Owen’s bat did not move the next game. Or the next. Much to my chagrin, he continued his no-swinging streak. I guess you could say his bat was on strike–PUN INTENDED! I was incredulous. I could not believe he did not have the urge to move the bat once in the half-dozen or so times he was at-bat.
My presence was not helping. I began to hide every time he stepped up to the plate. I arrived at the field late so as not to get too stressed out–or to add to his stress. I killed him with kindness. “You can do it!”(Dammit!) “Good eye, Owen!” (Do you think it could talk to your arm?) “Wait for your pitch, buddy.” (At this rate, it will be here by the time you’re in college.)
I also took solace in the stories I heard from other parents. Neighbors and friends who told me of their boys who refused to swing the bat in their first year of kid-pitch, boys who are now in high school and play baseball still.
Finally, I did what any good parent would do in such a situation. I resorted to bribery.
“Hey, O, I’ll pay you a dollar every time you swing the bat.”
“Really?” he asked, eyes widening.
“Really,” I said. “And if you get a hit–five dollars.”
Owen beamed at this proposal, but his brother Hayden balked. “I don’t get money for hits, and I swing the bat all the time.” Yes, and you get twenty pitches from a machine every time you’re at the plate, I thought. But I said, “I’ll give you extra money for taking all of your allergy medicine without complaining.” Christ, I’m going to need a part-time job to pay my kids for doing what they’re expected to do—Shut-up. If it works, it’s worth every cent.
And money is indeed the good old-fashioned motivator.
Now, Owen stepped up to the plate with a new sense of purpose. He was still timid, but I knew when he looked out at the pitcher, he saw dollar signs.
His first time at bat, there was still no movement, but I could see his elbow twitching, wanting to swing. His second time up, he swung twice, but struck out. When he went back to the dugout, I held up two fingers and he smiled. Two bucks.
On his last turn at the plate, he looked a little more confident. And then it happened. The ball came sailing inside the plate and “CRACK”. It flew out toward second base, as Owen sprinted to first. Everyone was rooting for him. They knew. Fellow players, parents, and the coaches all knew he needed a hit. “Run, Owen! Run!” I cheered. The first baseman got the ball before Owen touched the base. “Shoot,” I uttered, disappointed. But then, he took his foot off the bag just as Owen’s landed on it. He was safe.
And yet, in his excitement and confusion he began to run immediately to second. The boys at first and second threw the ball back and forth, and he was caught in the middle. Finally, he ran towards second and was tagged out.
Like many sporting moments, there was a kaleidoscope of activity in a matter of seconds. As the ump called him out, I heard an audible cry from the crowd. In my excitement, I yelled out: “It doesn’t matter, Owen. That was a good hit. It doesn’t matter!” People around me laughed, and Owen seemed to agree. What mattered was he finally got a hit–and five more dollars.
As I reflected on this for the remainder of the weekend, I kept coming back to my words–words that were so spontaneous at the time–It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. I now realize that, in the end, it doesn’t matter. So much of this does not matter, yet we place an incredible amount of emphasis on it. In the end, this will be a memory. I played baseball when I was a kid. I was afraid of the ball…And I don’t want to be naieve enough to think that Owen, and other kids, will just remember the fun they had–if they had fun. No. He may remember the fear. But I hope, above all, he remembers that when he did play baseball, or any activity for that matter, and he looked out into the stands or the audience, he knew his parents were there supporting him. That whether he scored or not, won or not, hit or not, his family was there, standing behind him. Supporting him.
That’s what matters. In the end, that’s one of the only things that will matter.