Growing up, I knew nothing about baseball. I was an athlete but a ball, bat, and glove were not in my bag. My husband, who had tried most sports as a child and teen, never learned “two out rally” and “drop third strike.” Then when our third child was 11 years old, his best friend’s father had pancreatic cancer and our son wanted to play baseball to spend more time with his friend and his dad. So that is where baseball became an Ellis tradition. We spent a year sitting alongside the most humble, loving gentleman (who had been a great ball player himself) as we watched our sons play baseball- his son had played for years and our son was just starting. One season our boys were on different teams and Bobby would walk across the complex to see our son bat, adorned with a chemo bag after a long day of treatment. He showed my son integrity, sportsmanship, and commitment to a sport our son was slowly falling in love with. Suddenly we found ourselves at Tigers’ spring training games and I was trying to desperately to keep up with the rules, while Bobby coached me from the sidelines so I could say something that made sense to my boys after the game…..like “good pick on second.” By the end of that year, Bobby passed away and and left us with memories that were both precious and difficult. Baseball was never the same to us but our son kept playing and our youngest son began to play.
Every season we have prayed that our boys would be on teams that were sportsmanlike and showed integrity. We never asked God for a winning team…..just one that would teach them the life lessons they needed to learn. We knew our children were not destined for the MLB and we never wanted them to feel any pressure to play in high school or college because we knew that their decisions were theirs alone. Playing to please us was never going to be a part of their journey. We had our childhoods to play sports and now it was their turn. They could choose sports, music, etc. but they had to choose academics first because that is what would matter in the end.
So after 4 years and 12 seasons total for both boys combined (my third oldest son has since stopped playing baseball), I reflect back on what I have learned through this sport. I cannot pitch a ball or catch a pop fly but I have watched from the sides for many games and it has taught me a lot about life.
I have seen behavior from coaches and parents that I wish to forget. Yelling, tantrums, disrespect to umpires, and pure childlike behavior that I would never tolerate from my children, yet they have been exposed to it on the field from people who they should see as examples and authority figures. My heart grieves for these parents and their children because it is clearly a symptom of a bigger problem.
When our worlds become so small that Little League baseball begins to define us, we have big issues. BIG.
It is a game.
They are children.
They were not born for us to live through them nor are they here to make us look good.
They are on earth to fulfill what God has for them. I have been at games where my children shine and have been at ones where they failed to play well. I loved them the same on both days because sports do not define them. It is just a hobby and one they enjoy. The day they stop loving it will be the very last day they swing a bat or wear a glove. It is just that simple. We expect our children to give their best whatever they are doing, but that does not always mean great pitching, hitting, and catching. We are okay with that. Life is bigger than a baseball and tomorrow is a new day.
I have the greatest respect for parents and coaches who are getting it right…..encouraging the player who strikes out every time at bat, apologizing to the player who he sent and gets out at third, and is also honest when the team needs to improve- and all done with the kids knowing that their coach is FOR THEM no matter what. I don’t want a coach that allows laziness and sloppy baseball, but I do want a coach who acts like an adult and who leads children by example of character and integrity. I thank God that this season we have been blessed with a coach of outstanding morality and loving kindness. He taught my son the value of honesty and respect. We need people like that around our children…..ones who embody Christlikeness and basic human dignity.
So where does this leave me and my family? Thankful for umpires on the field doing the very best they can, league officials who sacrifice their time to come to games and monitor them so that there is back up for parents and coaches who are not getting it right, and coaches who want their teams to see baseball as part of a bigger picture of life- one that will shape them and make them men of their generation by learning to win well, lose well, and be an integral part of a team.
It also leaves me with a heart that hurts for those who have lost themselves and sold their souls to a bat, glove, and a ball. Life is so much bigger, richer, and more precious than anything we do as recreation.Nothing is more important than community and relationships and acting foolish destroys all of that. At the end of our lives, we will want to have loved people well, not wish we had won more baseball games.
I am a proud mom of a boy who spends waking hours perfecting his curve ball and hitting my wiffle ball pitches that are less than stellar. I am a proud mom of a team that lost their game well last night with all the sportsmanship that I could have asked for.
Baseball is the all- American sport…..do you think we can get back to the game it was created to be? In the end, we would drive away from the fields knowing we had lived well and loved others. If that became the way of life, our kids would flourish and community would be built on the field and on the sidelines.