For the Love of the Game

My oldest son has been playing baseball for years now, and the really special thing is we’ve managed a way to keep a few of these kids on the same team. It’s been amazing to watch them grow together and really gain an appreciation for the sport. But something really amazing happened this year. They got good. Like, really good, at a sport they love. Each of them seemed to grow in the off-season, and we were amazed to see them throw and hit with a precision that we’d never seen before. It seemed that, as parents, we all looked at each other with raised eyebrows at the beginning of the season. I’m not going to lie – I always try to impart that sports are to be played primarily for fun but, damn, if it didn’t make it even more awesome to watch with them really showing their stuff.

Over the season, however, we got to know many more kids from this new team, and their families, too. I realized that there was no dread (although I might kid here and there about the schedule) in going to these games. Instead, it was truly fun. It was a social event. I got to see my husband form amazing friendships with his fellow coaches. I met so many great baseball moms. And I got to watch a team grow and get better and excel at a sport that’s always held a special place in my heart.

Despite their immense talent, though, the thing that I loved the most was that bench. Mouths filled with Big League Chew and sunflower seeds. Friendships forming so strong, that I knew they’d extend beyond the season. Giggles. Inside jokes. Cheering. Climbing (though they’d get in trouble for this). More snacking, of course. Thinking. Assessing their competition. Pondering the score. Practicing. Advice-giving. The only way I can describe what I saw in that dugout was pure, unadulterated joy. I wanted to harness that and hold it close to my heart for the rest of days. Nothing could touch it. In fact, one day when they weren’t reaching their true potential in a tough game, I heard my husband say to them, “Come on guys, you’re better than this time but you’re getting your butts kicked.” They looked at him and burst out laughing, as they literally checked to see if their butts were getting kicked. My husband was annoyed, of course, but all I could see was that the harshness of competition hadn’t gotten to them yet.

What’s interesting is, because they were such a good team this year, we, as parents, found ourselves getting more and more into the games. By the end of the season and, particularly in playoffs, our nerves were shot. We’d have to take walks. We’d yell and scream. We’d disagree with the umpires’ calls (within reason!). We were genuinely stressed. Our last playoff game was a true nail-biter. A few bad hops, a few bad base-running decisions, and some good old-fashioned bad luck lost us a game that should and could have easily been ours for the taking. We were deflated. I was talking to myself (literally … don’t judge) about what had gone wrong. What could have been. I was, in a word, heartbroken. I was heartbroken for myself but, more importantly, for these kiddos who’d fought so hard all season long.

And then I went towards the huddle to see what was going on, as it looked like they were having a pow-wow. Here’s what I saw. Donut-eating! They’d lost this game and they were enjoying donuts. Chowing their hearts out. Laughing. Poking. Prodding. PLAYING. And I realized that’s what this is all about. I was ashamed of myself for having gotten so caught up in our loss after watching these kids enjoying the simplicity of donuts. The coach then lined them up and they did their favorite thing – they raced the coach and ended it in a giant dogpile, and giggles abounded.

Braves dogpile

The end-of-season party was a joyful event in which we all reminisced about our favorite parts. Tears were shed. Laughs were had. Facts were revealed! We found out that some of these players had never even played the sport before this season, and we never knew that. And these kids were good! So much potential! One of my favorite players came over and gave my husband a card to thank him for everything that season, and I nearly lost it. He shook the coaches’ hands, and I was a puddle. These kids loved these coaches, and vice versa. This was genuine caring. They learned respect. They learned to take a knee was when someone was hurt. And they learned that it’s okay to cry.

I know that time will make some of them (and us!) jaded. The competition might get to us at points. I’m not naive enough to think that we won’t want to win. The pressure will only increase, especially when it comes time for these games to really mean something. High school tryouts will be had. Scouts will come. Some will even play college ball, and possibly beyond! Who knows!? But, for now, I’m going to savor this last season like no other. I’m going to savor that I had the privilege to watch kids play for one reason only. For the love of the game.

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Comments

  1. Kerri says:

    Love this Marnie! So glad you shared this! What fun! We had a special season like this when Mack was in little league. Still talk about it with the other parents.

  2. ned says:

    Well said Marnie. We grandparents enjoyed the heck out of the Braves and Rip Tide. Wow!

    Finn is quite a good player – hitting fielding and ESP hitting. He made some great tags at 3rd base and showed he knew the game. He had very good coaching.

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