Gary Haning is one of the pre-eminent figures in fastpitch softball history as the legendary coach of the OC Batbusters for over three decades and one of the co-founders of Premier Girls Fastpitch (PGF).
The NFCA Hall of Famer, the first to ever get in as a club coach, won more than 30 national championships in his storied career and has coached some of the biggest names in the sport including Jennie Finch and Laura Berg.
Gary also has a wonderful sense of humor; for example, after a car accident during the 2018 PGF Nationals that left him upside down and having to be extricated from his car, he wrote:
“Thanks to all of you. I am fine but my tryout for stunt-driving didn't go well."
He’s also a great writer with keen insights to not just softball, but life in general. One of our favorite articles EVER is one he wrote several years ago called “That Little Girl” which, for those of us who are parents, will definitely resonate and most likely put a lump in your throat.
This article, written from the perspective of a softball glove (yes, that’s right!), has some humorous elements, but it has a deeper meaning as it unravels and is an issue that is so relevant to society today…
--- Brentt Eads, Extra Inning Softball
I am a Glove.
Yes, I know that isn’t the classic opening sentence to draw the reader in but, what do you expect? I am some leather and string sewn together.
There are many types, forms, and shapes of gloves in the world. Some are icky and dirty, some are, "Haute couture" (yes, I had to look it up), some are very important such as surgeons wear in the operating room.
I am a simple softball glove.
I don’t remember much of my creation, but I believe some four-legged beast gave its all for me. My first memory is of hanging on a hook in a store with many other gloves. Some of them were really fancy with fur and velcro straps, some were even multi- colored, one was PINK.
I spent a good while on that hook, I was taken down and pounded and bent and pretty much abused by a number of children, both boys and girls. I decided I wanted a girl to take me home, nothing against boys but the little girls were cute and they giggled and seemed to enjoy themselves.
I must admit to having one near disastrous experience with a little boy that may have influenced my affinity for girls. A boy grabbed me off of the hook and buried his face in me and was about to blow his nose before Dad intervened.
I have to admit I never looked at boys quite the same after that day.
Finally, one morning a little girl took me off the rack… for me it was love at first site. She was a little small girl with sparkling eyes, kinda curly hair, a brilliant smile and lovely dark skin. She examined me very carefully, punched my pocket a couple times, opened and closed my fingers and I think she winked at me.
Mommy, Mommy, ‘I want his one!’, she exclaimed.
My girl took me home and I was so happy but I was not prepared for what came next. You see my girl never had a new glove before and no one in her family really understood how to break me in.
First, I was wrapped up like a mummy and thrown into a tub of water. I didn’t know what was going on but I did not like it. When the water-boarding didn’t seem to suffice, I was put into a microwave oven that nearly burned my lace off. This also failing I was lathered up with glove oil like a Thanksgiving turkey and crushed with a large object.
The torture now completed with no tangible effect, she finally took me out to throw and catch with Mom and Dad. It took some time but gradually her little hand formed me and I became softer and we developed a feel for each other.
My girl was not very good at first, I had to point myself in the right direction and keep her from closing me too soon but in time she improved except for one detail: she had this annoying habit of not getting me close enough to the ground and letting the ball go under me.
I couldn’t really help as I cannot make myself longer and I cannot make her bend her knees.
The big day came and we went to practice with her first team, she was excited and very nervous. She was chosen for a team and on the way home I heard her tell Mom that she wanted to work hard and try to advance to something called travel ball.
She played that first season and we became very close, she sometimes even put me under her pillow at night when she slept.
Let me digress for a minute to talk about the hierarchy of softball equipment.
Bats are the queens (read: “divas”) with their ostentatious paint jobs, high-tech, space-age material, fine Corinthian leather grips… they think their bat-goo doesn’t stink.
Bats get their own special compartments, usually outside in the fresh air. Gloves get stuck in the bag with dirty, smelly shoes, old tape, sunflower seed shells, dead gum and other things to gross to mention.
If humanity is ever destroyed by a virus it is likely to have started in a softball equipment bag.
Wake up and smell the brick dust, queenies: defense wins championships!
To move on; my girl always treated me well, she kept me in my own bag, she never sat on me, she never threw me because she was angry, she always kept a ball in me to maintain my girlish figure, and after the initial inundation with glove oil, she learned to lightly apply a little oil now and again.
Two years after the beginning of her career in softball she got her wish and she was asked to play on a club team. Once again, she went to the first practice nervous and excited and ready to take the next step.
It was easy to see that these girls were far advanced and had a much higher skill level then the girls on her previous team. I didn’t think much of it at that time, but the girls on this team looked different that the previous team.
Through a month of practice and a couple games it was obvious that despite her lack of experience at the level of play of this team, my girl was going to be a star. She ran faster, hit the ball harder and more frequently than the other girls and (with my help, of course) made some plays that were remarkable.
