I’ve had some tough times as a father in the seven plus years that I’ve been on this wild journey. There have been some emotional moments for so many different reasons. However, one of the most emotional moments happened for me this past Saturday on a baseball diamond.
I am coaching Benjamin and Matthew’s coach-pitch Little League team. Matthew probably could have used another year in tee ball, but Ben was definitely ready to move up. So, we moved Matt up as well so that I could coach both of them again. Now the rules of coach-pitch are pretty simple. Every kid gets to bat in an inning with their coach pitching to them. Each kid is suppose to get seven pitches and if they don’t get a hit, they are out. That said, the coaches have an agreement to continue pitching, as long as it is reasonable, until they get a hit.
When Matthew came up for his first at-bat, he had his silly face on, giggling at me pitching to him. His early swings were wild and all over the place, except near the ball. He eventually settled in, but still missing badly. This went on for a long time. I must have thrown him 20 or so pitches and it became clear that he was pushing too hard and I had to make the very difficult decision to call him out and send him to the bench. I believe I made the right decision. There may come a time when I need to send another kid back to the bench and I can’t do that if I am not willing to send my own son back. Plus, I could sense that he was starting to press and the other team behind me was getting restless. It was a difficult decision, but one I would do again.
Well, as he walked back to the bench and took off his helmet, I could see him trying to be tough and not cry. But he was upset. Andrea went over to him and then he started crying. My heart broke like I had never felt it before. It is a moment of such anguish for me, that even thinking about it now, I want to cry. After our half inning was over and my team took the field, I went over and hugged him as he sobbed some more, but I think I may have felt worse than him. I let him sit on the bench a little longer and Andrea gave him a little food and water, while I stood on the field with my hat pulled low on my head to hide my wet eyes. Eventually, he cheered up and came back on the field with a smile, almost like nothing had happened.
The next inning, as his at-bat approached, my nerves kicked in and I felt like I couldn’t bear it again. When he did come up, we gave him a smaller bat and he seemed more determined. The sillies were gone and he looked like he was going to do everything he could to not go back to the bench. I…I was a mess and could barely pitch to him.
Before his tenth pitch, however, he managed to hit a little roller up the third base line and he was safe at first. All the parents watching erupted in cheers and were yelling congratulations to him, while I choked back tears of joy and pride (Tom Hank’s character must have never coached his kids in baseball when he said there was no crying in “League of Their Own”). I was so happy for him and I could tell he was equally happy. After the inning was over, I gave him one of the biggest hugs I could muster without crushing his little body. He simply fixed his hat and was ready to play some more.
It is amazing with kids how such a tough moment can be suddenly turned around. And, it is amazing how our kids, even at the age of six, can be so much tougher than us.
In a footnote, the next day we practiced batting in the backyard for a while and he started hitting well. When we played our second game, he came to bat and carefully lined up his feet and was determined again. In his first at bat, he hit the 10th pitch, in his second, he hit the fifth pitch and in his third at bat, he hit the first pitch…Watch out David Wright!