On Wednesday night my son’s 10u All-Star team lost a heartbreaker to [finally] end our baseball season.
After 18 (give or take a few) regular season Little League games, three rounds of playoffs, two weeks of All-Star practices in preparation for the first round of games, four games, including a championship victory in the Regional Tournament, additional practice for Sections and three nail-bitingly close games in the Sectional tournament we are officially done.
I’d be lying if I said the loss wasn’t hard – on all of us. I think the fact that the game was so close and our boys battled back time and again from multi-run deficits to stay in the games and the tying run was only 60 feet away from home plate when we made that final out makes the loss harder to swallow.
But the truth is they had a great run! These little boys played their hearts out night after night after night. They stayed focused, positive and they never gave up. And I couldn’t be prouder of their effort.
There was clearly no place they’d rather be than on that baseball diamond. And there was no place I, or my fellow baseball parents and fans, would rather have been than cheering them on.
Over the course of these last few months I’ve had many people ask me why we do it – why we let our son play at this level at only 9 years old. Why we are willing to give up so much time and energy to this game and all the rules that go along with it? No swimming on game days or before practice, mandatory daily practices in the grueling heat, no day trips or vacations until the end of July (maybe), and hours upon hours of baseball.
And my answer is simple: because I can’t imagine not doing it.
My son LOVES this game. If he is not at an official practice or playing a game he is participating in a home run derby, game of run down or whiffle ball tournament in our neighborhood. And if there isn’t anyone else around to play with he’s out there in the yard with a bat and ball practicing his swings over and over and over again by himself.
To not let him pursue his passion would be wrong. And definitely detrimental to the entire family because I can’t imagine how he’d fill his summer days if it weren’t for baseball. He might drive us all insane.
But even beyond the sheer joy that baseball brings to Kyle this game is teaching him valuable lessons about life that makes all of our family sacrifices worthwhile. What we get out of it, is so much more than we what we give up.
During the course of this long season I’ve had time to think a lot about baseball and some of the things we can learn from America’s pastime. These are a few of my reflections as a baseball mom:
It Takes A Village
Some of you may find it odd that I choose to use the plural possessive when writing about my son’s baseball team. While I don’t purport to take any credit for what the boys do on the field, that’s all up to them and their coaches, this team is a family. The players, the coaches, the parents, the friends, the fans – we are all in this together.
A ten year old doesn’t make it to practice or games without a little help. Whether it’s his own parents who have rearranged their schedules to get him to the fields, or carpools organized with other team parents who step in to make it happen, or the coaches themselves who go out of their way to make sure that everybody has a ride, just getting to the fields takes commitment and coordination.
Then there is the uniform upkeep. While I certainly can’t speak for anyone else’s child, my son seemed to have an almost absurd propensity to lose his belt and/or hat between games. So in addition to laundering pants and jerseys on a regular basis – shout out to the person who picked black pants for All-Stars because that choice saved me hours of scrubbing – and attaching official Little League patches, I also had to collect and keep track of various uniform items to save us from frantic searches moments before we had to leave the house.There’s the financial commitment as well. Registration fees, tournament fees, cleats, gloves, bats, helmets, pants – the costs just keep adding up. Not to mention the endless supply of waters, Gatorades, sunflower seeds and concession stand goodies to keep them fueled and hydrated, plus take-out on game nights when there’s no time to cook. And team pictures and posters and souvenirs . . . . Supporting a baseball player is quite literally a full time job. (Players, don’t forget to thank your parents).
But it’s one that I will gladly make as an investment in my son’s future.
Although my son may be the one playing ball, my entire family has a lot invested in this game so I don’t feel at all funny about using the collective “we” when I talk about the season.
Friends Can Make the Best Family
And it’s not just my family who provided this incredible support. Just like the postman, neither cold, nor snow, nor rain, nor scorching heat, can keep baseball parents from showing up and cheering loudly (perhaps a little too loudly sometimes), not just for our own son, but for every single player on the team.
Over the course of the season these boys, this team, became all of ours. We learned their habits, their tendencies, their quirks and their tells and we could anticipate what they were going to do often before they even knew themselves.
We were there to celebrate the highs and hug out the lows, to remind our boys that as much fun as it is to win, it’s in the losing that we learn; to encourage them to be their very best and to let them know that we are proud of them regardless of the outcome.
