Why I Love the Game…


Baseball.  I love baseball. I could easily have the Ken Burns documentary on the subject as the soundtrack to my life for long periods.  I don’t watch a lot of it on TV necessarily (I don’t watch a lot of anything, which is how I KNOW I have lots of young children),  but I love the experience of baseball.  It’s spring. It’s childhood. It’s Bull Durham. It’s Field of Dreams and a League of Their Own. Mostly, it’s my father and the last time I remember my own childhood feeling safe and without crises.

Baseball has carried on for me a lost history as I watch my oldest son use the old little league mitt my brother used. Now he too is wrapped up in all my memories of my father, who loved baseball and basketball like it was air and painstakingly showing my brother how to break that mitt in, which was an exotic mystery to me involving mink oil and a ball being rubberbanded into it and then being placed under his mattress.  They are both long gone from me now, but my oldest son’s use of this mitt carries them onward through the history of the game.

Having children has brought me all new things to love about baseball.  Like T-Ball, which is a chaotic and hilarious game played by tiny athletes who demonstrate a cartoonish skill and are  ushered around the field by men who demonstrate the extreme patience of people who could herd cats. But mostly, it has brought me Coaches.

The Coaches rock my world.  They have been a boon to me and my children in ways I could not have predicted.  They have stood in for me when I needed the boys to have a man. Lectured them on homework and responsibility, taught them sportsmanship and how to stick with something that needed work, how to take take correction and think on their feet. They have taught them lessons from the Guy Handbook and how to be part team. And I have enjoyed watching every second of it.

When my first sons were born, there were many things that I knew they would need that I wasn’t sure I could find ways to provide.  I didn’t know when they were babies that these men would be my avenue to exposing them to the kind of character I wanted for them. Now, I get to watch these men being men in the best way possible. Being engaged leaders and mentors. They willingly spend their time instructing, teaching, encouraging and being role models in the most fundamental sense of those words.  And by doing so, they hand down the secrets of the Guy Rule Book.  These are men who understand at the heart of it all that children don’t just grow up by accidentally and they respond to this understanding with active intention. They are leaders by nature, positive and proactive, and my boys learn from this that being a man is about engagement.

I have seen this spirit of mentoring be absorbed down into my boys as they begin to take the first steps into the knowledge of themselves as young men. I hear them emulate the words and phrases of encouragement that they were given towards the younger boys in their home and this has been particularly valuable to me since our boys live across 2 separate families. It has built bridges across one of the most painful and hated divides that exists in our home. The one that echos with the phrase “half-brother”. They have watched their coaches put their younger, special needs brother into the rotation at the practices and their team mates root for him to do well, and this year they have had the chance to attend his games and give back.  To cheer for him in return, as he has done for them over these past few years.  And all this had shown them better how to be the kind of young men and older brothers they will need to be during their lives together.

So, on this journey, I am Moses – destined to chart the course, but never to see the promised land of manhood. And that’s why God made Coaches Virginia…

I see great things in baseball…It’s our game–the American game… It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us….”
~ Walt Whitman (as quoted in Bull Durham)



One More Chance…


The Giants won the Series and for most of the rest of the country, baseball ended in the cool air of Fall. But for us, there is one last battle to be fought.  One last game.

About a week and a half ago, The Kid, my 7 year old baseball rookie, got hit by a ball as hard as I’ve ever seen any of my kids hit.  Turned away and took it in the back like he was supposed to, but it dropped him to the ground as both benches of parents gasped, winced and held their breath, and I did one of the harder things the mother of a child playing sports does. I sat in the stands and let someone else triage my child’s injuries.  And then, since that night, I’ve had to do something even harder. Push him uphill past his fear.

In the way of life’s ironies, the child most terrified of getting hit got hit the hardest.  And now my job is to do my level best to not let him be turned away from something he loves because of terror.

He’s had one game since then, been at the plate twice. It was not pretty.  Picture in your head any of the Warner Bros. cartoon characters at the plate while a squadron of B-52’s overhead rained down rockets and bombs and that was my boy at bat.  In between at bats I spent moments separated from my child by a wall of breeze blocks, our hands squeezed through the gap between the dugout and the fence, fingers touching, while he fought back tears and whispered  “Mom, I’m so scared.”  ohmygodohmygodohmygod went my heart, but from my mouth came the needed words, “You can do this. Don’t quit. Just stay in there and give yourself a chance.”  This is not what I want to do. I want to take him in my arms and leave the field immediately…but I don’t.

