I’m pretty sure my first ball team growing up was called the Smurfettes. I’d have to ask my dad. He was my coach. As far as I can remember, anyway. It was a long time ago. I remember having a pin of Smurfette in my pin collection. I don’t know if softball and my Smurfette pin were coincidental though. I still have my pin collection somewhere but anyway, the point is my first ball team was the Smurfettes.
I would have been five or six at that time. I remember my dad, who still had hair, and a red beard, standing beside first base in his windbreaker. I only remember this because I think there’s a photo of it somewhere in the Simpson family archives.
My next memory of my early days as a softball player was when we were the Pirates. Let me tell you, we were dominant in Ladner Minor Softball’s house league.
I would have been eight or nine when I threw my first (and only) no-hitter. It sounds impressive but we were eight. Could anyone actually hit the ball when we were eight? The bats probably weighed as much as we did!
I scoured my scrap books to find proof of this early achievement and there it was in all its faded glory: “Simpson throw no hitter”.
(They forgot the ‘s’ after throw but I am not going to complain. After 15 years as a reporter, I know full well you can’t be perfect all the time.)
“Sarah Simpson threw a no hitter as the Pirates won the final 9-0 against the Buttercups in the girls mite championships Saturday and Sunday at Hawthorne Park.”
Being in the mite age group meant we were under 10. I hit my peak before I hit double digits!
It turns out the Pirates could hit, as we thumped those poor Buttercups good on the strength of my friend to this day, Michelle’s, “soaring home run.”
“Simpson, who dominated on the pitching mound, threw a total of 24 innings during the weekend tournament.”
That’s almost three and a half full games if you’re wondering.
From house league I went on to play rep ball on travelling teams until university, when I suited up with, but didn’t get much playing time for, the Simon Fraser University women’s softball team. My time at SFU is another story for another day but I’m proud to say our team was the first-ever Canadian team to with the NAIA Softball title.
I was also named to the B.C. provincial team that won the Canada Summer Games in 1997. I became a defensive specialist and as such never really saw a ton of playing time. The heavy hitters were always in the lineup, no matter how poor they were defensively.
Anyway, I have a lot of stories about growing up as a ball player. Once I stayed home sick from school, only to be busted by my teacher riding my bike to ball practice after school. I have no regrets.
Softball was where I learned to change uniforms without exposing my body parts to the world because there were no field houses back then — except for at Softball City in White Rock, which was the softball Mecca back in the day. It would later be my SFU team’s home field and where I would dress with South Hill (a Vancouver women’s team) in the famed Canada Cup. I got to play against the likes of U.S. legends Lisa Fernandez and Dot Richardson, who, I believe at the time, were already so famous they had bats named after them.
The teams I played on were so important to me. I grew up on the field. They gave me friendships I cherish to this day. Those days as a player, those weekends on road trips, that intense time at university, it all taught me so much more than how to win and how to lose. I learned discipline. I learned humility, teamwork, politics, right vs. wrong, and ultimately, I had to learn the very small nuances between “quitting” and “walking away”.
I left SFU with one semester to go in my senior year. It was a difficult decision to make but it was the right choice to make at the time. Again, no regrets. I took a very long time away from the game after that.
Last week, however, I went back to the ballpark, not as a player, but as the parent of a five-year-old daughter who was beyond excited to be attending her very first practice for the Duncan Rockets.
The pep in her step. The joy on her mask-covered face. The power she felt when she took her first steps in her tiny little cleats.
Water bottle? Check! Glove? Check! Hat? Check! Hand-sanitizer? Ugh… but yes, check!
She was good to go. She was empowered. She was an athlete.
“I feel like a teenager,” she chuffed.
(“That’s fine,” said her dad. “Just don’t act like one please.” She didn’t get the joke.)
It was the start of what, if she chooses, will be a lifetime of memories, of special moments, friends and experiences she will never forget.
“You ready?” I asked her.
“I didn’t want to say this,” she replied, “but I was born ready.”
I took a long, slow, deep breath and said with a grin, “let’s play ball!”