(Little League Baseball: A Love Story, Part 2)
Last Saturday was the end of Skywalker’s first full season of little league baseball. His cute little team struggled all season long, with lots of losses and a few scattered wins. At the beginning of the season, many of them weren’t sure how to hold the bat, when to run, or how to drop the bat when they did run – to keep from creaming the catcher or those brave, underpaid umpires behind the plate. Their batting helmets were so big, they looked for all the world like life-size bobblehead dolls as they scooted around the bases, while the team in the field launched balls over one another’s heads into space and the outfield. As a former therapist, I can attest that watching a little league team try to learn the fundamentals is worth at least a month of traditional therapy. Win or lose, it’s the best.
When the regular season ended and the post-season double elimination tournament started, our little guys lost the first game so badly that we thought for sure the season was over. Ten to one, beaten soundly by the team we’d tied for last place. One more loss and we’d be out. And I’ll be totally honest, we busy parents with other children and end-of-school year chaos were… a little relieved. We never stopped cheering our guys on (or coaching them from the bleachers, something I SWORE I would never do — I’m seriously becoming my father, God help us all). But there were murmurings in the stands about recitals and swim team and the end of year parties, and getting to bed on time for once or having something other than rushed fast food for dinner. They brought the participation trophies to the second game of the tournament, knowing there might not be another shot at it.
But then, in that swan song of a game, our little team CAUGHT FIRE.
They started winning. Skywalker and a couple of the other less naturally gifted players started connecting the bat with the ball and eeking out infield singles, to their immense joy and ours. The stronger players converted infield hits to solid outfield line drives. Where the ball had been falling between confused infielders a few weeks before, running catches were made; and sometimes kids knew when to tag the base and when to tag the runner. Skywalker even got the game ball once, a thrill I doubt he is likely to forget anytime soon.
It was fun to watch them doing well, of course; even more fun to watch them grow into little players. Kids threw their gloves dramatically on the ground when they made mistakes (causing more than one adult to stifle a giggle in the bleachers). They started coaching each other up rather than relying only on the parent coaches: one kid yelling “keep your eye on the ball and swing straight!” while the other nodded his solemn, dirt-streaked face from the batter’s box.
By the end of it, we — I mean, they — played from the bottom of the losers’ bracket all the way to the championship game, where they lost a hard fought match to the same team they’d beaten two days before. The participation trophy from the regular season was joined by a second place trophy, well earned.
More important than any trophy, Skywalker got to experience being part of a team: winning and losing together, relying on one another. For me, this is the most compelling thing about team-based activities for kids. Experiencing the shared fate of winning and losing together, navigating personalities and abilities that range all over the spectrum — these are skills kids don’t necessarily get in the classroom or at home. And they’re extremely valuable in real life. In this age of information, where communication with others is the lifeblood of many careers, team skills might be more important than ever. Unless you’re a
full-time novelist hermit, just about every vocation a person can pursue in adulthood requires being part of some kind of team. Hell, even hermit novelists must work with editors, publicists, designers, etc.
So, even though I’ll groan and roll my eyes when we get the next practice schedule (or the rehearsal schedule if it changes from baseball to drama or music) especially when we have two active kids to taxi around town, I hope I can always find a way to encourage my kids to be on a team in some way.
With that, here’s what I hope Skywalker has learned from baseball, and will take with him into the next season, or the next sport:
- Don’t compare yourself to others. There will always be players who are stronger or faster than others, but the team wins or loses together.
- Everyone misses a throw sometimes. Back up your buddies, and they will do the same for you.
- Be first one to start the cheering when a teammate does well, the last one to criticize when he doesn’t.
- Treat every trip to the batter’s box like a new opportunity. No matter how many times you strike out, the next pitch is always fresh start.
- Get dirty. Stained knees and elbows are badges earned by giving your all.
- Win or lose, enjoy your time on the field. Keep your head in the game, but don’t forget to enjoy the smell (and sometimes taste) of fresh dirt and grass.
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