Monday, June 8, 2009

There Really Is Crying In Baseball

Last night, at about 9:15 p.m. Sean's team finished their ballgame. It was the third game of the tournament--our third in two days. This tourney is double elimination, so if you lose, you play again until you lose. Their first game on Saturday, was against a team they had beat in a come-from-behind win. I think they went in to that game a little cocky. They had beat the Muckdogs before quite handily, but in that game, the other team had a really shallow bench. On Saturday, they came out swinging for the fences and showed our boys that they had some pretty good fielders. Within three innings, our fellas were looking at the lead from the other side--they were down by 8.

The fans on both teams were loud and in it to win it. You really could feel the tension. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a Little League game. I could see myself becoming "That Mom." You know the one...yelling and hooting and hollering--not negative things, always positive, and even complimenting the other team on good plays and hits, but still, when Sean gave his dad and I the "zip your lip" sign, I knew that wasn't a good sign.

We have friends whose son was on the Muckdogs, so I went over during the game to say hi and visit a bit. I sat in their stands and cheered for both teams for a few minutes. Then as I was leaving, I told my friend, "Oh, by the way, the moms on our side are totally brawling with the moms from your side after the game. Have your husbands hold your purses." The moms all laughed and I felt the tension slide away. I returned to our bleachers and watched our boys come back and win by 8. It was all very exciting.

Sean told me after that game his coaches came into the dugout and asked them if they were having fun. The boys said no. The coaches reminded them that they were supposed to be there learning skills, playing their best and having fun. Sean said that once the boys remembered to have fun, they started playing better and then they won. I was pleased and grateful that our coaches had that perspective, because above all, it should be fun, right? Of course, it's always more fun when you're winning, but even if you're winning and you're not enjoying yourself, that takes away from the shine of the victory.

So yesterday, the Bulls had a game at 3p.m. and if they won that they would play at 7. They won their 3 o'clock game by a large margin and by the time the game was over, it was 5p.m. The boys had about an hour and fifteen minutes before they needed to be back to the field to warm up for the next game. Enough time to get some dinner out, but not enough for everyone to head back to the house. We divided up, Patrick took Sean and Maggie out and I took James and Mary home to get some dinner and let the dog out to stretch her legs.

By this time, Sean was drooping. He'd had a busy weekend and had racked up some serious sleep-debt. Friday night my kids took advantage of a moment of reckless parenting on my part and each got to invite a friend to sleep over. (Not Mary, much to her disappointment. The rule in our house is you have to be in first grade before you can host or attend a sleep over.) You know that "sleep over" is an oxymoron, right? Because in my experience very little sleeping is done and that only comes after some serious persuasion on the part of the parents. Then Sean played hard in the heat on Saturday. Saturday night, he was up late due to side effects of a sunburn. He had that horrible itching that comes after a burn where it feels like your nerve endings have gone berserk and you get no relief. (Yes, we use sunscreen on our children. Sean especially. He's so white he's almost blue. Unfortunately, he was out playing on an overcast day and in and out of water and we lost track of time and didn't reapply enough. So there you go.) We gave him Benadryl, put him in a cool bath, and gave him ice packs to relieve the itching, but he was still nearly hysterical for an hour and then even when it eased, it kept him awake longer. It was almost 11:30 before he was able to sleep. It took even longer for me to find sleep, as I went to bed with crushing guilt for letting that happen.

So the 7 o'clock game time rolled around and we still hadn't started. We were waiting on an umpire. In regular games, the coaches make the calls and it's official but all very casual. In tournament games, losing coaches are the umps. This seems like a harsh bit of penance to me. "I'm sorry, loser, but you must now stay later and make fair calls in the game of at least one team that beat yours. Oh, by the way, did I mention you're a loser?" So we waited for a losing coach an umpire until almost 7:30. Our boys were all looking tired. I joked that some of them should be heading to bed in the next half hour. They are 7 and 8 year olds, after all. The coaches made them do some slow jogs around the fences to "wake them up."

Finally the game got underway. We were playing the Knights, a team we had beat once and had lost to once. They were a strong team with some good hitters and a couple of good coaches. (They had one coach however, whose reputation preceded him and he made me a little nervous about what his behavior might be like.) The Bulls were getting excited. They took the field first, giving us the ever-advantageous "last ups." The Knights came out swinging for the fences and the 6 run rule was quickly enforced. Our boys, who usually have hot bats, whose batting is better than their fielding, never got ahead in the game. Mistakes were made that really affected the outcome. It happens. That's what it's about at this stage, learning the rules. So it was all okay.

Sean has been having a hard time with his batting lately. At the beginning of the season, he had a lot of singles and doubles, but in the last several games, he's been swinging but not making contact. Those strike-outs were affecting his confidence which was affecting his batting which was affecting his confidence. Vicious, vicious circle. You could see his shoulders slump. It was heartbreaking for me to watch. I was starting to feel like Steve Martin in the movie "Parenthood." I did go over to the dugout at one point and told him to just have fun. That was what mattered most. His coaches and teammates and the parents were all supportive. No one ever said anything to him that wasn't positive. Until last night.

As luck would have it, in the last inning, Sean was at bat when there were two outs. We were still down by 6. It was not meant to be. He struck out. The parents and coaches all clapped. There were a lot of "That's okays!" and "Good game boys!" I know he felt bad. But, I know he tried his best, because I asked him. He was going to be okay.

But that one kid, that one kid! (Why is there always that ONE KID?!?!) He told Sean that it was his fault they had lost the game. And yes, technically speaking, his strike-out did cause the game to be over, but it alone did not lose the game for the team. His father and I explained this to him as he was crying. I told him that even the big guys, the major league players struck out more than they hit. That sometimes they struck out and then the ball game was over, but that when a team loses, it's the team that loses, not an individual, because it's not just one person making the outs or not bringing in the runs. And that it's the same with wins. It's the team. We explained that it's hard being disappointed after a game. It's hard to lose, and their team certainly hadn't had much experience with it this season, but even through the disappointment, the team should still stick together. We also told him that unfortunately, he would probably always have someone like that on any team he ever plays on. The one person who can't take the loss gracefully, the one person who has to throw blame around, the one person who can't keep his mouth closed. That one kid... We told him we never wanted him to be that kid. We told him we'd always be proud of him--even if he never ever got a hit again, even if all of the games he ever played were losing games. But, we told him, you know how this feels. Don't say something that will make someone else feel how you are feeling now. Don't be that one kid.

I think he got it. He was able to talk about some of the good things he did in the game. He mentioned how some of the better players struck out or were thrown out. In short, he learned something important about sportsmanship and that's part of the reason we wanted him to participate in team sports. He went to bed happy and that's all I can ask for.

But, if I ever hear That One Kid open his mouth to say something like that to my kid again? They might want to hide the bats.

***Comments still down. Please comment or contact me via email. Thanks!

blog comments powered by Disqus