An open letter to spring athletes:
They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. For me, it was not until Thursday, March 12th at 6:37 p.m. that I believed this. I have been there in the trenches with the rest of you, waking up at five in the morning with full knowledge you are about to run yourself into the ground before rushing to get breakfast, dragging yourself to class, your body aching, exhausted from studying the night before to return to practice again later again that day, rinse and repeat. The days you pray for an easy practice. The days you simply want a day off. The days you struggled and wanted to start over, but had to dig deep down to get through the next rep. I’ve experienced the days you feel like you’ve given it everything you’ve had, but your sport is working against you. I, for one, struggled to find the strike zone as a collegiate pitcher for the short nine game season we had. I’ve been there, we all have: riding the highs and lows of this wild ride called college athletics we all signed up for, but I think we can all agree we did not expect this.
To keep it simple: it’s gone, and it hurts. It’s this deep ache you didn’t know you could feel. I wish I didn’t know, but I do. Suddenly you have every day off. No more 6 a.m.’s, no more practice, no more sprints, no more bad plays, no more devastating losses. But this means no more wins, no more team celebrations, no more putting on the uniform, no more little successes that keep you going, no more being around the people that have made you who you are every day. You walked up to your last practice without knowing it was your last practice with that team. Your last practice with the seniors who welcomed you into the program, motivated you to be better, and picked you up off the floor when you needed someone the most. They had their final season ripped away from them when it should have ended on their terms. You hurt for them. You’ve laughed harder than you ever have with these teammates, made memories you will never forget and you owe them everything for it. You feel heartbroken, disappointed, angry, hopeless, confused, devastated ,and so much more you cannot put into words. You put in the effort and made the sacrifices so that when this time came around, you would be at your peak and it added up to nothing. It hurts knowing your team was becoming something that you will never see play out. It’s like watching the first half of a game and never knowing who won. It is not okay. In fact, it sucks. There is no easy way to put any of this into words.
Schwartz made three appearances, including one start, in nine games.
Today, I walked to the field I have spent countless hours at, sat in the empty dugout, and stared at the outfield fence that proudly states “WashU Softball” to attempt to process any of this. I couldn’t sit here and accept that it was all for nothing.
I’m here to tell you it wasn’t.
The first thing that came to mind was the freshmen. I witnessed these kids not only grow up, but become leaders. Sure, they made mistakes, we all did, but they learned from them, found their voice, and used it to speak up for what they believed in. I am immensely proud of them and the adversity they were able to face and continue to face. We are all leaving our programs in good hands with the resilience and fight the Class of 2023 will have.
Then I thought about what my teammates accomplished this year. Some faced more than most people could handle without collapsing and they still fought through it all to come out on the other side. One suffered a potentially career-ending injury in the off-season and showed more determination than I have ever seen to become a conference leader during the few games we played. Another taught me to enjoy the little moments in life. Thankfully she did because little did I know, they would be cut short so soon. They showed a resilience and dedication like none other that made me proud to play next to each and every one of them. This would have been our year like I’m sure it was many of yours, but who’s from stopping us from saying it was our year despite its brevity?
Then I thought about the seniors. They built the program we all have stepped into, showed us the ropes, and taught us what it meant to wear your school across your chest with pride. The passion and love with which they played the game was contagious. They led with inspiring words and selfless actions. These were the moments they waited for their whole lives and never got to experience. They were going to set records. They deserved the opportunity to walk off the field knowing they left every bit of the last four years out there and that was taken from them. I know the amount of sadness I feel for them pales in comparison to what they are experiencing. This class had an impact like none other and left a legacy on each of our institutions. They have made me a better player, teammate, and person. They have created a culture and work ethic that will exist for years to come. To the seniors, next year is for you.
These accomplishments are not limited by the time they existed for. The bonds our teams made are not bound to the time on the field. We worked together, we played together, and we grieved together and if that’s not something worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.
The Bears finished the abbreviated season 6-3, defeating ranked teams in their final two games.
Like many of you, I have one year left and I do not intend to waste it. If this experience has taught me anything, it is you sacrifice for something without knowing if you will achieve it because this year, we didn’t. But isn’t that what sacrifice is? We dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly without knowing the result because the risk of failure is worth giving us every opportunity for success. There is no room for complacency because if, and when, we get the chance to step back on the field, court, course, or track again we know we would’ve done anything in our power to play on it with this year’s team one more time, so we will do it for next year’s team. For those of you also coming upon your last year, know what this feels like, and do everything in your power to let it motivate you, not discourage you. I never knew how much I would miss putting on those cleats every day until I couldn’t anymore, even if it is temporary and I still get another opportunity. This year may have been our year, but it damn well better be next year too. It is worth the long nights, the early mornings, the sore muscles, the uncertainties, and every other sacrifice to play the sport you love next to the people you love.
Here’s to this season. Here’s to next. Here’s to fighting. Here’s to the sacrifice we’ll make for those that do not get the chance to compete again.
This isn’t the end.
Kendall Schwartz #22
Washington University in St. Louis Softball