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.