Son of a Pitch

May 5, 2014

Dare I say winter has finally left. I do. And spring’s seduction is all around us. This week I have been captivated by spring’s allure. I see it in the soft pink petals that litter the newly spread mulch, and the double-rainbow that appeared in the sky after a late day thunderstorm. I smell it in the smoky air after the lawn has been cut, or the sweet aroma of a budding cherry tree. And I also hear it. Yes, the sounds of spring are everywhere, especially on the little league baseball field: the thwap of the glove that has just caught a pop-fly, the crack of the bat that has just ripped one down the third baseline, and the thud of a ball that has just beamed the side of a nine-year old.

10323090_774715622548396_1736370033_nYes, if it’s spring, and you live in the suburbs, there is also a lot of baseball to be played. Ane where there is little league baseball, there is fear.

Trust me, I know fear. My fear of getting hit with the ball got me demoted to the T-ball team. And now, I get to relive my youth through my son. Poor Owen. He is petrified of getting hit with the ball, and I don’t blame him. It is so painful to watch. He’s gotten hit, as have all the kids, and all we can do is watch with pained expressions and cheer as the boys “shake it off”. Have you ever seen a young kid get hit with a baseball? It is tortuous. During the first game, I was not even watching the batter, but I heard the sound. It was like listening to a butcher thwack a side of beef. “This is what clubbing a seal must sound like,” I thought to myself, morbidly.

And kids are funny. Owen always wants to play the sport that’s not in season. During basketball season this winter, he was frustrated because he was one of the shorter kids and didn’t make a basket during a game. “I don’t really like basketball,” he said. “Really? But you have some good moves.” “Yeah, I want to play baseball.” Then, late in the season it all starts to click on the court. In the final game, he scores his first basket. He is elated.

That week: “Can we get a basketball net for the driveway?” he asks. “Sure, Owen.” Now he’s out there every day.

Flash forward to baseball season–you know, the season he wanted to play when we were in basketball season–and he is miserable. Oh, he likes his teammates, he enjoys chomping on a big wad of watermelon “Big Chew” in the dugout, he likes the snack bar and the uniform. He’s even okay in the field.  He just dreads every time he is at bat. And the league is more competitive now; the boys who pitch seem to be playing for college scouts in the stands. These kids are good. They pitch fast. And the ball hurts real bad when it lands in your chest. or on your side, or in your face…

Meanwhile, part of my frustration is that I suck at baseball. I can’t aim worth a damn. I could not throw a decent pitch if my life depended on it. It’s the only reason I decided not to go into politics–fear I’d be called upon to throw out the ceremonial first pitch:) So, I am useless to him. We can have a catch–ISH. But no one in our house can help him with his batting. As I look in to ways to assist his game (enlist the help of friends, take him to a batting cage), Owen is falling deeper into a resentment of the game. The other night was pretty bad. Oh, he got walked twice, and crossed home plate for two runs, but he did not swing the bat once in the four times he was up to the plate. NOT. ONCE.

I’ve tried to say all the right things: doyou’rebestwe’reproudofyounomatterwhateverybodystrikesoutiknowyoucandoit, but the other night, I was not the dad I wanted to be. By worrying that Owen was going to become THAT kid on the team, where kids would wonder What the heck’s wrong with this kid that he NEVER swings the stinkin bat, I felt like I was becoming THAT dad in the stands, wondering What the heck’s wrong with this kid that he NEVER swings the stinkin bat? I went over to encourage him every time he batted–but it felt like I was hovering, putting pressure on him. When he’d get to base, he’d look at me with a worried face. As he crossed home plate, he came over to the fence and said “But you wanted to me to swing and I didn’t.” “It’s okay, buddy,” I said, trying to sound casual.

Finally, in the last inning, I watched the other team’s pitcher intently. He threw a strike every first pitch. I walked up to the dugout. “Hey, O, his first pitch has been a strike every time. No matter what, swing on the first pitch, okay?” “Okay.” “Promise?” “Promise.”

Nothing. He did not swing on the first pitch. Or the second. Or the final one when the ump called him “out.” Despite my best efforts, I could tell I was mad.

As we walked to the car, I felt bad for him, but I wanted to wake him up about this. “How many swings did you take tonight?” “I don’t know.” “None.” “Really?” “Yes.” “You know what, Owen, I don’t care if you strike out, but I DO care if you don’t swing the bat. I don’t expect you to be the best player on the team, but I do think you have it in you to have the best attitude on the team.” I felt good. These were good messages to send. But I never know when to shut up. I tend to rant.

“You know what, though? If you tell me you don’t want to play baseball next year, I’m fine with that. If I see you give it your all, I will support your decision, whatever it is. But if you play the way you played tonight, not chasing after balls, being slow on the field, and not swinging the bat ONCE, then I will make you play next year.” His eyes grew wide with fear.

