Me, playing catch with my son inside my head. Nothing like the actual, real-life version. | Image via Field of Dreams.
Have you ever heard a story so many times you begin to think you actually remember it first-hand? When I was a kid with a too-big hat sitting over my ears and a too-big baseball glove waiting around for my coach/dad to get done chatting after Little League practice, there was a story I’d heard 100 times.
It always began in the same place: there with my dad in an aisle of Toys R Us. We were there to buy my first baseball glove, but he didn’t tell me that. He’d throw me a ball, which I probably wouldn’t have caught, and I’d throw it back – sometimes with my left hand, other times with my right. Exasperated, my dad gave away the game. “Ted, I want to buy you a baseball glove, but I don’t know which hand you throw with. Which hand do you like better?” To which I responded, “Well dad, sometimes I like this hand better, and sometimes I throw with this one. You better get me one of each.”
My dad told everyone this story and if you know him, you know we were not walking out with two gloves. No way. My dad made me a righty that day and even though I became a lefty in most of life’s other pick-one tasks, I still prefer to throw right-handed. Besides, he’d always say, Ted was just happy to be playing the game.
I really was. Baseball was a huge part of my childhood for my brother, sister, and I. We ate it and breathed it. We practiced all the time and as we got older, my dad would quiz us in the car about where we should throw the ball in various game situations. We knew all the Pirates’ players and their batting averages or ERA’s. When mom had to work on Friday nights, we’d stay up late with root beer floats watching the Buccos with dad.
I was no baseball prodigy, but I was OK. When I was cut from Penn State Behrend’s team, I drove home crying. Then I played slow-pitch softball everywhere I could for the next 10 years to take away some of the sting.
Fast forward to today and now I’m a working schlub like everyone else. Maybe not everyone else. My wife having chosen me is like if the Pirates landed Bryce Harper – she’s awesome, she makes me better, and I can’t believe I found her on the open market. We have three young boys and our oldest is very excited for T-ball. Last week, it was time for his trip for a baseball glove – the Opening Day of his baseball life -and even though he was pretty pumped up about it, I knew I was way more excited than he was.
I had the whole thing planned – a day trip at work cut just a little short so I could pick up my little right-hander and try on gloves until one fit just right. When I got to him, he ran in the car and tried to buckle himself in yelling “T-BALL!” over and over.
We got to the store, me walking and him bouncing up and down like Tigger, just excited to have some one-on-one time with his dad, and we found the baseball section.
Things pretty immediately unraveled from there.
Some random kid from the internet that my kid chose to re-enact inside a sporting goods store.
The gloves were all fine but none of them fit to his liking. I tried putting his little fingers in the finger-holes a few times, but the more I tried the worse his frustration got. The smile he came in with was now a frown, and his eyes were glassy. I can’t predict the weather when it comes to my son’s moods, but I can tell when a storm’s rolling in. A storm was rolling in.
My kid used to do this often enough, but I thought he’d grown out of it. He’s a loud crier. People are starting to stare. I’m trying not to match his intensity, and I’m almost out of options as a parent. I can feel my blood pressure spiking.
He’s yelling, “I’M NOT…VERY…EXCITED…FOR T-BALL! I’M NOT…VERY…EXCITED…FOR T-BALL!”
So what I hoped would be a fun, memorable moment for us became my first test as a baseball dad. He was starting off his career in a slump. I had to help him out of it.
In a weird way, this is something I’ve always loved about baseball: it’s just like life. No matter how good you are, sometimes nothing feels right and you have a bad day. You can practice hard and even feel pretty good, only to hit a rocket right into someone’s glove for an out. It isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair.
You can practice harder than the other guy, be better than the other guy, deserve to win, and still lose big. You have to accept it and move on, because another game is coming and dwelling on a past failure is a sure way to find another one. Life gives you these moments all the time.
As my son’s baseball (and life) coach, I’m going to do all I can to teach him the rules and let him work through the rest for himself. So he has some of his dad’s anxiety. He can beat it. He is going to practice and learn.
Eventually, we decided on a mitt and I got him to the car. That’s where his breathing slowed and we really got to talking. I discovered my 5-year old had fast forwarded in his mind to his first practice, and was imagining the embarrassment of being the only kid whose glove didn’t fit. His little mind was showing him a movie of kids laughing at him. He got overwhelmed in there and just shut down, couldn’t take it.
I write about this because I think there’s something in this story that’s relatable to all of us. Change is hard, even when it’s something you chose and looked forward to. It’s hard as a 5-year old learning a new sport, a middle-aged guy/girl starting a new job, or a proud manufacturing town looking to find its footing in a new century.
We romanticize the past. Everything turned out fine, after all, so all the anxiety and the uncertainty fades in favor of the moment it all came together. But the anxiety was real. There were moments you thought you’d fail, and everyone would laugh at you. Sometimes you struck out, and the game ended with someone else celebrating. You got through it. We got through it. We’ll do it again. We’ll keep doing it as often as we need to, as long as there’s a game to be played.
My kid has had two T-ball practices so far, and he’s asked me a million times when he can go back. He’s figured out how to put his glove on, and he’s just happy to be playing the game.