The parents arrive a few at a time, setting up webbed lawn chairs in the shade of mammoth oak trees and spreading blankets in the grass. Small boys dash past, chasing dragonflies.
Over at the ballfield, the girls scarcely notice. They are shagging flies and hitting balls, the purple aluminum bats sounding a satisfying thwok! They are gathering in breathy clusters. They are strapping on complicated catcher's equipment and jogging in place and stretching from side to side.
The first game of a girls 14 and under fast-pitch softball doubleheader between Northwest Como and Phalen is about to begin. The sun blazes down. Beyond the trees, a leopard-print bus hauls visitors to the Como Zoo. In the distance, a man lets out string for his pink and green kite, which dips and soars in the blue sky.
The girls take the field, adjusting their caps, smacking their gloves, and the patter begins -- from the benches, as well as from the blankets and lawn chairs.
"There you go! There you go!" "Look alive! Look alive!" "Good eye! Good eye! Good eye!"
The pitchers work hard to find their groove. They throw a lot of balls and then the occasional, perhaps accidental, blazing strike. The batters are uncertain; most either walk, or strike out looking.
Como's Alanna Vennemann is up. She's 13, slender and short, with light freckles on her nose and a ponytail. But she is fierce.
"Only if it's good, Alanna," her teammates remind her, and Alanna nods. She gives the plate a good thwak with her bat, bends her knees into a firm stance, stares ferociously at the mound.
The pitcher winds up and throws, and Alanna takes a ball. "Good eye, good eye!" She draws a walk, and then, on a wild pitch, runs all the way to third. Confusion, another wild pitch, and Alanna slides home in a cloud of dust. From the bench, whoops and cheers.
The game resumes. Phalen rallies, Como rallies, and only the scorekeeper knows the score. A swallow perches on the backstop, parents crack open bottles of water. The little brothers lie down on the blankets. A breeze kicks up, the shadows lengthen, the kite-flier winds up his string and goes home, the girls play on.
"Way to try! Way to try!" "Looking good! Looking good!" And they are; these strong, determined girls, they are looking good.