We currently find ourselves deep in the midst of baseball season. We’re at the field all the time right now; sometimes until ten o’clock in the evening, sometimes six days a week. Between practices and games and practicing in the yard and occasionally catching a game on TV, it feels like we live and breathe baseball.
The boys like the game, enjoy the late nights at the field. They enjoy watching each other play or tossing the ball behind the dugout with their friends, grabbing slushies, shoving too many sunflower seeds into their mouths, and spitting in the dirt. We see people we only see every now and then or only during baseball seasons. We strike up conversations.
I’ve watched both boys grow into their respective leagues—coach pitch and first year minor league—since the first, very cold practice of the season back in March. I’ve seen them process what to do with a play; sometimes they make the right choice and sometimes they make a mistake. I’ve cheered for them as they beat a hitting slump, rewarded with an epic slide across home plate. I’ve helped them in the yard, pitching wiffle balls and throwing the baseball back and forth. I’ve told stories of my own ball playing days gone by and wondered how I—me—ever found the nerve to step into the batter’s box time and time again all those years ago.
But what I’ve been taking note of more than their improved skills on the field is how they interact with others and how others interact with them.
This week’s games (thus far) brought all that thought to the forefront. Between the two boys’ games, I’ve witnessed a number of interactions which buoyed my faith in children and parents—and a number which made me cringe. I feel thankful each boy plays for coaches who care about their players; I wish I could say the same for all the teams, but it only makes me all the more thankful for our coaches. But beyond the argument of whether or not and how coaches should yell, the interactions most catching my attention are the ones between teammates.
It’s easy to jump right into the negative ones, as with most of life. I’ve heard them call each other awful names, berate each other for mistakes, and blame losses on individuals. They’ve made fun of those with less skill and made impermeable cliques. They’ve pushed and hit and laughed at the fallout.
But more than these things, I’ve also witnessed kids pull together and cheer for those struggling at bat. I’ve heard them lift each other up after a botched play or a strike out. I’ve listened as they defended another player. I’ve watched as an arm was thrown around the shoulders of a player feeling defeated.
Both of my sons have fallen in both categories this year, and you can bet every time they responded negatively to their teammates, their father and I have discussed it with them after the game. Poor sportsmanship does not fly in our home, and quite honestly, it doesn’t matter if another teammate started it first. No, that’s not how we play ball. That’s not who we are, who we want them to be.
Last night, I watched my oldest son get back in the batting box after a ball hit his hands and a contested call as to whether he fully swung or not. While another child made fun of my son for crying, another praised him for having the gumption to get back in the batter’s box after such a hard hit. I got him some ice afterward and told him he should feel proud of himself; I know I felt a pride so big it nearly exploded.
I care less about their batting average and RBIs and more about the way they behave when they’re sitting in the dugout. I care less about if they can properly pitch a ball and more about the way they speak to their teammates and coaches. I care less about what another child thinks about a few shed tears and more about an attitude of perseverance and a determination to keep on keeping on—even when it hurts.
Someday, if the stars align and the fates have it and either boy plays a professional sport of any kind, I want journalists to take note of the way my sons present themselves, the way they treat others, and how they see the bigger picture. I want the articles to center not just on accomplishments but on the way they never give up, the way they keep showing up at the game, at the field, at the plate despite challenges and setbacks. That’s the stuff of a true champion.
Baseball is great. Soccer is awesome. We’ve got no talent as a family for basketball, but it’s cool too. But I understand the benefit of these team sports is more than hand eye coordination or the potential for college scholarships. Learning to be a team player instead of a showboat, understanding personal responsibility to practice and do your best, and respecting both those in charge and those with whom you play: These are the lessons I want my boys to take away from our summer days at the ball field.