It’s just barely spring, but the Boys of Summer are already taking the field. Across the country, from little leagues to the major leagues, America’s favorite pastime is in full bloom. For baseball parents, those whose kids either play the game or are fans, each spring heralds a new season of teaching moments.
A cloudless Colorado Saturday afternoon fifteen springs ago found our 10-year old son at shortstop when a line drive off the bat struck his team’s pitcher square on the face. As the young boy crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain and bleeding from his nose and mouth, our son and his teammates all rushed to the mound and surrounded their stricken pitcher. We in the bleachers collectively gasped in horror, and then I and another doctor-parent ran onto the field to stem the bleeding and send someone to call an ambulance (yes, this was during the Jurassic Period before many of us carried cell phones). As the other kids sifted through the pebbles for our pitcher’s presumed missing teeth, our son backed away from the crowd, shaking. He slowly sat down on the infield dirt, desperately trying not to throw up from the sight of his good friend, and his good friend’s blood and teeth, now lying motionless on the ground. The ambulance was there in minutes and our pitcher was whisked away (he went on to make a full recovery, albeit requiring a tooth implant). But it’s what happened after the ambulance left that changed our son’s life. As he was hyperventilating, his back to home plate and his head between his legs, the coach patted him on the head and matter-of-factly told him to quickly warm up because he would be the new pitcher. Despite his love of pitching, when the coach broke the news, our son looked like he had been the one hit with the baseball.
Somehow, he rallied, got his legs back, and took the hill. He’s married now, about to graduate law school, but in the years since replacing his hemorrhaging friend on the mound, there hasn’t been a hurdle or challenge he’s faced when he didn’t call upon that little league moment to find strength and courage. Our younger kids were in the bleachers that day, probably too young to learn the same valuable lesson on dealing with adversity. But it didn’t take them long to each have their own moments of inspiration in the midst of a labor of love. Our daughter wore through the “serving toe” of her sneaker during her 5-hour city championship tennis match against her arch rival (and good friend), playing out the contest in a bloody sock that would have made Curt Schilling proud. Our youngest son joined others at his parochial school to help lobby the high school athletic association to reschedule the state baseball tournament, originally slated for the Sabbath, on the off chance his team would qualify. He then battled a sore pitching arm for 6 innings in a playoff game to lead his team to the tournament for the first time in school history.
Embedded in kids’ passions are priceless parenting moments. We were lucky because our kids loved anything that bounced, and sports have always brought forth metaphors for life. But lessons abide in everything kids undertake with commitment, from art, writing, music and theater, to math, science, technology, and history. Commitment itself is an important message for kids. Parents needn’t wait for dramatic episodes like ours to teach life lessons. Sticking with my theme, baseball offers mundane but meaningful teaching moments every inning. A runner leading off from base learns to balance risk and reward. A called third strike teaches the consequences of inaction and missed opportunity. Batting averages prove success in life doesn’t require perfection – the great hitters in baseball, those who hit “300,” still get out 70% of the time. Standing in the “on deck circle” reminds kids to learn from others’ experiences, while the fielder in the “ready position” reaps the rewards of forming good habits. “Calling for” a pop fly ball requires taking responsibility for a task, and then following through. The sacrifice bunt…well that’s obvious, as is “backing up” teammates on throws and ground balls. Parents have an opportunity to gently teach kids the dangers of prejudice and stereotyping when coaches typecast “lefties” as first basemen or outfielders, falsely assuming them less effective as middle infielders or catchers.
Even the cryptic banality of the baseball scorebook can be turned into a motivational message for a child. This is modified from a passage in a book (The On Deck Circle of Life) I wrote a few years ago about baseball’s life lessons for kids:
Baseball’s moments are officially recorded in the scorebook, where each event on the field has its own unique symbol or code. More important, though, are the moments that are not recorded in the ledger – the spirit and soul of the at-bat, the guts and gumption of the pitcher, the hustle and heroics of the fielders. A caught fly ball in center field is scored the same way in the book (“F8”), whether it was a routine catch or a running, diving, acrobatic one at the fence. But long after the scorebook is closed, brilliant plays and dazzling efforts are scored and stored in the memories of everyone at the game that day.
You are much more than just a list of your accomplishments. It’s not only what you do, but how you do it that counts in the real scorebook of life. Making the spectacular diving catch says more about you than the “out” that is recorded in the book. It says you have game, you care about what you’re doing, you give 110%. Every undertaking in your life becomes a choice you have to make. Will you do just enough to get by, letting the ball drop in front of you for a base hit? Or will you push yourself to perform like the all-star you know you can be?
Many times, even diving, you won’t be able to make the catch. But you will always have the peace of mind and self-respect that come from knowing that you gave your very best.
And then, when you’ve passed enough wisdom on to your kids for one afternoon, buy them some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, root, root, root for the home team, and Play Ball!
More baseball pearls: www.theondeckcircleoflife.com
More No Regrets Parenting: www.noregretsparenting.com