On the morning of Saturday, April 2, 2022, my wife, the Commander Supreme, and I were in Summerfield, North Carolina. It was opening day for the Summerfield Little League.
Pretty North Carolina sunshine was out in its famous blue sky, but the unseasonably cool overnight temperatures were still lingering for our ten o’clock game.
Our grandson turns four this month. He is excited to be playing baseball for the first time. This morning, he is all decked out in his uniform, hat, and backpack that carried a bat and other necessary baseball stuff.
His team was playing a doubleheader today. The second game was scheduled for noon. Today, these youngsters would make Ernie Banks proud with his famous, “let’s play two,” quote.
Unfortunately, the first early morning game started late. Now, the whole schedule was behind.
We were watching what seemed like an endless game on the field where our grandson would be playing.
But gradually, the game ended, and the teams and their coaches lined up to shake hands before scurrying off the field for their post-game snack.
With assists from parents and coaches, our grandson’s team entered their dugout.
I have lots of admiration for volunteer coaches. This assignment is not for the faint of heart.
A volunteer coach must be able to wear multiple hats. Those hats require skills in time management, organization, delegating, communicating, patience, listening, and yes, it helps if the coach knows a tiny bit about baseball.
Additionally, a coach who has a degree in psychology might have an advantage over other coaches in working with players and their parents who present all kinds of personality challenges.
There were no warmups, one team took the field, and the other team batted.
Batting order was based on a player’s uniform number. Our grandson’s jersey has a two on the back. So, he was batting first. In the field, his coach had assigned him to play first base.
One of the coaches pitched four, slow overhand pitches to each batter on his team. If the batter failed to connect and hit one of those pitches, the batting tee was put into play.
I loved watching the hitters swing. Some swung early, some late. Once in awhile there was contact. Often, those hits dribbled off into foul territory.
At times, swinging at the ball on the tee was just as frustrating. That was largely due to how the batter’s feet and body were distanced from the tee.
When there was a hit, the words “go or run” was shouted out from the coaches and spectators.
With runners on base, rarely was a base runner tossed out when a ball was fielded.
Instead of throwing a ball to the base where a player was advancing, sometimes the fielder would run the ball to the base. In this case, fast feet were more accurate than an imprecise young arm throwing a ball in the direction of a daydreaming teammate.
Our grandson did pretty well at first base. He was able to stop most of the balls that came his way. Even though he did not pitch, he was a bit unsure of himself when he was moved to the pitcher’s spot. In that space, he basically was positioned behind the coach who was pitching to the batters.
But not all of the players on the team were doing well.
One player had not made it out on to the field. Unfortunately, this player and his father were in a struggle with each other. For whatever reason, the son had no interest in being on the field with his teammates.
It was quite clear that the son and the father were not happy with each other. I could tell that the father was upset, but he was doing a pretty good job of containing himself.
At one point, they packed everything up, and along with two siblings left the grounds. A short while later they reappeared, and the father and son entered the dugout. But, there was no more cooperation generated from the son, so they departed again.
Another father became agitated with his son’s lack of interest on the field. The father removed him from the game. There was quite a conversation between the husband and his wife. The husband was also displeased with how the team was faring on the field. I heard him say out loud, “they look awful.”
I thought to myself, “Nope, the awful is how you are handling this first game of the season.”
I was and still am an imperfect parent.
But, I learned from all of my years working in schools that being a parent is tough work.
Parenting in public is even more challenging because the eyes of the spectators are upon you too.
Playing little league baseball isn’t inexpensive. I would assume frustrated parents are thinking—“We paid all of this money for you to play, so by golly you are going to play.”
Parents want their children to find success whether it is on a baseball field or learning to play a musical instrument.
No matter if it is the pursuit of a sport or learning to play an instrument, parents will invest money, time, and support into their child. Despite this effort, sometimes the outcome isn’t successful.
And there is another significant piece—patience. A parent must have the capacity to be patient no matter how fragile the journey might be for the child and the parent. Parental patience is very difficult in our overly impatient world.
Coming to grips with patience also requires a parent to be reflective by recalling and asking—how did I respond when my parents pushed me to pursue sports or other activities?
Along with the patience, there is another essential skill—listening.
What is a child really saying to a parent when he/she refuses to participate? Trying to listen in the chaos of an uncooperative moment just adds another layer of stress and pressure on the child and the parent.
Later in May, we are scheduled to return to Summerfield. It will be interesting to see if the team has progressed from the opening day.
As the Commander Supreme was strolling around the grounds waiting for the game to start, she came upon a sign posted by the Summerfield Recreation Association. The sign’s gentle reminders are very appropriate.
These are kids. This is a game. Coaches are volunteers. Umpires are human. This isn’t the majors.
I love those words.
I love the honest truth in each statement.
And I know the challenge—keeping that wisdom in front of me before, during, and after the game.
But, if we really love our children and grandchildren, living those words should not be a challenge.