I’ve become something I never imagined I would be… a Baseball Mom.
And I love it.
I love going to the baseball fields and watching the dirt fly from little cleats on a hot summer day. There is something magical that happens when you hear the crack of the bat or the smack of the ball in a mitt. And it’s a thing of sheer beauty when you watch your son slide with everything he has into Home Plate, and you see the smile on his face that refuses to go away. If you’re lucky, you get to go to every game with parents who love getting to be there just as much as you do. You become an unspoken community, cheering on each other’s kids with just as much heart, as you celebrate the wins and lament the losses. I’ve loved watching my boys grow as athletes.
To one of my boys it just comes naturally, to the other he has to work at it, each approaching their sport from very different perspectives.
The one who is natural is an emotional thinker, who approaches his game with passion and heart. His love for the game is deep, often compelling him to practice just for fun, without anyone telling him. The other child, approaches every at bat with a huge smile on his face, fearing nothing. He tells anyone who will listen that he is going to be baseball player when he grows up. He doesn’t realize that he is one now. When his bat connects with the ball, he runs the bases with such contagious joy that his fans smile with him as he takes his base with pride.
I love watching my boys grow in their skill as well as the way they connect with their teammates. I adore their love of the game, and now I also love the game, even when they’re not in it.
We’ve been fortunate to have wonderful families who parent the boys, on our teams, as well as the coaches (including my husband) who have led them with fairness, kindness and toughness. The reality of it is, that isn’t always the case in any kid’s sport. We hear it, we witness it, and we experience it as we send out boys into the world to compete against others who are far less fair or kind.
My oldest plays travel ball with a great group of kids in a competitive and selective league, which he had to try out for. During one of our most recent games, our kids were getting killed by a bigger and far more aggressive team. Despite our struggling performance, our kids did pull out moments of brilliance, which our parents loudly celebrated. When one of our boys made an amazing hit and was running toward first base, my husband who was the first base coach at the time heard their first baseman say “Why are those parents cheering? We’re killing them!” My husband responded, ” They’re cheering because they are proud of their kids!” This other team, despite their very high score and our very low one, continued to steal bases, chant for reasons other than “rallying”, and run on our kids all the while driving their score up and our kids further into the dirt. (Parents of children athletes understand what I’m referring to here.)
I suppose one could take the above paragraph as whining, which certainly depends on perspective. But while I want my kids to win, I want so much more for them. Learning how to steal bases, take advantage of their situation, and taunt people aren’t necessarily lessons I want them to learn. It doesn’t teach them how to win or even understand what winning is about. I want my boys to have the will to win, but I don’t want them to win at the expense of others and their dignity or spirit. I sound like a girl, I know. But as I watch our coaches, they handle the boys with discipline but also with integrity. More importantly, they expect the same from them. They are taught accountability and sportsmanship, teamwork and grace. All of which will carry them through life and be far more valuable than the lessons we’ve seen other coaches teach their boys.
It’s highly unlikely that many of these boys we compete against, or even on our team, will make it to play college or professional baseball. Teaching boys to slide with their cleats out for 9U, or condoning and encouraging narcissistic chanting, is completely wasteful of the opportunity to shape young minds to win with heart and integrity. Parents and Coaches who propel and influence their children in this way, should look in the mirror and question their own motivation and purpose.
It’s not that I don’t want my boys to win. Of course we play to win! Winning is fun and it gives you a feeling of purpose and happiness that’s impossible to replicate. It’s why we have Play offs, the World Series, trophies, and MVPs. But the will to win comes from within, and winning tastes more divine when it’s done with excellence and sportsmanship. I’m no different than any parent who dreams of their sons playing professional sports one day. But I’m also realistic and understand that they just may not have what it takes. Regardless of where their path may take them, I do believe the lessons they learn in youth baseball will be imprinted on them for life.
The coaches who teach them to respect the other team, look out for their teammates, play fair, and not take advantage of others weaknesses, are instilling crucial values that will make them better men, husbands, and father’s. And for this, I am far more thankful.