Growing up, I was an average athlete on my best day, but I played both baseball and football for about ten years. I loved practicing just as much as I did playing the games. I had good games and bad games. My parents cut an article out of the Wetumpka Herald in 1984 about a game where I gave up only three hits in a game. That was an exception to the rule. Most games I played in were pretty forgettable. I never had the chance to be on a team that someone would refer to as a good team. The team that I played for when I threw the three-hitter won eleven games in three years. We didn’t even win one season’s worth of games over the course of three seasons but boy, did I have fun!
Never once, ever, do I ever remember either of my parents, particularly my dad, saying anything hurtful or even remotely mean to me either before, during, or after a game. Actually, there was the time when my coach moved me from shortstop to first base just before the first pitch of one game. I didn’t care for the move and was taking my time walking across the field until I heard my father’s booming voice yell, “YOU BETTER RUN, BOY!” I ran. Sprinted, really. I also prayed that he’d forget about it by the end of the game. Other than that he always accentuated whatever positives there may have been and then corrected compassionately wherever correction was warranted. He recognized that I didn’t make the mistakes and errors on purpose. He knew I wanted to do well and that it bothered me when I made mistakes. Therefore, there was no reason for him to make me feel worse by criticizing me or being angry. He realized that what I was playing, whether baseball, football, tennis, or any other sport I ventured into, was a game. I had such a positive experience growing up playing sports that I continued to play whatever I could well into adulthood. I broke my elbow during a church softball game about eight years ago which brought my athletic career to a screeching, painful halt(for those of you who were there on that fateful night and would make fun of me…I scored on the play and you guys ended up winning by one run so, NYAH).
I wonder how many kids who participate in organized youth sports today will be able to look back on their experience fondly. I hear too many stories of overzealous dads and coaches who push too hard and expect virtual perfection from children who aren’t even ten years old in many cases. I personally know of an instance when an eight year old boy who didn’t hit well in the cage before a game, not even during the game, whose father took him into the restroom and spanked him. Don’t you know that kid just can’t wait for game time?!? I’ll bet he LOVES baseball! Playing hard is a good thing. Competition is a good thing. Winning is a good thing and certainly makes an already fun game even more fun. However, those who coach the younger kids and teach them that winning is the most important thing are missing some wonderful opportunities to instill sportsmanship, patience, and perseverance among other character traits. Before someone calls me some sort of bleeding heart who thinks dodgeball should be banned from playgrounds all over the country, don’t. I love competition and I love winning. Just ask my older sisters. They’ll tell you that I don’t take losing well or lightly and I never have. In fact, I never will.
The difference now is that I have children of my own. I see that society doesn’t value a child’s innocence the way it once did and it seems that this world tries to rob them of that innocence at a younger age with each passing year. I don’t think that’s a good thing. As they get into junior high and high school then the rules change. Games mean more and so does winning those games. College scholarships and maybe even more await a select few. I’m okay with that. But those are older kids who are learning a different set of lessons.
I guess I said all that to say this: Let them play for the fun of the game while they still can. Sooner than most of us want, they’ll grow up and be thrust into a world that will heap upon them the problems, worries, and pressures of adulthood. They won’t be kids forever. Let them enjoy the wonders of life while they still can. That includes baseball.