Those first three pitches didn’t have their usual oomph and there was nobody who could blame Michaelyn Foster.
But what followed is what everyone expected and predicted, too.
Three days of emotional turmoil were behind her, more days of mourning were ahead, but Foster had found the one place where her tears would stop.
Because her dad wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Incredible” was how her coach described it.
“Amazing” was the word used by a friend on a rival team.
Foster, three days after finding her 42-year-old father dead and two days before his burial, was on a softball field playing the game that connected them.
“I knew she’d want to, but I didn’t know if it would be too much when she got there,” Catholic Assistant Athletic Director Jill Clark said. “Her and her dad were so tight about softball.
“I really prayed that she’d make it through.”
Foster, a sophomore pitcher, gave scant thought to skipping the Class 4A, Area 4 tournament last week at Lagoon Park.
She could see Michael Foster, who died of a heart attack April 26, and how he’d react had Michaelyn decided to sit it out. Her face cringes in imitation, though a small grin peaks out, too.
“He’d have been, ‘Don’t not play on my account,'” Michaelyn said. “Softball was our thing to do together. He was still kind of there, so I guess it wasn’t that hard.”
There are memories of a 4-year-old Michaelyn playing on a team coached by Michael.
There remains laughter at Michael stepping into a batter’s box while Michaelyn pitches to older sister Walker, an 18-year-old Hooper graduate, now a freshman at Auburn Montgomery.
“He would stand there just to give an impression of a batter,” Michaelyn said. “As soon as my sister signaled for a screwball, he’d say, ‘I’m done.'”
There are all the times Michael was standing at the fence encouraging his daughters or, even though he was an umpire himself, strongly encouraging the umpires, too.
There’s Michael, the morning person, waking up Michaelyn and pestering her to get ready for school. There’s Michael approving of her boyfriend and, in general, being a steady part of her life.
“There are a lot of those memories,” Michaelyn said. “Right now, they all run together.”
With all that, she refused to skip out on the Catholic softball team. She started each of the Knights’ three area tournament games.
“If I was her, I know I couldn’t do that,” said LAMP sophomore Reagan Watkins, a longtime friend of the Foster’s whose dad was a pallbearer. “But she has that kind of mental toughness.
“She knew her dad would want her to be out there.”
After the first three pitches, Foster settled into what she’d been all season: a star for Catholic.
Over the two-day tournament, she threw every pitch of Catholic’s three games. She knocked in the first two runs of the opener.
She faced LAMP and Watkins in Game 2. Watkins admits feeling bad that she struck out Foster in her first at-bat, but Foster hit a ringing double in her second.
In the third game, a season-ending loss to St. James on April 30, Foster threw a three-hitter.
“Her hitting was there. Her pitching was there. Her fielding was there,” Clark said. “You would have never known, by the way she played, that something so tragic had happened.
“She had a lot of people pulling for her and praying for her to succeed.”
Foster, who transferred to Catholic last summer, was quickly accepted by the Knights. Within two weeks, at a basketball camp, Clark noticed banter involving Foster that normally takes years to evolve.
That showed in the outpouring of support the school and its family have given to mom Chasity and the two daughters.
There was a large crowd at the visitation — the night of the softball team’s final game — and more at the next day’s funeral.
Foster asks for forgiveness because she didn’t notice who all was there. Who can blame her?
Her thoughts were on her dad.
“Seeing him was hard, but I know he’s in a better place, so that’s good,” Foster said. “It gave me some closure, but it was still pretty hard.”
The 16-year-old has made daily trips to Michael’s grave to talk about the upcoming end of school, summer ball and plans for her next two years at Catholic.
Michael was always there before. Michaelyn says that’s not going to stop.
“I still talk to him. Is that creepy?” Foster said. “To me, he’s still kind of here.”