This time of year, my living room’s extra messy.
There are bats standing up against the wall and gloves on the toy shelf. If you walk without looking on the floor, you might trip over a ball or a cleat. But it doesn’t drive me nuts like when Legos or Polly Pockets are strewn everywhere. I actually kind of love it.
Because it means the season is starting.
I’ve been seeing articles criticizing competitive sports because they ruin family time and discourage kids. I agree that in some cases there are families who never see each other because the kids are on traveling teams, and maybe there is too much pressure when the competition gets fierce in older years. But I have to say that the time of year that my family is the closest – and my kids are the happiest – is now.
These are all the reasons I love baseball.
We always have something to talk about. I have an 11-year-old, Isaac, who teeters between being a little kid and an “I’m too cool for that” teenager. Some days he chooses to stay in his room and scroll through Instagram on his iPod, but if we ask him about a play he made in the game, his eyes light up and he will talk to us forever.
Listen to our breakfast conversation before the weekend rush begins, and you’ll hear Alex, 9, telling us how far he plans to hit the ball that day. He wonders what position he’ll play, and if he’ll get a chance to use his new first baseman’s glove.
We talk in the car on the way to games. And afterward, while we may not have a family style dinner gathered around the dining room table, we stop somewhere to eat. Wherever we are – over burgers or tacos or ice cream – we celebrate their accomplishments together.
Last Saturday, it was a pretty chilly morning. But as soon as Alex woke up, he got dressed and put his coat on and went out in the backyard to hit wiffle balls before his first game. He throws them up in the air and challenges himself to hit them farther each time. He’d rather be doing that than playing video games or watching cartoons.
Having practices and games keeps my boys moving for months. They still get lots of time to lay around and WATCH the MLB channel, but baseball certainly prevents them from being lazy.
When either of my sons looks out from the field, they see people there for them. Parents, siblings, grandparents – and we are not fair-weather fans. They can feel that whatever accomplishments they make – or setbacks they have – we will always keep coming back.
When they talk about becoming professional baseball players, we nod our heads and smile. Yes, the chances of it actually happening are slim to none, but it keeps them dreaming. I once interviewed Lynn Freese, David Freese’s mom, about what it was like to have a boy who just wanted to play baseball when he grew up. Her only answer was that she told him to “Go for it,” because how was she supposed to know he couldn’t? The last person I want to be is the one to squelch their excitement. I will be a supportive parent, and so will their dad, whether their dream becomes a reality or not.
And even though they sometimes complain that they don’t want to go to each other’s game, we talk to them about supporting each other. “He came to yours, and you’ll go to his,” we say. Their little sister just goes for the slushies now, but she’s learning about support as well. She sees all the other siblings that are there too, and knows that this sports thing is a family affair. The boys have already been told that when she gets into activities, they’ll be going to hers too.
Maybe none of them gets it right now, but as they grow up, they’ll figure out that being there for each other in all facets of life is just as important.
When Isaac was eight, he had a pretty rough summer of baseball. A coach at the time yelled and belittled the boys, telling them they played like two-year-old girls when they made mistakes. Not surprisingly, my timid, eager-to-please son didn’t get a hit the entire season. He would leave the field with his head hung, saying he was just no good. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t want to play again, but we signed him up the next year anyway.
Luckily, the right coaches stepped up and offered much more encouragement to the kids. When his team made mistakes, the coaches gave them ways to improve rather than simply tearing them down for the sake of their own egos. Isaac started hitting the ball and finally got to start pitching, which is what he always wanted to do. Now, there’s nothing he loves more.
We as parents know that the boys are going to mess up. They won’t win every game, and they won’t hit every time they’re up to bat. But baseball is one of the sports where they know there will always be another chance to get it right. We encourage them to try again and again, and tell them that keeping their heads down won’t help.
My boys share a room and sleep in bunk beds. They are forced to be together a lot of times that they don’t want to be. They argue and annoy one another to no end. But give them each a glove and send them outside, and they become best friends. It’s the one thing, even at two years apart, that they have in common.
Many days after school, they head straight outside to play catch or have some kind of World Series game. They make up team names and pick which MLB players they’ll each have. They call out “Man on first!” and head back to the plate to hit again, over and over. There are spots worn out in our grass where the pitcher and batter stand, but we don’t mind. They’re making memories that will last a lifetime.
At 11 and 9, it would freak the boys out if I stood in front of them in the kitchen and stared at them. But when they’re on the field, I can look at them for as long as I want to and marvel at how much they’ve grown and how proud they make me.
These boys are not always going to get what they want (despite all the times I give in to them). They’ll fail tests in school. They may not make the team some day. They won’t land every job they apply for.
Losing games will help them to know how to deal with those feelings. Yes, not winning feels bad, but it’s not the end of the world. If they want something – anything – badly enough, they have to make the changes required to get it.
There’s going to come a day that someone steals their hearts. They’ll put their gloves and bats away and start spending time doing something with someone whom they feel is more important. And chances are good that I may not be too happy when that happens.
But for now, this love, their FIRST love, is one that has my complete approval.
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