How do you heal when you lose so much?
On Monday, Oklahoma played in Game 1 of the Women's College World Series finals. Exactly two weeks before, softball mattered to no one in the state.
Digging through rubble mattered. Saving lives mattered.
How do you move on?
Since that day, OU softball, the state and much of the nation learned the story of Sydney Angle, a 9-year-old with bright eyes and a beautiful smile who didn't survive in a place her parents thought she would be safe. The May 20 tornado ripped through her elementary school, causing parents to mourn over seven small caskets.
But since that tragic Monday, Oklahoma has adopted the Angle family, especially Casey Angle, the older sister of Sydney. Casey is trying to get good grades because she one day wants to be a softball player for a coach like Oklahoma's Patty Gasso.
Somewhere along the dugout fence at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, 10-year-old Casey blended among the nation's No. 1-ranked softball team. She was excited to be there as the Sooners' bat girl. She felt like part of the team. She was one of them. They were trying to fulfill the goal of winning a national title.
But the reality remains. It still haunts her and her family. Sydney is gone.
Their father, Dan, walked away from the stadium when Oklahoma played Thursday against Michigan. He felt overwhelmed. He couldn't bring himself to attend Saturday's game against Texas. They made plans weeks ago to bring both girls to the WCWS.
But, Dan's hoping Casey is having some joy in the dugout, finding strength from the Sooners.
“She's having fun,” Dan said. “It's a lot of fun for her. It's an opportunity that, chances are, she's never going to have again. ... And when we're strong, Casey is strong.”
But when her father or mother breaks down crying, Casey cries, too.
The Angles lost their home in the tornado. Every morning, they work through new questions.
What new furniture can we buy? Where should we eat? How will we eat? Where will we live? How will we honor Sydney?
“It's like we went through 20 years of our life without wanting to,” Dan Angle said.
Dan Angle knows his daughter's memory was causing an impact on so many people, from softball tournaments in Sydney's honor to thousands of donations.
The story even changed Oklahoma's two-time National Player of the Year, Keilani Ricketts. It put her life, her stresses, her softball games into perspective. For the last year, Ricketts has dealt with losing a national title in the final game of the WCWS. The wound of the loss still burned in April.
But when she gave a jersey to Sydney's mother, Nicole, at the memorial service and then hugged her, it was one of the most emotional moments in Ricketts' life.
“Her focus was always softball, softball, softball,” Ricketts' mother Carol said. “But then to go through something like that and have the family go up to her and tell her they are trying to find the picture they took with of Keilani and their daughter, it really changed her perspective. I think she did relax a lot and realized there's more to life than softball.”
Ricketts worked in the circle Monday night against Tennessee to help her heal from that athletic wound from a year ago. In a couple days, Oklahoma or Tennessee will raise a national championship trophy in triumph and celebrate a game where the object is to come home.
Soon, Casey Angle will come home, too, but to a new house. There will be some things of Sydney's the Angles were able to salvage from the rubble of their former home.
“But it will be an entirely new house without her sister,” Dan Angle said.
That's the moment Dan Angle is worried about, when the spotlights have dimmed and there's no dugout fence to stand along.
The experience of being a part of Oklahoma softball is one that Dan and Nicole Angle are thankful the Sooners gave to their daughter. But Casey Angle doesn't feel lucky for the experience. They'd give all of it back to have Sydney running the stands trying to catch a foul ball.
Some wounds are just too big for anything to heal.