Do you have thoughts of something special that make your palms sweat, your toes curl and put other annoying clichés in your brain? I do. It’s baseball.
I love baseball.
I mean, I really love baseball. Specifically, I love the San Francisco Giants; from the Say Hey Kid to Stretch, HacMan to Will the Thrill, Panda, The Freak and Brian Wilson’s beard. I love the no-scoring pitcher’s duel in the late innings, the strategic debate against the use of a designated hitter, the majestic view of entering a stadium and breathing in smells of hot dogs, garlic fries and red dirt. But, heaven help me, I think I’ve screwed up my son’s high school life by introducing him to the game.
When I found out I was pregnant with a boy I envisioned sports being a large part of our family life. I was ecstatic, seeing images of cheering little leaguers and my car crammed with bats, gloves and boys with dirt stained faces. Life is funny, though; turns out my oldest son didn’t have the desire to play despite my
begging pleading calmly discussing his choice to stop. But, I had one son left. And, my youngest? He took to baseball like I took to one pound Mr. Goodbars when he was in the womb.
His craving wasn’t satisfied by watching the game, though. No, his problem went much deeper. He got his high from playing. Every day. Year ‘round.
His started at the early age of four. He’d stand next to a batting tee almost as tall as he was, take a deep breath and swing with all his might at the ball perched on top. He rounded the bases like a pro, arms pumping and legs churning, and chased after balls – not the butterflies – hit to his spot at second. Other kids played with dirt in the on-deck circle or blew wishes on the dandelions that grew in right field; not my child. He couldn’t wait to grow and play in a game with “…pitchers and catchers and everything, Mom!”
At ten, he stared playing travel baseball during the fall and winter. 6:30 a.m. report times (ugh), muddy fields that made me hate white uniform pants, rain making it hard to see, much less grip a ball, and cold, bitter-cold weather. He didn’t care. He wanted to play. No, not just play. He wanted to improve. His sights were on playing high school ball. He set up an off-season conditioning program, started hitting four nights a week and kept playing games on the weekends to improve his fielding. Through this he kept his part of the parental bargain; maintained grades, once in a while remembered to take out the garbage, kept the sibling arguments to a minimum.
I’m sad to tell you I encouraged all of it.
From dressing him in Giants’ gear when he was small to taking him to Giants’ home games. His brother threw wiffle ball practice in the front yard using Mr. Sal’s next door yard as center field. His dad built him a portable pitcher’s mound, painted a plate on the driveway and, sitting on an overturned bucket, caught his pitches day after day after day. I even proudly showed off the bone bruise he gave me from an errant pitch.
I let him read “The Mental Game of Baseball” when I should have pushed “Catcher in the Rye.” I extended his bedtime on school nights when the Giants were playing back East then woke him up early to finish an English essay. I okayed sleeping in his uniform – once with a new bat – and laughed when he named his infielder’s glove, Tina.
And, yes, I’m ashamed to admit it; I gave him constructive criticism when he hadn’t asked. It usually resulted in that stone-faced, steely-eyed teenage stare. You know the one; you feel like the biggest idiot for opening your mouth and how could you possibly know what you’re talking about and why can’t you be like Tom’s, Tim’s, or Harry’s mother who didn’t even like baseball?
I made parenting exceptions in every area of his upbringing if it involved the game. Was it wrong?
He loved the guitar. Did I encourage lessons? Sort of. He didn’t want to take the time away from baseball. I didn’t press it. He loved to draw. Did I find him classes or books to feed the desire? Not really. He didn’t want to put more on his plate. I let it go. Between homework from a college prep high school and baseball the kid didn’t have much time to follow other interests.
He missed dances – early Saturday morning games; sleepovers – early morning conditioning; immersion trips, intramural teams, Facebook time, family functions. He said he didn’t care. He wanted to play baseball. He bonded with teammates and has what I believe will be lasting friendships, but when he looks back on his high school years will it have been enough? When he has to finally hang up his cleats, will he be able to fill the symbolic hole sure to be in his heart?
I don’t have the answer.
I’ve learned to step back; let him take the lead. At some point baseball became his love; his sweaty palms and curly toes. When he does eventually replace playing ball with a new passion I’m confident he’ll put the same devotion and commitment into it. That’s what you do when you get hooked. Hey, maybe it’ll be the one he pushes on his kids!
Question: Have you ever encouraged your kids to do something you loved at the expense of letting them find their own passions?