When my 7-year-ol d son, N, told me he wanted to play baseball again, I was a bit apprehensive. Last year, I was the assistant coach for his team and I caused a rift in our relationship by being too hard on him. N struggled with hitting and fielding and I allowed my frustration with his on-field performance to bring him to tears at one point.
“Are you sure you don’t want to play football?” I asked.
“I did,” he said. “But all of my friends are playing baseball and I want to play with them.”
N is very social and hanging out with his friends is important to him. I knew there was no way that I was going to change his mind. Therefore, I promised that I would do things differently this year.
In the first two games, N struck out every time he batted and continued to struggle with his fielding. I must admit that it was difficult to watch him struggle while his friends played well. While he kept a good attitude about it, he let me know that he was disappointed at his performance.
“I keep striking out,” he said with is head hung low.
“Are you still having fun?” I asked as I lifted his chin with my index finger.
“Yes,” he replied.
“That’s all that really matters,” I said. “But if you want to get better you have to keep practicing.”
“I know,” he said. And that’s exactly what we did. When I was in town (I travel a lot for work), N and I worked on his skills in the back yard. I gave him some advice on his technique, but I mainly tried to make our practice sessions fun father/son bonding moments.
My gentler approached seemed to boost N’s confidence. By the third game, he started making plays and finally hit the ball. He ran to first base and I gave him a thumbs-up. He played catcher most of the game and didn’t really get a chance to make any plays, but I could tell that his throwing had improved as he delivered the ball to the pitcher.
N and I continued to work on his game. In addition, the coach’s father, an avid baseball fan and has coached little league teams for decades, spent some extra time with N helping him to improve his batting. By the last game of the season, everything came together.
On his first at-bat N hit a single and eventually scored. One thing about N is that he is fast. If he gets on base, he is always a scoring threat. He was thrown out on his second at-bat. His shining moment came when he stepped to the plate for the last time of the season. I gave him a quick pep talk and sent him to face the pitcher. The pitcher threw a high fastball. N swung and missed.
“That’s okay,” I said. “Just wait for your pitch.”
He regained his composure and raised his bat again. The pitcher delivered a ball right across the plate and N nailed it right over second baseman’s head. N took off around the bases as the outfielders struggled to make a play. He had made it to second base by the time the fielders secured the ball.
“Keep running,” yelled the coach. “Don’t stop.”
N turned on his afterburners and made it safely to home plate. The crowd cheered and N gave his teammates a round of high-fives. After all of the accolades from his friends, he leaped into my arms and gave me a huge hug.
“I got a home run, Daddy!” he exclaimed.
“Great job, son,” I said. “I’m so proud of you. All of the hard work paid off didn’t it?”
“Yep,” he said. “Thank you, Daddy.”
I gave him a big squeeze and kissed him on the cheek. This was the best baseball season ever.
Photo by Ryan Wilson