Sunday, May 23, 2004

What is it with baseball Parents?

Before I write anything else, just know that I do love kids baseball. Really, it's a lot of fun for both the kids and the adults, well maybe just for the kids, or maybe just not at all...

Seriously, just what is it about baseball parents that seems to bring out the worst in everyone? Perhaps it is the game. Lots of rules combined with high tension are likely contributors for sure. The length of the game, various positions and their status, coaches...and, let's not forget the umpire. With all these plot elements present, maybe the whole thing is a bit like the bread falling butter side down when dropped thing. (Yes, somebody did analyze that and concluded that we are screwed from the get go.)

My kids have tried a number of sports. None of them has been as mentally draining as baseball has. Soccer, football and wrestling all have their moments that pale in comparison to what you typically see near the end of a long baseball season.

So, why bother?

First and foremost, it is all for the kids. They come to play because they love the game. Are you a coach, team parent, vicarious father or mother? Please remember that. I know, I forget too.

It is also for the parents as well. In this modern age of television, movies, video games, music, computers and such, we often forget what real entertainment is about. Think back to an age before licenses, tickets, glowing tubes and wonder at the simple, often profound, pleasure shared experiences can bring. Here is one of mine that speaks to the very best of baseball, my misgivings aside:

It's a wide open park, surrounded by dogwood trees in full bloom. Four recently worn baseball diamonds rest back to back, all empty, but for one. Anyone walking the park late in the day would hear the excited voices easily from far away, cheering words of encouragement to the one at bat. The rest of the park is quiet. Most of the cars are gone.

Down a few runs at the top of the last inning, first place still within their grasp, a struggling team begins to bond. Not one of the kids is sitting at the bench. Hands on the fence, eager faces toward the batter, all doing what they can to keep the momentum building.

I was helping coach that year. Kids were kind of down after a long weekend of baseball, but they still wanted to play. Earlier, things were quiet. Quiet enough you could hear the rustle of the Dogwood trees being tickled by the light wind. Now, everyone knew, win or lose, both teams had plenty to celebrate, but our team had not yet won a weekend tournament.

Somebody said it, "This game will go to the team that wants it the most." Even though the game got off to a rough start for us, the kids powered through with emotion and support throughout. On that day, we all were a team. Nobody talked about rules or calls. Nobody was angry. Nobody wanted to lose, and we didn't actually. That game came down to a final hit and runs scored to win right at the end, as so many games seem to do.

I believe we won on that day, not because some part of the game was in our favor, or because our kids were better than theirs (they were pretty well matched), but because we all really wanted to win. Few games have moved me the way that one did. My mind was filled with the emotion of the day, as we walked up the gentle hill to our cars. I could see it all as if I were watching from afar. Light beginning to fail, cool breeze pushing the dogwood blossoms across the field, and the voices cheering. We literally shouted them home that day, not in a bad way mind you, but in the very best way.

The image in my mind will linger for a long while yet before it really begins to fade. Why can't we all work hard at building more of those experiences? That was better than even the best hollywood can provide! Isn't that worth working for? Seems we all benefit when it happens, so why all the hassles huh?


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