to the team. At least, I think that’s what he’s yelling. He’s using a softball dialect I can’t quite grasp. I jot down some of his phrases in my notebook. 

“I explain to my family that it’s my duty as a journalist to immerse myself in the fan experience, and head off to get a beer, nachos, and an Earl Campbell sausage wrap.”

“Open toes! Open toes!”

“Bassit! Bassit!”

“Dig it, Loggie! Dig it!”

It’s like some kind of code, but I think it all comes down to, “Hit the ball and run.”

Adding to the entertainment of the game, an occasional pop fly hurtles into the stands, sending Jodi into panicked spasms.

I explain to my family that it’s my duty as a journalist to immerse myself in the fan experience, and head off to get a beer, nachos, and an Earl Campbell sausage wrap. When I come back, I find my daughter has hijacked my notebook and is writing treatises on gender inequality in college sports. Why, she ponders, is such a disproportionate amount of attention and money spent on male-dominated sports? Why is sexism so rampant in athletics? Why is there so much mustard in my beard?

As she makes her observations, it occurs to me that just as my daughter is clearly a better athlete than me, she’s also a better writer. Good to know.

Our conversation is interrupted by a Randel Leahy home run that clears the stadium and does some minor damage to a poorly parked Honda Accord. We burst into cheers. The Longhorn Hype Squad races through the stands, tossing T-shirts into the crowd and forcing Jodi to protect her face with defensive jazz hands.

As we celebrate, the jumbotron zooms in on our family, sending me into gleeful aerobics. Look at us up there! The kids are now wearing Longhorn softball shirts, I’m waving an Earl Campbell sausage like a medieval mace, and even Jodi is cheering once I explain to her that we’re winning.

We’re a Longhorn family cheering on a Longhorn team! At the game’s conclusion, we proudly sing the “Eyes of Texas” while Oscar! scans for any actual eyes surveilling him for future scoreboard revelations.

There’s an undeniable feeling of camaraderie and Longhorn pride as the stadium begins to empty out. An usher smiles at us, holding up an extra game ball. He must gather that we’re new fans, must be moved by our enthusiasm, and must have no understanding of my wife’s complete lack of coordination. He gingerly tosses the softball toward Jodi. Time slows, the air quivers. Afraid to look, I close my eyes. But when I open them, the world has changed. There stands Longhorn Dr. Jodi Egerton with a game-worn, regulation softball clutched in her hand, and a grin the size of Texas on her face.\

Illustration by Mario Zucca.

 

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