I noticed that the girls on the team were not as friendly to my girl as the previous girls had been and sometimes it seemed a couple girls would purposely ignore or mistreat my girl.
I could tell this bothered her as she was a very sweet girl who had time for everyone and she did not flaunt her ability or boast of her accomplishments. If I could speak, I would have told her to talk to the coach about this, but speech is not in my skill set.
The team reached the championship of their area, largely due to my girl’s play and much to my surprise after they won a game that advanced them to the next level, my girl was very sad and cried all the way home.
Being only a glove, I could not understand why my girl would be unhappy after a great and winning performance in the biggest game of her life.
My girl took me out of my bag that night and cried herself to sleep with me under her pillow. If I had a heart it would have been broken but still I did not know why.
The next morning my girl put me in my little bag and as she was getting ready to leave Mom came into the room. Mom is a bright and caring person who knows her daughter and knew something was wrong.
My girl proceeded to tell her mom that after the game two of her teammates said some very insulting and nasty comments after the game, away from the coaches and the other players.
They told her not to come to the next game—that people of her color were not welcome on the team and regardless of how talented she was, they did not want her around or need her to win.
I was astounded by this… what in the world was the difference if my girl was black or brown or green with purple polka-dots?
There were many gloves at the games, some big, some little, some big, some dark, some light but all that mattered is if they do their job. Maybe because gloves are not taught bigotry and intolerance and such stupidity when they are assembled, we understand that we all are the same.
Mom tried to explain that there are people in the world who, because of jealousy, ignorance, upbringing or a myriad other inexplicable reasons, are not as accepting and that probably will not change anytime soon.
Reinforced by Mom’s strength and counsel, my girl got ready for the game.
When she got to the field and began to stretch and warm-up there was something strange in the air. The two girls who had caused my girl to feel bad were not there and the other girls were going out of their way to be friendly to my girl. As the stretching ended, the head coach called everyone deep into the outfield and sat them all down.
“Girls softball is a team sport,” he began, “and teams are like families. Good teams win because they treat each other with respect and no one player is better or lesser than any other player.”
“We noticed and some of you told us that the two girls who are not here have not treated everyone fairly and with respect. We had hoped to finish the season before taking action.”
“Unfortunately, Coach A overheard some comments last night that confirmed what we have been told and we felt it was necessary to end this now. The girls who are not here will not be on this team any longer and we will play this and any remaining games as we are.”
The players stood and applauded and it was so nice to see my girl smile.
The team played hard and well but without its best pitcher and second-best hitter they lost a close game.
After the game the coaches took everyone to eat pizza to celebrate their great season and while there was some sadness because if the loss, it was a positive night.
Before the team left, the coach sat everyone down again.
“Sports are an excellent way to learn about life,” the coach began. “There is a saying that sports develop character and while that may be true it is accurate to say that sports display character or the lack thereof.”
You will meet many good people in your life, you will also meet some small-minded, petty, bad people. Never let people who say or do hurtful things affect your life. It is they who are wrong, they who are weak and they who will end up being a sorry, unhappy person in the end.”
“If you are going to judge people, do so by their actions, their treatment of others and not by any external factor. You are all given certain gifts and what you do with those gifts it what matters.”
My girl had come up in the world and she was asked to play on a top-level team. For the third time we went to a new situation and for the third time—despite the nerves and the tougher competition—her talent showed through.
Over the next few years her play was exceptional, I was so proud and she was chosen by a first-level college. My little girl from the sporting goods store had arrived.
Unfortunately for me, that was the end of the story.
Her college team had a sponsor and she was required to use the equipment they provided, I had to accept that my usefulness was over and although she cried as she put me into her bag, I felt good for the part I played in her success.
I was always with her in that bag. Once in a while she would take me out and play catch with a friend but even through college she kept me in her bag.
As her college career ended and her softball life was also about to end I heard her talk to Mom about giving me away, Mom, still the wise and thoughtful person, told her that I was a part of her life and some day she would regret it if she did not keep me.
Gloves don’t have a good concept of time but I was in the bag for a long time. Every once in a while, she would take me out and look at me but for the most part I did not leave the bag.
One day, much to my surprise, my girl took me out of the bag and gave me a light coat of oil, like the good ole days, she said, “Come here baby, I have something for you.”
In walked a little girl.
She was a little small girl with sparkling eyes, kinda curly hair, a brilliant smile and lovely dark skin.
She examined me very carefully, punched my pocket a couple times, opened and closed my fingers and I think she winked at me.
My girl said, “Sweetie, I want you to have this one.”
This is dedicated to my friend, Marty, who has done more to support and encourage the participation of African-American female athletes in So Cal softball and probably the USA than anyone else all the while remaining completely color-blind to each member of his team and organization.
Yup, he yells but he yells at all of them and what really counts is he cares about all of them.
He is however still only the second best pitch caller in the country. (private joke)
--- Gary Haning