Shit. This is not who I want to be. I wish he could quit the team, but I can’t set that standard–if you sign up for something, you have to see it through.

We drive home in silence. As he gets ready to go upstairs to bed, he tells my wife that he is sad because I said he was bad at baseball. “What? I never said you were bad…” and then I repeated all the things I said in the parking lot (except the part about making him play if he doesn’t try his best) Sorry, Pam)).

I hear him crying as he takes a shower. I wish I could make it better. I wish I could swing the damn bat for him. I wish I could show him a video of his future and all the things he will be great at, but for now, I will listen to his cries and try my best to emphasize the things I do want him to get out of this season:

  1. We don’t quit.
  2. I believe in you.
  3. Everything will not come naturally to you.
  4. You have many talents.
  5. There are many ways to be an asset to your team.
  6. I love you no matter what.

By the time I go to his room to say goodnight, he is sound asleep. I want him to be awake. To end the day with affection and remind him that I love him. I kiss him twice on the cheek. He does not stir. I rub his head, hoping to send my love to him in his sleep.

The next morning, I am extra chipper when I first see him. I don’t want this baseball thing to cloud every aspect of our lives. “Good morning!” I say. “Good morning,” he repeats softly. “I came in to say ‘goodnight’ but you were already asleep!” He smiles. “No I wasn’t. I was faking it.” Then he laughs. I laugh, too, hesitantly. Was this some sort of punishment, I wonder. A nine-year old’s way of saying screw you? No matter. I’m glad he was awake. I want him to remember that part of the day. The part where I love you even when you are asleep. The part that says, no matter what transpires during the day, my love for you will never stop. Whether you’re the star player or figuring out a way to just get a hit, I love you.

If I had to guess, I’d say this is Owen’s last year playing baseball. And to be honest, I’m fine with that. Besides, he really likes soccer anyway. Yeah, soccer.

Be sure to read my post on Wednesday to see if Owen ever did swing that bat!

 

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12 comments

  1. My favorite memories of my boys will be of them playing sports. Well, except for the moment they were born. Those early days when they fit in the crook of my arm. The ferociousness of their tears. The joy of their laughter and giggles. The way they lived and died each and every day because of the smallest of things. But sports. Aah, sports. There is something incredibly pure about sports and that is why it such a challenge for fathers and their sons. I, too, have said things to both of my sons in the heat of the moment during their sporting lives that I wish I hadn’t. But I also bent over backwards to encourage and support them. I coached both of them — baseball and soccer for the oldest one and soccer for the youngest. For about ten years, except for the months December and January and June and July, I was pretty much coaching them non-stop. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I hope they wouldn’t either. I was never a horrible coach, demanding more of his kids than the others and demanding win after win after win. I was fortunate enough to team up with other coaches who thought that learning the game and having fun was more important than wins.
    That said, I did want to see my kids put out the effort required to achieve their dreams. Not my dreams for them, but their dreams for themselves. My oldest played baseball until he was fifteen and then stopped because he injured his elbow and shoulder. He refused to do the required physical therapy — dreams died. Both of my sons played goalie in soccer and desperately wanted to play the position for their high school team, but neither of them wanted to put in the hard work it takes to keep moving up competitive levels — dreams died. It was never my disappointment that they didn’t achieve their dreams. My disappointment was that they didn’t recognize the need for hard work to achieve those dreams.

    One more thing … I was much like you. I played baseball for four or five years and then stopped because of my fear of the ball. More than anything for my kids, I wanted them to play without fear. My oldest accomplished that. He is fearless when he plays. When he was nine years old, he was pitching and the best player in the league drilled a line drive right back at him. It him in the center of his chest. It’s one of those plays where he very possibly could have died if the ball had hit him in the wrong spot. It knocked the wind out of him, brought tears to his eyes and we took him out of the game. And the next inning, even thought it was against the rules, the other coach let him go back out and pitch. If that was me, I probably wouldn’t have walked back out on the field for a long time.

    My younger son was drilled in the fact a couple of times playing soccer when he was seven or eight. Completely understandable, he developed the fear. He loves the game enough to keep playing, but you can still see, almost ten years later, how he still has the fear.

    Anyway — this was a great topic. Sorry to take up so much comment space.

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    1. Wow, KM. Once again our experience mirror each other. I think the most frustrating thing about what you describe is the fact that as parents, we cannot force our kids to see our point of view. We just need to hope that someday, years from now, they will realize our intent–our goals for them–and they will know we tried. That is my hope for me–and for you.

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      1. Yes. A couple of years ago, I asked my son if he could at least accept that what I was trying to get him to do I did with his best interests in mind. He said “no.” That just floored me and has been incredibly difficult for me to get past, particularly as he continues to demonstrate that he still holds that opinion. Good luck to you, sir.

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