His eyes are downcast as he kicks at the dirt on his way toward me from the dugout. His backpack stuffed with baseball gloves, bats, Big League Chew, and Gatorade hangs on his back but it isn’t the only reason for his slumped shoulders. He’s feeling the weight of defeat.
The score could’ve been 27-1 or 2-1. It doesn’t matter. It was a loss.
I’m dreading the car ride home.
Just then I hear a passerby say to him, “Don’t worry. It’s just a game.”
I cringe… Nope… Not in our house.
It’s not JUST a game. It’s his life.
Let me start by telling you, I’m a baseball mom.
You might be a hockey parent, a soccer parent, a dance parent, a pop warner parent… whatever you may be, if you’re the parent of an athlete, you know it’s more than a game. And while their games only take up a couple hours every week, every second on that field feels like their whole life. I’m not going to sit back and pretend that it’s just a game. Shrugging it off as a six-inning pastime is demeaning.
Of course it doesn’t take precedence over school, but I honestly believe that what he’s learning can be just as important. What happens on that ball field is character building.
Go ahead and tell me character doesn’t make the grade. Doesn’t get you a degree. Doesn’t earn you money. But I promise you, what he’s learning will get him just as far in life.
He’s learning how to take a loss. The wins will come, but losses are inevitable. And he’s learning to take them with grace. At the end of the game, he has to line up and face the victor with an outstretched hand as an offer of respect. They were the better team today. Tomorrow might be another story, but today he’s going to have to live with the L.
He’s learning to be a team player, that sometimes it’s necessary to put the personal aside to achieve a common goal. There will always be kids on his bench that he doesn’t mesh with, but they are teammates whether he likes it or not. That even if he makes the catch, someone else might not. On the flip side, he might go 0 and 4 while his teammates are knocking them in. Individual accomplishments are awesome, but when working on a team, they are just a mark in the book.
He’s learning to take direction outside of his parents. That there’s a voice other than ours, no matter how loud we get (uhhh… yeah, I can be that loudmouth) he has to listen to Coach over everyone else. And that while he might think he knows where he belongs on the field, Coach will place him where he sees fit. Somedays he’s going to ride the pine when he’s dying to get out there. It’s Coach’s job to know when it’s time for him to sit, and his job to prove when he should stand.
He’s learning that there is a greater authority than his own perception. That when he’s on the mound and Blue calls a ball when he’s sure it was a strike, he’s got to take it. That when he’s sliding into home and the catcher gets the tag down a millisecond after his heel hits the plate, if the ump calls him out, that run won’t go up. He could be right, he might be wrong, but in the end, it’s not his call.
He’s learning the importance of poise. Emotions often run high in these games. It’s easy to get lost in the stress, in the pressure. A shake of the head, a stomp of the foot, a slam of the helmet, won’t get him anywhere. Even when he feels the weight of the game pressing on his shoulders, he’s got to walk out with composure, chin up, and eyes focused on the next play.
He’s learning how to push himself beyond his perceived limits. That practice and discipline pay off. And while Coach can try to ingrain certain habits, in the end it’s up to him to take himself to that next level. He’ll come to learn that the best motivation is seeing results from the work he’s put in.
That’s why I don’t mind baseball being his life right now. It’s preparing him for the real world. Each of these lessons will carry over into adulthood.
No matter how many times he swings and misses and no matter how many balls make it over that fence, he’s learning to handle the game. And win or lose you bet your butt he’s still going to show up the next day and play his heart out because there’s one thing that drives us all. Passion. And if your kid feels as passionate about a sport the way my boy is with baseball, let him believe it’s life. Because really, it’s not much different.