Sunday, July 26, 2009

Baseball Fever

It would be perfectly understandable, after five baseball tournaments and never progressing past the semi-finals, if Abe started to get discouraged. He's been playing baseball nonstop since February, first with his regular league team, and then this summer with All Stars, and now with his tournament team, the Thunder. We're at tournaments most weekends, and some weekdays too. And when they don't have games, they're practicing, up to three times a week. More for Abe if you count the two weeks of baseball camp and a couple of extra private sessions. They've won games, many games, but they've never won it all. Despite all the hard work, the excellent coaching, and the deep pool of talent, they seem to always lose in the semis.

Today, though, I witnessed something really hopeful, something way more important than getting to the finals. Something I'd been waiting to see. The Thunder came back from being down 1-3 to tie the game and then win 4-3 with a walk-off single in the bottom of the sixth. I was so proud of them all, and their perseverance. It would be so easy at age 10 or 11 to get discouraged when you're down by a few runs. But today they stuck with it, battled hard, and won the game that deservedly landed them in the semis. I jumped up and down on the metal bleachers, screaming "I'm so proud of you THUNDER! Way to stick with it". I'm pretty sure Abe was too busy celebrating with his team to notice his kooky mom. At least I hope.

Abe didn't hit well this weekend. I didn't keep close track, but he did of course. "Four pop-ups today, Mom" he said as we got in the car. "All I needed was a ground-out (his specialty) to bring in a run, but I couldn't even do that." I reminded him that last week he was striking out a lot and that he didn't strike out once this weekend. He battled up there, forcing the pitchers to throw him a lot of pitches. Sometimes runners even advanced. And he really excelled at catcher in his first full-running tournament. But he's not satisfied.

Let me be clear --while he's not happy about his hitting, he's neither tired nor discouraged. If anything he's even more motivated. His first words, upon leaving the dugout after the 9-1 loss in the semis, were "Can we please go to the batting cages? I really want to work on my hitting." He was enthusiastic, almost cheerful, despite the loss not 10 minutes earlier.

And tonight, after returning from a marathon wii baseball tournament with friends, he walked in the front door and immediately asked Paul to throw him some wiffles in the backyard.

He's in a great mood, full from all the baseball (the wins and the losses) and fun times with great teammates. No, he's not discouraged...he just wants to get back out there and play.

Even as I type, he's standing in the living room throwing phantom pitches, and demonstrating the full concept of a "balk" to Paul. And I just heard them make a plan to hit the batting cages at 7:30am tomorrow. Abe's not an early riser, so this is serious.

I was talking with another parent this week about how baseball is really a metaphor for life. Whether they win or they lose, these kids are learning so much about working hard at something they love, about learning from and then letting go of mistakes, about supporting a teammate in a slump or in a streak, and about respect for their coaches, the umps and their opponents. I never played on a team as a kid, but I think if I had I wouldn't have been so afraid to mess up every once in a while. I might have learned to persevere even if I wasn't particularly good, just because I loved it. Abe is good, but what matters even more to me is that he loves this game and he keeps asking for more opportunities to play.

I'm afraid to break it to him that he starts basketball camp tomorrow.


  1. Mary - if we really had the chance, I mean a night away with our families and with no clock, with the kids running around, with the beer or wine flowing with no need to drive anywhere, Paul and Kerry might just roll their eyes right out of their heads if we started talking about the baseball/life connection. This is not to put too much importance on baseball but it is to recognize the life lessons that abound.

    The Thunder played 10 games in 8 days - going 5-5 and feeling much better about things today than, say, on Friday. Going back to last year's Danville tournament, we have been 1 game away from the finals in 8 out of 9 tournaments (I know you know this). And yet it remains amazing to watch these kids - I am in awe of them - I really think that when we FINALLY win a tournament title, the feeling within the group will be AMAZING. They don't play for the titles (thankfully) but a tangible reward for all their hard work would be nice for them to enjoy.

    And I, too, was really happy with Abe's play at catcher. Your readers might not know how significant the transition from little league (with no leads, balks, etc.) to "full running" ("real" baseball). I (and the other coaches) were worried about how not only our pitchers but also our catchers would handle it. And Abe was awesome. He should see this as a great tournament for him personally - he played clutch and his swing looked good. It is cliche for me to say he is a joy to coach but I am not sure how much better I can phrase it. Reading his response to the weekend (more swings, telling dad about balks) gives me more joy than I can possibly measure.

    And, as the metaphor continues, he will apply that passion to other things in life - I am sure of that. Baseball is a wonderful game and it is important to see it that way. But it cheapens the experience for the boys if we brush off their experience with it as simply a game (like minimizing their first love, whenever that occurs). When they are playing it, are thinking about it, are working on it, it is as important as anything - to them. Again, not the wins and losses (they are over the losses w/in an hour (usually w/in minutes - after the initial tears dry)) but playing, and learning, and being with their teammates, and competing, and working hard. Very much the way life can be.

    And, Mary, not sure about Abe but I sure heard you after the comeback game.

  2. Dale, I hope we have that chance someday. What a gift you've given to all of these kids - the creation of this team and three years (and counting!) of total dedication! I'm not exaggerating when I say the experience of playing on the Thunder will stick with Abe forever. I am more grateful than I can ever adequately express.

    And next time you should write the post. You say it all better than I do!