We’ve got one more game. If I can get him to the plate, two more at bats to confront the fears he has whispered to me all week and try to win back a small measure of confidence.  And my heart will ache as I keep turning him towards the plate and yelling  “Stay in there. Don’t back out.”  He may or may not in the end be a baseball player, despite his current love for the game, but that won’t be the important part. What matters is not quitting because of fear.



Teams and Opportunities


My boy is more than his autism. He is an opportunity. I have learned from watching how other people come to him that he is an opportunity to stretch their comfort zone when it comes to behavior they expect.

There is at least one boy on the team who doesn’t like him. He finds some of his mannerisms annoying and abrupt. I watch, and largely let the coaches deal with it and  I try to tamp down my visceral dislike for anyone being mean to one of my kids and think of how they could both come out of their interaction together improved. Because I’m positive that this won’t be the last time we see this.

At the heart of it, my boy is an opportunity for real leadership. It’s all about team and how you lift each other up. Leadership is how you come to the least qualified at times and hold out your hand to bring them to the next level. Leadership is useless if the playing field is level. And it never is, that’s why we get to cheer.



Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell


I did something this year that rests uncomfortably.  I withheld information about one of my kids.  My 7 year old is high functioning autistic, and this year he began to mainstream into the general education population…and into sports, which he loves.  And I was faced with the dilemma of how to present him to the world at large, having lost the safety of his insulated, special ed world.

He’s never played organized sports before this year, and after a summer round of T-ball, he was chomping at the bit to play some more. His two older brothers play in different leagues almost year round and Fall Ball, I was told was a good time to be brand new at it.  So I signed him up, with every intention of mentioning quietly to his coach that he has some special needs, and we weren’t sure how they would present themselves in this kind of setting (if at all.)

And yet, somehow, the first practice came and went…with my silence. I would write him an email, I reasoned. Let him get to know the child first. That way he wouldn’t be prejudiced by any preconceived ideas about a special needs child.

That first practice seemed to go really well, and I found my jaw still strangely locked shut. He played the first game and his skill level was on par with a couple of the other boys who had never played much before. Maybe I’ll just let him play I thought. Maybe I would only be labeling him for no reason.  Maybe he’ll surprise us all and show a talent for it.  He hadn’t been awful at T-Ball, who knew how this would go.  He seems a little quirky, but hey, some kids just have more personality than others.

Well, we’re halfway through the season now and I’m trapped by my own silence. If I mention it now, will I seem to have perpetrated a fraud on these coaches?  He hasn’t lit up the Little League baseball world with his extraordinary skills, despite obsessively watching it and talking about it 24 hours a day. I also imagine that some people have caught on to the fact that he’s just a little bit different than the other boys he plays with. Have there been discussions about it between the coaches or the other parents?  Have they caught on and think I’m in denial? Do they know and respect this as a deliberate choice not to differentiate him? Do they know and think I should have said something?

I am left questioning my own unplanned response. What was the origin of my silence here? Was it the germ of my own hope that he is so borderline that he will outgrow the autism someday? Was it my desire for him to have a normal experience like all the other boys? Was it my own refusal to accept that his experience will take him outside the most well-travelled pathways.

Another question is was I particularly influenced by the testosterone, the strongly male-dominated environment? Did I trust these men a little, or even a lot less to withhold judgement and to see his uniqueness in terms of opportunity for everyone rather than a weakness they would be uncomfortable around?

I guess it was all those things. I still don’t any better what the right decision was, and I don’t know what I will do in the future. I don’t know what decision other parents in this situation make.  It’s hard when the lines are blurred.

At the end, I have no road map for this. I only know I will face it again and again in the coming years. Do I define him or let him define himself. And if I do need to define his challenges, what will dictate that decision?

In the meantime,  I root for him every minute to develop enough skills to let him feel some sense of capability and play the game he loves…and I question the causes of my own silence.  And I hope I am making the kind of judgements he needs me to make. But mostly, I hope he gets to play ball…or do anything else that he loves his whole life.