It could not be a more beautiful day outside.
It is warm but comfortable as a handful of parents are sitting on hard metal bleachers watching their daughters play. There is hardly a cloud in the sky on this spring day and the sound of balls being hit, pitches being thrown and softball families cheering on their kids fills the air. A light breeze blows on the flags in left-center of Essex County Mike Sheppard, Sr. Field.
The sun is shining and Danielle DeStaso is having a rough inning in the top of the fourth.
“Make it a good one,” yells Danielle’s grandma, Camille, from her seat behind the backstop. “We’re rooting for you hun. Let’s go!”
Other members of Danielle’s family are here as well. Her two younger sisters, Amanda and Courtney, keep calm as their older sibling tries to work out of a jam against St. John’s. They are paying just as much attention to their grandma as they are to the game. Bruce, Danielle’s father, is propped up against the fence on the third base side, watching on his own. He knows the game a bit better than the rest of the family and likes to analyze when others would rather just take it all in.
Then there is Margaret, the pitcher’s mother. She says she would normally be walking – or pacing rather – but a recent injury suffered in a student-faculty basketball game is keeping her immobile for the most part. She is a competitive woman, but she tries not to get too tense or loud when her daughter is on the mound.
She does not want her actions to distract Danielle.
“If she sees me looking nervous, she gets nervous,” Margaret said.
“There was only one time in my college career that I specifically remember seeing my mom,” Danielle later explained. “She was sitting right behind home plate, and I don’t usually look into the fans or notice anything, but it was against Creighton last year. We were winning 1-0 and I had loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh and their best hitter was up. I remember seeing my mom in the stands with her hand over head and I was like ‘Wow.’ I think she was more stressed than I was.”
Since then Margaret has done her best to keep her composure.
Grandma Camille on the other hand is much more vocal. She shouts words of support on almost every other pitch; each ball outside of the strike zone accompanied by an emphatic “ugh.”
“I think everyone hears my grandma,” Danielle said. “I think my grandma is the only person I can hear during games.”
She gets out of the inning, but only after two St. John’s runners have crossed the plate. The Seton Hall Pirates go scoreless in the bottom of the inning and Danielle trots back out for the fifth.
The frame goes no better than the last. With one run having already crossed the plate, the senior education major serves up a two-run homer. With the Hall down 5-0, Danielle’s day is over.
“Yea, that stinks,” Margaret said.
Despite the poor performance, Danielle’s family is looking forward to spending time with her after the game. They normally grab a bite to eat at Stony’s, the diner or some other restaurant in South Orange. The right-hander never wants to let a bad day on the field spoil the quality time.
“After a bad game I usually just don’t talk about it much,” Danielle said. “We kind of know what happened; you don’t really have to dwell on it or talk about it. If I’m more willing to talk about it then they will. My mom is a little more pushy with questions than my dad is.”
“I think it affects her parents more than it affects her,” Margaret says with her daughter now out of the game. “We try not to say anything to her. Softball is a sport of failure… to me it’s a tough sport.”
Danielle is incredibly grateful for the support her family gives her. Residents of Congers, N.Y., some 50 minutes north of Seton Hall, the group never misses a home game. Her parents travel with the team on the road whenever possible. Amanda, a student at Manhattan, comes as often as she can. Courtney, the youngest, is still in high school and works her schedule around her big sister’s games. It is clear that they all enjoy going to the games as much as Danielle enjoys playing in them.
“Knowing how much they’ll miss it makes you realize how much they support you,” Danielle said.
With a few weeks left in Seton Hall’s season, the Pirates are vying for a spot in the Big East Tournament. Either way, Danielle knows her college career is almost over. She wants to be a teacher – she sees herself doing special education, physical education or math – and is looking at graduate school. Adelphi is a possibility. She might even take her talents to the court, as she is considering following in her mother’s footsteps and playing basketball in her fifth year of eligibility.
For now though, her focus is still on the diamond as she cherishes the time she has left with her teammates.
“I’ll definitely miss the team,” Danielle said. “As much time as you spend with each other… I’ll definitely miss the team.”
Danielle will not be the only one who misses softball, as her family knows their days of coming out to see her play are numbered.
“I always try and tell her to enjoy every minute,” Margaret said. “It’s over before you know it.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GPhillips2727