Sitting on Pins and Needles

    Watching Jacob’s try-outs for the Frascati soccer team was one of the most nerve-racking few hours of my life as a mother. This is a boy who had a slow start to soccer and has been at the bottom of whatever team he was on most of his life. A few years ago, he put his mind to it and became determined to excel at soccer. He barely made the developmental team for Varsity last year, and with the help of his friend Joe, wound up, by a real fluke, on a club team. That was a big break.
    But moving to Italy, he dreamed of playing but did not know whether he would make the cut, literally.
    Over the summer he has practiced on his own for hours at a time and conditioned like he was preparing for the Olympics. Then, he met some locals from two towns over, Rocca di Papa. They gave him an informal tryout and he made the team. So, he considered not trying out for the even harder Frascati team. But we encouraged him to give it a go.
   Yesterday was the big day. Sebastian and I brought Jake to the stadium and sat on the cement bleachers. These 18-year-old Italian boys are tall and conditioned, the real deal. The Frascati team is a feeder team for the professional team, AS Roma. Some of them are already playing pro, and these are the guys that are not going pro. But still, this is high-level soccer. Seeing Jacob on the field with them made me woozy. Just the sight of the players on the field was so strange. These guys have their own way–the look, the gear, the style–its sooooo Italian.
   And then there’s Jacob.
   Well, he got out there and held his own. He defended with all his might and had some good juggling, headers and blocks. But I really could not tell how it was going. Was he going to be at the bottom of the team? Get any playing time? Be accepted by the players? Or not make the team at all? My heart was bleeding and Sebastian and I said many Hail Mary’s sitting on those hard seats, squinting in the sun.
    Two hours later, they scrimmaged. They divided into three teams. One was eliminated. Jake’s team was still in. Then, Jake’s team tied the other team. The coach said, “Its a tie. Go home.” The boys said, “PK blowout!” They would do a round of penalty kicks, and the one with the most goals wins. MY HEART IS POUNDING and I hope Jake doesn’t have to shoot.
    The other team gets 5 out of 6 goals. Jake’s team has 5 goals, and has one more to go. Basically, it’s tied, with a tie-breaker shot.
    And guess who has to kick the tie-breaker: Jacob.
    I invoke John Paul II and Mary Mother of God and close my eyes.
    Then I peek. Does he look confident? Timid? I remember the hours and hours that Jacob practiced his PK shot after school at Cistercian. He would go out there by himself and kick over and over and over. He had learned a trick move from a varsity player. Jacob had spent hours and hours trying to master that shot. I know he can do it, but how is this goal keeper? Would Jake’s nerves spook him? Could he do it here? Now?
    He approached the ball, did his unorthodox move around the ball. He kicked it hard into the corner of the net. It went past the keeper. He made the goal.
    The boys cheered, and I watched the guy next to him high-five him.
    He told me later that the guys were shouting “Bravo Jacob!” and the coach was very happy. One of the guys walking to the locker rooms said in Italian, “Weird form, but good.”
    I am in awe. That was the most surprising several hours of my last 18 years. Thank You, JPII and Mary Mother of God! I love you!