Although there are many reasons why I have no love for America’s past time, I can trace the root of my disdain to an event that occurred on an elementary school playground.
When I was a kid, we played baseball in the streets our our neighbor. On defense, we used our bare hands to field the ball while trying to avoid traffic, parked cars, and pedestrians. On offense, we used a old bat and a tattered tennis ball. Our rules were simple: Hit the ball, run 50 yards to the sole “base” and then run back home to score; Three out, switch sides.
While I was an excellent defensive player, my batting was worse than an American League pitcher’s. Having excelled in many other areas, my poor batting skills troubled me. I’ve always been one of those overachievers who desired to be the best. But every time I stepped to the plate, my failures mounted.
I remember a game of baseball that we played during P.E. when I was in fourth grade. The coach allowed two kids to pick teams. Of course, I was one of the last kids picked but I put on my game face and was determined to make them regret passing me over. I played second base and hustled to field every ball that came within a 20’ radius.
I received many accolades from my coach and teammates. Unfortunately, the praise ended when it was my turn to bat.
I stood at the plate and nervously watched the pitcher wind-up.
“STRIKE ONE!” yelled the coach. The pitch zipped right past me without my even swinging at it.
On the next pitch, I swung with all of my might.
“STRIKE TWO!” yelled the coach. I could hear my teammates’ jeers and insults in the background. I tried to ignore them as I prepared for the next pitch, but their taunts rattled me.
“STRIKE THREE!” yelled the coach as I swung and missed again. I fell to my knees and bawled uncontrollably. I was frustrated, embarrassed, and disappointed in my lack of success at the plate.
Although I’ve played baseball and softball many times since that episode, the image of that fragile little boy still sneaks into my memory every time I pick up a bat.
It is within this context, that God has made me responsible for teaching a team of budding 6-year old players to love the game of baseball.
I was drafted as an assistant coach for my son’s team because of my previous coaching experience in our Upwards Sports League. I always coached basketball and football because they were sports that I played well and fully understood. Coaching baseball never appealed to me.
I tried to make excuses as to why I couldn’t help to coach the baseball team, but I knew that the kids, especially my son, needed me.
If it were entirely up to me, N, would have played another sport. However, my wife, KayEm, is a huge baseball fan. She and her father spent many summers watching their beloved St. Louis Cardinals. She can speak ad nauseum about double switches, batting averages, and the in-field fly rule. Having her son play baseball was a dream come true.
Having to relive my baseball failures was more of a nightmare for me. During our first game, N struck out three times. I was disappointed by his performance at the plate, but N took it all in stride.
When I asked him what his favorite part of the game was, he said, “I liked batting the most.”
Even though he didn’t get a hit, he enjoyed the experience of swinging at balls that his Daddy pitched to him. That’s when I realized that my petty baseball insecurities no longer mattered. All that really mattered was sharing special moments with my son.