The Bookkeeper

I’m the bookkeeper for my son’s baseball team. It’s a job that suits me well… numbers guy, doesn’t really know a ton about baseball but can (try) to count balls and strikes. It’s also a job that gives me the privilege to hang out in the dugout the whole game with the boys and their coaches. You learn a lot about people by watching them come and go in the dugout, and it’s teaching me a lot about teamwork, leadership, coaching, fatherhood, sonship, and boyhood.

I get caught up in the games as much as any parent, I’m sure, but when you’re the guy holding the book that says “this is the kid that hits every time” and your entire infield suddenly has a case of the “my shoes are untied” right as the pitcher hurls a giant pitch, it gets a bit nerve-wracking… and that’s all before the play where it’s YOUR son who needs to make THE play to end THE inning to win THE game.

Pressure. It’s all over the place, and it’s amazing how differently different people handle it, from the kids, to the parents, to the coaches, to the parents, and to me, the guy with the book.

  • There’s the boy who’s there because he wants to play with his friends.
  • There’s the boy who’s there because his parents made him come out.
  • There’s the boy who’s there because he wants to make his dad proud.
  • There’s the boy who can never live up to his dad’s expectations but knows he has to try.
  • There’s the boy who just knows he’s “all that…” all-star material right there, baby.
  • There’s the boy who’s preparing to be a pro someday.
  • There’s the boy who has to be there because his dad’s the coach. Of course he wants to be there, but he also HAS to be there, and that makes it tough.
  • There’s the boy who’s constantly told “I know you’ve got more in you” even though he gives it his 110%, day in and day out.
  • There’s the boy who’s constantly told “I know you’ve got more in you” and still gives just 50%, because that’s the level he feels his team plays at.
  • There’s the boy who gets excited when he gets a foul tip.
  • There’s the boy who gets so excited about catching a fly ball that he forgets to throw it back to the infield.
  • There’s the boy who gets his first sliding steal and comes up beaming.
  • There’s the boy you strikes out… again, and drops his shoulders… again.
  • There’s the boy who strikes out… again, and throw his bat at the dugout fence in anger.
  • There’s the boy who strikes out… again, comes into the dugout, tells his coach what he did wrong, and says “I’ll get the next one.”
  • There’s the boy who dreams of pitching a no-hitter while he’s playing right field.
  • There’s the pitcher who dreams of video games while he’s throwing ball after ball.

These aren’t the boys on our team. Sure, I’m guessing any of those boys fall into these descriptions and more over and over and over again. These are more like some of the boys on any team, I imagine. When I watch the boys on our team lose, you can see the frustration, the hurt, the disappointment. When they win, or even when they just rally or have a good inning, you can see the excitement well back up in their eyes (even though I’ll hardly ever tell them the score).

As I sat on the bench next to a boy tonight, knowing he was frustrated with himself, not so much because of his performance itself but because of what his dad would think of his performance, I see some of where we get caught as dads. We want our sons to give it their all, to be all we know they can be, and even to excel in their sport. We really would be happy if they just gave it their best… we really would, but when game time shows up, what does that look like? Cheering one minute and stone cold looks the next? Yelling one minute followed by a “nice try” the next? It’s a hard thing, to raise a boy. To raise an athlete. To raise a son. To raise a man.

I have no nice easy answer. I feel I really don’t even know the question. I want my son to know I believe in him and will be there to both cheer him on and guide him as best I can, but I also want him to know that there are lines he shouldn’t cross – and others I won’t let him.

These are just some of my observations from behind the book, in the dugout, and on the bench next to a bunch of 9,10, and 11 year old boys doing far more than I was ever brave enough to do when I was their age. I’m proud to keep their book, glad to help them work on their grounders, and thrilled to be the first one to give them a high-five when they slide in the catcher and knock the ball out of his hand.

