Yesterday, my son's team had to play their rivals. This rivalry stems from the fact that there was only one travel baseball team in Jupiter until this past spring. Because so many boys came to try out and because there was another coach who wanted to build a new team, a second team was formed. Consequently, some of the members of the first team wanted to join the new team and there were hard feelings on the part of the first team...are you still with me?
Those hard feelings (most notably on the part of the other team's coaches) have turned into a full-blown rivalry between the two teams. It has been said all along that the new team isn't as good as the original team, that they are nothing more than a practice or a "B" team. While I don't think the boys really care one way or the other, some of the parents and coaches have been upset by this.
Last week, we played our first game against this other team. They beat us...badly...they spanked us...we lost that game 10 - 0. Our boys were clearly intimidated by the other team who were very pumped up for the game. They played like champs and they won, fair and square. The thing about the game though, was the way their coach behaved throughout the entire game. While the boys were excited and played very well, their coach acted like an imbecile. He was shouting things to his boys and ours. He intentionally distracted our pitchers as they were pitching and so many other things. He shouted loudly every emotion he was feeling during the game and then after the game, made a gesture with his fist toward our coach. Overall, not a good example of sportsmanship.
After that game, our boys were feeling very defeated. I did not like seeing my son like that, but I told him to shake it off and play harder next time while telling him that they would most definitely play this team again. All of us encouraged the boys to work harder to improve their skills so they would be more confident the next time they played the team. I am sure that to a 10 year old boy, this advice is not very helpful and it was sad to see my boy feeling so demoralized.
Since this was an allstars season, there wasn't much time to feel sorry for themselves and after having Father's Day off, they were back to work last Monday...and Tuesday, which lead us to our next tournament this past Wednesday. As luck (or fate) would have it, we won one and lost one and ultimately, in our third game, were paired up once more with our rivals. The game was set to be played Friday night but was rained out. After waiting 2 1/2 hours at the field, the lightning didn't subside and the game was postponed until Saturday morning. In preparation for this particular game, I did not force my son to nap or eat his protein. We did not go to batting practice or talk about powering through or mindset. No. This time, I told my son not to worry. That the other team was a team of boys just like him. That they are not super heroes or gods and that he should only go out on the field and have some fun. To remember that baseball is a game and that it is supposed to be fun. That he should simply do his best and help his teammates do their best, cheer each other on and most of all, have fun.
In conversations with other parents at the game, I found out that they, too, had told their boys similar things. I felt very relaxed going into Saturday's game unlike the last one we played against this team. We had already gone to the dark place and had come out on the other side intact. Where the last game was scary, this one was just a game of baseball on a hot, Saturday morning.
As the boys started to play, it was obvious that they were all feeling better about this game. They played with confidence and were keeping up. They were making plays in the outfield like they should and were keeping the other team from scoring. As we came up to bat in the third inning, we loaded the bases. We had not scored at that point and the other team had 1 run on the board. We had two outs and my son came up to bat.
Let me preface this part of the story by saying that Jack is known to have a great swing. He is powerful and he works hard. He goes to the batting cages nearly every day (his choice) and has even taken a few private lessons to improve his hitting. He has the best hitting average on the team. I don't know what his number is, but the last time the coach told me what it was a couple of months ago, it was .630 which is pretty high. Jack is the number 4 hitter, which means he is the "clean up" because that position is supposed to "clean" the bases by hitting RBI's (runners batted in.) So Jack is a really good hitter, but the thing that has eluded him was the over the fence home run hit that he has dreamed of since he first started playing. Other boys on his team have hit home runs, but not him.
Yesterday was his day. With bases loaded, Jack came up to the plate and, as his coach signaled him to do, took the first pitch (meaning he didn't swing) which was a strike. Looking back at the coach, he confidently took the next signal which was to swing away. At that point, he kicked the clay with his right foot precisely three times, digging the front of his cleat in slightly, circled the bat three times in front of his body (you know, like a propeller) and then positioned the bat over his right shoulder to wait for the pitch. As the pitch came, he swung and the ball went...and kept going...and going...over the fence. It was perfect. It was amazing. It was a grand slam. The bases were loaded. And then they weren't. My son had cleaned the bases and now his team had 4 runs on the scoreboard. Just like that.
In that moment, I felt so many things. Excitement. Jubilation. Pride. My son had done this thing. He had accomplished what he dreamed of doing. He was the king of the team at that moment. As he ran around the bases, he had a huge grin on his face. He knew, of course, what he had done and he was proud. All of his teammates ran out of the dugout and greeted him with cheers and slaps on the back at home plate. He was a hero to them. He had put 4 points on the board and now they were winning! Against their rivals! Even better! I noticed that the coach on the other team was much quieter during this game.
At that moment and for the rest of the day I felt such pride for my son. It brought tears to my eyes every time I thought about how he must feel. I was a cheerleader but never played a team sport as a child. I never felt a moment like he had...the pride of accomplishment of reaching a goal as part of a team. Of boosting my teammates by being my best. I imaged what he must feel. The confidence, the accomplishment, the happiness, the respect of the other boys. It's hard for me to put into words what I have been feeling...this swelling in my heart. It is so strong it almost feels like heartbreak.
My boy is not a baby anymore. He is growing into a young man who can feel certain that he is capable of anything. Wow! That is my son! I carried him in my very own body! I helped MAKE him! He is MY son!
So what happened with the game? We scored two more times and they put a total of 4 points on the board. At the bottom of the sixth and final inning, we were winning 6 to 4. Our boys were feeling great and were confident of the win, but then, someone on the other team realized that our pitcher had pitched one inning too many and brought it to the attention of the umpire. After some discussion between the coaches and the tournament directors, it was determined that we had to forfeit the game because of the error. So we lost. On a technicality. So our team's inexperience ultimately lost us another game to our rivals.
|How stinkin cute are these boys?|
But you know what? Our boys felt like winners anyway. They knew what the score was. They knew they had played their best. They knew that they deserved respect. In fact, though the other team took the win and continued on in the tournament, some of the boys and parents from the other team came over to our side and congratulated our boys. Two parents from the other team shook their heads and said they never would have wanted to win like this. I respected the fact that they felt that way and that they had the grace and dignity to come over and say it to us. To me, that is the very definition of sportsmanship.