If I could speak to every mean-spirited, kid- baseball watcher, whether parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, I’d say this, “Please don’t spoil the fun and joy of kids learning to love and play a great game like baseball. Cheer all of them on. Celebrate their victories, understand their defeats, and encourage them to continue even in the face of adversity. Show gratitude to those who give their time to coach and do it with finesse and fineness. Lastly, watch what you say because words may not break bones, but they can wound the heart and soul and every little baseball player deserves to be treated with dignity."
Monday, June 6, 2011
Boys of Summer
“To be good, you’ve got to have a lot of little boy in you.”
~ Roy Campanella
We are surrounded by children and the wonder of it all takes my breath away. Since early May we’ve been ensconced in minor league baseball for 7-9 year old boys. The league that my grandson plays in takes the task of teaching impressionable youngsters the game of baseball quite seriously. Teams of nine or ten are formed so each child can play as much as possible, which has good points and bad. With a team of nine every boy gets to play the entire game, but if a child is sick, injured, or vacationing, a full team will not take the field unless a stand-in is found. As this mini-season wears on I’ve once again been experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly of youth baseball.
Throughout this month of watching children play a game I enjoy immensely, I’ve seen the best of young and old. I’ve seen coaches give high fives and pats on the back, even when a child didn’t get the hit or missed a play in the outfield. I’ve witnessed teams encourage each other when the scoreboard puts them behind. I sighed as a second grader came to the park and played sick, because he didn’t want to let his team down.
Nothing feels better than when an entire crowd claps because a boy flew to third base as his splendid hit rolled to the fence or a double play brought an end to an inning. Then there are the first hits by the rookies on the team and the proud parents who beam from the bleachers. The patience of coaches who encourage a boy to continue playing, even though his challenge is different than the others on the team, sets me on a path of gratitude. And all those kids who stand at the plate, unafraid of that ball flying at them, take aim, and give it a good swat have my admiration, but it’s the ones who get hit, take a fall and get right back up and keep on playing while wiping away tears that bring tears of my own. Oh yes, there’s so much to celebrate when children play the all-American game of baseball on a warm summer night.
With so much to applaud, why must kids endure the ugly side of learning and playing a game? I’ve seen coaches scream at little boys who only want to do everything like the big guys who are paid millions. They can’t, of course, but if heart and soul counted more than size and age, these small guys would be the baseball heroes we read about in Sports Illustrated. I watched as an arrogant man, pretending to be a coach, threw his mitt at a fence out of anger at losing, setting a negative example for the boys in the dugout. How will he tell his players to not throw gloves, hats, or bats when something doesn’t go their way when he plainly showed the way? He should be forced to wear a T-shirt proclaiming, “Actions speak louder than words.”
What does one do when a parent or grandparent watching a game becomes filled with rage and disgust yelling at coaches, kids, and getting into arguments with other parents? Is it just too easy to forget that every one of those children playing wants to win? Every one of those young batters dreams of a homerun. Every one of those fielders wants to make the running, fly-ball catch or a double play. They want success far more than anyone watching from the stands, yet it’s seldom that mean, hurtful words hurtle like a 90-mile-an-hour pitch from their lips. Instead, these small fries dig deep and find a way to handle winning with grace and losing with honor…most of the time. After all they’re the ones learning to play baseball in front of a crowd of people who don’t always behave like parents and grandparents that understand these are just kids.
And then there was the rude comment that hit home…my home to be exact. Playing baseball is especially tough for a boy who struggles with some of the basic social cues that most children begin learning early in life. Yes, my grandson is facing the strong possibility that he is an Asperger’s child. Asperger’s Syndrome falls in the higher-functioning end of Autism. Oh how blessed he and we are…he’s very bright, very charming, and does have some of the social skills lacking in other children who suffer from this misunderstood challenge. He takes too much to heart his own errors, but rarely sees that his teammates strike-out, miss balls, and have much to learn, also. He struggles knowing what’s appropriate and is misunderstood by those who need to be educated when it comes to Asperger’s. I can see it in his face as he tries to overcome what he views as the personal tragedy of being tagged out, but the only thing onlookers see is a boy having a melt down and pointing out to their own children how awful temper tantrums look with words like, “Just look at the boy, see how he’s behaving? He’s acting like a baby. I don’t ever want to see you act like that in public.” It’s hard being his mom, mimi, and grandpa who want for him the same things every parent and grandparent wants for the children that grace their lives. He’ll be ok because he’s loved and protected and we’re learning that every snicker and negative comment offers a chance to educate the ignorant.
Baseball is a microcosm of the world all within the confines of an infield, outfield, and the surrounding area for fans. There are good guys and bad guys, except some of the bad guys wear the same kind of hat as the good guys and others are disguised behind masks of moms, dads, grandpas, and grandmas. There are lessons to be learned: who’s on first, where to throw the ball, how to slide into home base, and how to be a good sport whether you lose or win. As part of a team, kids learn bigger life lessons like trust, loyalty, and commitment. Ask any former little leaguer and he or she is likely to tell you how great it was to be part of a team. If only adults would allow it, young boys and girls across the land will someday have memories that are a little sweeter and a lot more fun because they were part of a summer ball team.