Two Hits and a Quit

My son’s first year of Minor League Baseball has just ended. Not the grownup minor leagues of course, the kid version, which is those two years of baseball in between years of coaches tossing you the best pitch they can and those “naturals” hurling 50mph balls down your throat once you reach “The Majors.” They wrapped up the season with a win before the tournament and a decent game in their first tournament game, but all is now done.

Watching my son and his friends play baseball is such an adventure. There’s the boys and their skills, some of which appear almost natural, others are trying their best and improving every day, and there’s always a couple who just don’t want to be there. Then there’s the parents, the coaches, and that guy who’s complaining because he got too much cheese with his pretzel.

This year has brought back memories for me. Deep seated memories that either changed something in me or that were part of a season of change in me as a child. I have few memories of of my days as a 8-10 year old, but playing one – and just one – year of Minor baseball is one of them.

This is that story. Or at least a bit of it.

Two Hits and a Quit

 

My family had just moved to Plainfield. I was in 4th grade, and had never really played organized sports before. But here I was, living in a nice neat neighborhood with a back yard and a neighbor with a big field to play in. Kids everywhere. Friends to play with from down the street or across town from church. And so I found myself signed up for baseball.

I don’t remember much about my team – other than we had purple jerseys, and that I think I was number 7. Why I have that memory, I don’t know, but I do. I remember not being good, being rather fearful of the ball, maybe, just maybe, making a catch in the outfield. Those memories are faded and mostly gone, though.

What I do remember, though, are two hits and a quit.

The first hit, the good one, was that triple I got one time. I have no idea if it was a triple courtesy of errors on the other team or if it was a legit triple where I knocked the ball out into the outfield and made some other poor kid chase it down. But I remember it.

The other hit, the not-so-good one, was the one that came flying at me from a monster of a pitcher (he had to be a pro), that smacked me upside the arm and left my teary eyed and wondering how I’d ever make it to first base. I remember (eventually) being somewhat proud of the fact that I could see the stitches of the baseball in the bruise.

Beyond those memories, though, I don’t remember much more. Other than that I never played baseball again. For some reason, I quit. Was it because I was too scared? Parents pushed me too hard? Coach didn’t push me enough? I hated the color purple? Who knows… but what I do know is that I never played again. I quit. Two hits and a quit. And that was it.

Fast forward 30 years, and here’s my son, taking his first hit on a pitch (from me in the back yard), hurt and angry at me, and these memories come flooding back. “Don’t push him too far,” I tell myself. “Push him harder,” myself tells I. “There’s no reason to cry.” “Come here, son, I love you.”

How these boys even have a chance to develop a love for the game is a wonder to me. Sometimes it seems like the most “natural” athletes are the ones walking to the dug-out, head hanging, after that rare strikeout, knowing they’ve let their parents down and that they’ll take a scolding for it later. And the most excited boy is that one standing in right field, playing in the grass, who just happened to stop a ball by tripping over a dirt clod and falling in front of it.

It’s amazing.

Colton Night Baseball MinorsWill my son play baseball for the rest of his childhood? I have no idea. Is he growing in it, getting better, and having fun? I believe so. But the thing is, it’s not up to me. This isn’t a childhood memory I’m going to erase or “get right this time.” This is my son’s life, and while I love being part of his making memories, that’s a daunting task as a father. Because I DO want to see him succeed, and I want to succeed as his dad, too… and often “my success” hinges on his, or so it seems. But that’s not how it should be.

What will my son’s memories of baseball be when he’s grown, married, and raising a kid of his own (if life goes that way)? Who knows. I hope they’re good. I hope they’re of doing his best, making friends, catching a fly ball and hearing the world erupt in cheers, and knowing that if he does his best, he’s already succeeded. Those moments may not live with him forever, but they’ll do their part in preparing him for real life.

What an adventure we’re on, parents. What an opportunity we have.

I love you son. I’m proud of you. I love watching you play the game, grow in confidence and strength, and when I hear that bat WHOOSH through the air as you swing it with all you’ve got, please know that You Have What It Takes.