This is it. Can you believe it? The crunch of the dirt beneath your cleats, the sun on your face, the sweat stinging your skin, the dull ache of your muscles. All the countless hours, sleepless nights, early mornings came to this—this year, this moment, right now.
Close your eyes. Picture the first game. Picture the way the grass smells, freshly mowed. Imagine the dirt, the chalk line. See the freshly-waxed floor, shining, squeaking under your feet.
See yourself walking out to the field, the court, the dugout. Pull on your shoes, your cleats, your pre-wrap, your knee brace.
Picture yourself stretching, warming up, each pass on target, each ball in the hoop, every swing with perfect contact, every stroke precision.
This is you. This is your time.
I’ve watched you grow over the last year, last few years. You’ve become stronger, both mentally and physically. You know what to do in every scenario, where to move your feet, when to run, when to stay back, how to bend your knees, how to make your body a wall.
You have worked so hard. Through the sweat, the bruises on your legs, the skinned knees, the tears, the dirt burn—you have pushed through.
I am proud of you. I’m sorry I don’t say that enough.
I am proud of the way you carry yourself. The way you pull yourself up after a loss. The way you believe in yourself and your teammates. The way you continue, day after day, practice after practice, to smile, to fight, to be the best you can be.
This is your year.
I remember mine like it was yesterday, the rush of the wind as I stood in the batter’s box, hearing the shouts, the cheers, the voices surrounding me, pushing me forward. I remember the way the sun felt on a particular day, the crack of my bat, the jolt in my arms as I made contact and the ball floated, almost in slow-motion, before falling on the other side of the fence.
These days will go fast, you know. Though it feels like you’ve been playing your whole life, and that you will keep playing forever, this is it. It isn’t bad, it’s beautiful. The memories, the games, the pain, the tears, the exhaust, the fights, the friendships—they’re all beautiful.
Promise me one thing: that you will treasure this year.
That when you feel the laces of the ball, that you will remember how they feel against your skin, the grit of the packed dirt, the worn edge of the seam. That when you step onto that court, you will look at the lights, memorize the way they glow on the faces of the crowd who is all cheering for you, believing in you.
Promise me that you will take a second and remind yourself that these are the best days of your life.
My days are done now. I have played, I have practiced, I have pushed myself beyond my limits, I have succeeded, and I have failed. I gave everything I had to a game that could not be mine forever, but I don’t regret a single second.
I hope you remember me, when you head into that first game. When you put on that jersey, when you lace those cleats, when you nod at yourself in the mirror.
Play with confidence. Play with heart. And don’t ever forget that I am there in spirit, loving and believing in you, always.