Let me give you the moral of the story first: You never know who's looking. And you never know how much they look up to you.
This true-life fable started last Thursday, when my wife, daughter and father-in-law went out to a restaurant. (Parker and I went home to make sure the Wii still worked.) They had been there a few minutes when a bus pulled up. The bus was hauling the Chattahoochee Valley Community College softball team from Phenix City, Ala., in town for a weekend tournament.
My daughter felt a connection immediately as, to her, anyone from Alabama surely is a Bama fan (even if they're from down near Opelika). Plus, this was an honest-to-goodness softball team. With Allie's tryouts for the 10-year-old league only a few days away, this was, to her, like seeing the Atlanta Braves walk into the joint.
She mustered up the courage to go and speak with the team, asking for pointers on what she should do at her tryout. They were more than helpful, and Allie became an immediate fan of the CVCC Lady Pirates.
On Saturday, Allie said over and over that she wanted to head to Citizens Park to see CVCC play. That, she told us, was HER team now, and she had to root them on. We finally made our way over to the fields around 3:30 p.m. The team was practicing on one field as other games unfolded throughout the park. We stood behind the fence as two players practiced hitting, one of the women hitting several balls over the fence near us. Allie retrieved the balls and took them to the fence, where the players approached. "Hey, you're the girl from the restaurant!" one said. Allie beamed. They told us they were playing in the championship game at 4 p.m. When that hour arrived, we were there in the bleachers, waiting to cheer on CVCC.
We stood out, as a community college softball team from Alabama usually doesn't have a big local following when they play in South Carolina. One mother even approached my wife and asked, simply out of curiosity, why we were there cheering them on. My wife's explanation seemed to make her proud.
As we watched the game, we saw this team was something special. They had an amazing energy. Cheers, high-fives, chants, dances. This was a team Allie was born to follow. And emulate.
As the innings played on, we noticed the team, before taking the field, would huddle at a poster hung on the fence. I slipped onto the field to see what they were all touching together as a team. It was a poster of a cherubic faced teen named Mallory Garmon. It had the quote, "No one better than you right here." In the dugout, Mallory's No. 23 jersey hung. I then saw a pink T-shirt on the back of one of the fan's chairs - it had the No. 23, and the words "In Loving Memory of Mallory Garmon."
I quickly looked her up online on my phone. Mallory, the pride and joy of Elmore, Ala., was on a softball scholarship to CVCC when she died in a car crash in October 2010. They were playing this game - and every game - for her.
CVCC started out strong, putting seven runs on the board in the first inning. The game got tight as it went on, but the opposing team never could top the spirit of CVCC. CVCC won, 15-14.
At the end of the game, they did something that made a little girl forever have some big league idols. They gave Allie the game ball. And when they gathered for a team picture, they had Allie hold Mallory's jersey. "You've gotta be somebody special to hold Mallory's jersey," one of the players told Allie.
I don't know any of the young women on the CVCC team. I doubt I will ever cross paths with them again. But I hope they know the indelible mark they left on a 10-year-old girl in South Carolina. They taught a lesson of teamwork, of sportsmanship, of loyalty.
Allie said she wants the game ball to be her "practice ball," and I think that's a fine idea. When she takes the field for her first game, I hope she will carry the spirit of CVCC with her. And throughout her endeavors in life, I want her to always have fun and enjoy the journey, the way the CVCC team did. And I want her to always remember: She will one day be the woman some little girl looks up to.