And it wasn’t just the players’ parents who showed night after night. I was amazed by the outpouring of support for this team from the entire community. Classmates and coaches who weren’t on the team turned out in droves to root for our players both at home and on the road. Former teammates, and their parents, neighbors, teachers, friends . . . we always had a full cheering section. Many thanks to everyone who came out to support our team.
Please Don’t Criticize the Coach
My son has been very lucky to have had some amazing coaches during his relatively short tenure in organized sports. And this year was no exception. Our coaches gave generously of their time, talent and love to this group of boys. These volunteers, mostly dads, but also grandfathers and uncles and diehard baseball fans, showed up day after day because they believe in the transformative power of baseball and they believe in these little boys. For that, they deserve our gratitude and our respect.
Our coaches know the game of baseball. Throughout the season they worked tirelessly to share their knowledge with the boys, to instill good habits, instruct them on mechanics, teach them how to make plays and smart decisions and turn every one of them into a better ball player than he was at the start of the season.
It can be easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize coaching decisions or second-guess strategic choices. Especially if we feel as though our child is being treated unfairly. But the truth is that the coaches have spent hours observing these boys at practice in the sweltering summer heat, reviewing their performances well into the night and talking through their options to make the best decisions they can, decisions that are in the best interest of the team.
We all have the same goal here – to win and to have fun doing it. If something doesn’t work out the way we hoped, please cut the coaches a break.
The Best Things Happen When You Work “As A Team”
By far, the most important thing our boys learned this season was how to be a team. These kids genuinely care about one another. A fact that [I hope] will last long past the final pitch. They rooted each other on, offered support from the dugout, lifted each other up and did their best to be their best for the team.
Learning to be a team player is so much more important than any numbers on a scoreboard will ever be and that’s a lesson that our team aced.
Before each game our players chanted “As a Team, As a Team, As a Team!” Win, lose, or draw – they promised to do it together and just recalling the sincerity with which they recited those words gives me goose bumps.
I want to thank the coaches for all their time, dedication, kindness, support, encouragement, experience and positivity that left my son with an even greater love of baseball than he started with.
You Can Learn A Lot on the Bench
I wrote earlier that baseball is my son’s passion and for that reason alone I would let him play. But I can’t imagine another way for him to have learned nearly as much this summer as he learned being part of this team.
Kyle is a good athlete. As the little brother he’s been playing with the big kids all his life. This has helped him acquire skills and confidence, which when taken together with his natural ability make him a pretty decent player.
He’s used to success on the field. As an 8-year old he played up in the 9-10 division and started every game, most of them at second base. He works his tail off to keep getting better every day. And the best compliment he’s ever received from a coach, in fact many coaches, is that he so “coachable”.
This past year he was the starting shortstop, a pitcher, and a leader on his Little League team. But as a 9-year old playing 10U ball he was not one of the best. He rode the bench this entire All-Star season, getting one at bat per game. I am not complaining about this. It is where he belonged, and we both know it. But this was an entirely new experience for my son. And I believe he is better for it.
He learned that you have to earn your spot; no-one is entitled to anything. He learned that success takes time and each of us has to pay our dues. He knows his turn is coming and he will work all the harder for it. This season taught him patience and discipline. In a world used to instant gratification this will serve him well.
He never once complained about his position. He made the most of his opportunities, going 4 for 5 with two walks (I think). He recorded rbi’s, scored runs and came up big whenever he was called upon. I know it could not have been easy to watch the game being played, but my son understood his role and I couldn’t be more proud of his attitude and determination.
Success Takes Sacrifice
This summer also taught him, and each and every one of his teammates, about sacrifice. Every boy on this team, boys who are 9 and 10 years old, gave up a big part of their summer to be part of something bigger than themselves. They skipped afternoons at the pool, sleepovers with friends and family trips to give their all to a game they love so much.
They had countless opportunities to develop the “soft skills” of teamwork, discipline, work ethic, perseverance, dedication, communication and time management that are so critical but often lacking in today’s world. What an absolutely invaluable takeaway from a fun and successful season on the field.
While it’s always a little bit sad to say goodbye, the memories of this experience will live on forever. These boys played some great baseball, they learned what it means to be a team, they learned how to win and lose graciously. I can’t imagine a better way to have spent our summer.
Now I’ve got to go because it’s time for tournament practice.