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Connie Schultz: Welcoming the girls of summer

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Connie Schultz


By Connie Schultz

The letter, written in my mother's loopy backhand, is dated July 4, 1980.

The outside of the card depicts a drawing of a chipmunk wearing a prairie dress and holding a bundle of mail. One hundred percent Janey Schultz, right there.

Her note on the inside begins with holiday plans and a couple of questions about my ever-evolving post-college life. Then she gives me the weekly softball league update.

"Dad is playing good ball," she writes, "and batting over .500!"

My father was three months shy of his 44th birthday at the time, playing in a league full of men who were much younger, many of them by decades. In four years, he would undergo heart bypass surgery, but that summer, he still yielded a powerhouse arm and more than his share of RBIs.

This was the first summer I had to miss all of his games, hence Mom's regular updates. "I still enjoy the games," she wrote. Understand that by then, she had spent more than 20 summers scrubbing grass stains out of her husband's uniforms. She was invested.

Off the field, I always called my father "Dad," but during games on those hot summer nights, I'd sit in the bleachers, cup my hands and yell for "Poppo." I wanted him to hear me. I also wanted everyone in that crowd to know I was Chuck Schultz's kid.

My father had waited through three daughters before my brother was born. Eager to share his passion for the game, he taught me how to throw, field and hit. With his coaching, he launched my lifelong love for a game that taught me many lessons. I learned early that I don't have to like everyone on a team to work well with others. It would serve me well in a newsroom of prickly characters, present company included.

More importantly, sharing this small patch of Dad's life gave me a rare glimpse into his otherwise mysterious world. He worked in maintenance at the power plant, where I was never allowed to visit.

At softball games, I not only saw him at his best but also watched as others showered him with admiration. My father was as humble on the field as he was talented, which made him a crowd favorite. What a rush to be surrounded by people rising to their feet and cheering for my dad.

My dad has been gone for eight years now, but a story about the Cleveland Indians brought back memories of some of his finest hours. As Akron Beacon Journal sports columnist Marla Ridenour reported, this is the first season in which the players have been allowed to bring their daughters into the postgame clubhouse on Sundays.

I had no idea that until now, only sons had been allowed to join their dads. I'll save that rant for another day. I'm feeling too celebratory about how a formerly closed-off world has just busted wide-open for those girls.

Right fielder David Murphy, a father of two girls and a boy, told Ridenour that the new policy was teaching their children about equality.

"Ever since they've been old enough to realize my son can come in the clubhouse
anytime, (my daughters) get a little jealous," he said. "I think it's awesome the way the girls have gotten to come in the clubhouse because they want to see what Daddy does as much as our little boys do. It makes them feel special, and I guess it makes them feel on the inside of things as opposed to the outside."

Bingo.

Nick Swisher told Ridenour that his 1-year-old daughter was "having a blast."

"I grew up in the locker room," he said. "It's the only thing I've ever known in my life. Now to be able to give that gift -- I guess you could call it a gift -- to my daughter. There's so many guys who have daughters. We said, 'We can't be pushing them out and just letting the boys come in.'"

Pinch me.

I don't have to imagine the lessons those girls will take away from this time with their fathers. I remember.

To this day, I can recall how it felt to hear the smack of the ball in my dad's glove and to see his grin.

"That's the way to do it," he'd say. "Now, do it again."

Changes a girl when you tell her such things.

Grows a woman who insists she belongs in the game.

Email: con.schultz@yahoo.com


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