Saturday, May 3, 2008

No Runs, No Hits, No Errors -- Just Memories

Lincoln stopped playing youth baseball this season. His commitments to wrestling and off-season football conditioning were so extensive that adding baseball was just too much to consider. Of course I supported his decision, but if I had realized at the time that last summer was his final season I would have paid more attention and savored the waning moments of his relationship with the sport. We truly don't fully appreciate what we have until it's gone.

I can think back to his first year in T-ball -- was he really FIVE years old? I remember his successes and disappointments, the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat", the batting lessons, the rain-outs, the stolen bases, the big plays, the dropped balls, the experiences at both pitcher and catcher, the teamwork, the never-ending nuances of the game's finer points, my early years coaching, the dreams and fantasies, the conversations and hugs....

There is a wonderful book called "Little League Confidential" that I have bought for several of his coaches over the years, which chronicles the generally crazy and often exhilarating world of youth baseball. At the end the author writes:

Here's what happens in the end: they stop. The kids just....stop playing baseball. They stop, which is a good thing to keep in mind when you're out there on the Little League playing fields.

.....I guess I still believe that if I'd insisted Willie live at the batting cage, insisted that he be a pitcher even though he didn't want to be, that he'd be an awfully good baseball player right now, maybe even good enough to...well, never mind. Let it go.

He has baseball in proper perspective. He and the other kids always did; for the adults, particularly the fathers, it has taken longer.

I think I'm finally starting to get it now, starting to understand. So, it really is a game, huh? And if it's not being played for fun, why play at all? To learn values? That's asking a lot of a game. Play for fun and they'll learn the values, I think. Come to think of it, that is a value.

We still play catch in the yard, my son and I. But it's more pleasant now. No more expectation, no judgments, no instruction, no disapproval, no hard feelings. Just a game of catch. He is careful not to throw the ball too hard.
And that about sums it up. As i reflect on the last 7 or so years in baseball I'm actually relieved to find that I'm relieved -- the promise of the game was generally more than the payoff, the hopes were often outweighed by the heartaches, the dreams by the disappointments. He had a better childhood baseball experience than I did, and I'm very grateful for that.

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