She was what my uncle would have called a big ol’ corn fed gal. Large boned and awkward, with a round, full face, she endured junior and senior high in the third largest school population in Alabama and as far as I know didn’t have a single friend. I know I never witnessed her interacting with a soul.
In a place where class distinction is important and everyone’s worth is measured by a few simple things, she was invisible to almost all of us. This girl didn’t possess family wealth, great looks, comedic genius, or athletic prowess; the qualities that determined seating order at lunch, who escaped ridicule, and who paired off at proms. She didn’t even fit into the misfit groups who lived on the periphery of campus life.
I am ashamed of myself for not remembering her name. I can’t recall a single other fellow student that I didn’t have at least one moment with; one tiny bit of history that cemented a name and face together forever. This is my problem much more than hers. Not being noticed by my dumb ass didn’t send anyone into therapy; at least not anyone I’m aware of.
I thought about this large misfit girl as I watched the final game of the NCAA softball regional championships from Tuscaloosa last week. Southerners take sports awful seriously, and successful sports teams fanatically. Former sportswriter Clyde Bolton said SEC football should have been reported in the religious section of local newspapers.
As I scanned the channels Direct TV had to offer, I stumbled onto the game that would decide whether Alabama or Stanford would advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. A young girl who looked disturbingly like my old invisible schoolmate was on camera. But she wasn’t standing alone off to one side in a hand-me-down, faded, shapeless dress.
Her name is Jackie Traina; the TV commentators kept saying it over and over. She was on the mound pounding strikes in a scoreless game, holding the other side at bay until her teammates could figure out how to score one measly run.
As it turned out, she was the one who found a way to get on base and scored from first to score on a teammate’s hit. Then she went out to the mound in the final inning, with all the pressure in the world on her sweat-soaked shoulders, to preserve the win. In the same spot a year before Alabama’s team was unable to hold the lead and watched Hawaii celebrate a trip to the Big Time. In this case, in this moment, the outcome was different.
Everyone who knows me is aware I am an unabashed Crimson Tide supporter. I will watch any team bearing the bright script A on their uniform and pull for them absolutely. The current uniforms feature a hounds-tooth ribbon with the date of the April tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa. This makes every effort by every team a little more meaningful to all Alabama fans.
Yet on this evening, I found myself rooting solely for the round faced freshman and all the girls like her who found a way to excel and force the rest of us to accept them as equals in some manner. She mowed down Stanford hitters with efficiency until the end and then celebrated in the center of the field, on the mound, her mound, with her teammates, her friends.
She was beautiful.