“Get a big hit here bud!”
“Don’t worry, I got this.” was his response.
It is the sort of moment that we wait for as athletes. We want to be given the ball in moments like this; we want to be that guy with our team down walking up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.
For a brief moment, as I watched him walk up to the batter’s box, I flashed back to a similar moment I had in high school. I saw myself walking up to the plate, ready to be the guy my team cheered for in that moment, with the same ending result as this.
He stepped in; the umpire put the ball in the pitching machine. It was a low pitch, but he swung and missed. The next pitch, he connected with but fouled off to the backstop. His next two pitches were low swing and misses.
This was it, his fifth and final pitch of this at-bat. He dug in; the pitch was one of those pitches that every big leaguer wants, up but in the middle of the zone. If I could have slowed time down, I’m sure that we would have seen his tongue sticking out as he waited to crush the ball.
He swung and missed.
William slowly starts his walk back to the dugout. Disappointment in his eye. I could see that he wanted to do the best he could for his team. I walk up to him, kneel down, and hold out my hand for a high five. To my surprise, he gives me one.
“Hey, it’s ok. You tried your best, and that is what matters. You will have another chance to hit in this game, and you can make it up then. Don’t let this get to you. Half those pitches were unhittable by anyone, remember you don’t have to swing at pitches you don’t think you can hit.”
“But we are losing dad.”
“It is ok, I promise you, win or lose if you try your best you are a winner.”
“Ok” he weakly says as he walks into the dugout. As we start to put the catcher’s gear on him, I say, “Do you know when I played baseball, I lost more than I won? It isn’t all about winning and sometimes you can learn more from losing and then when you do win; it will feel even better. Let this go and be the best catcher you can be and help make it up this inning.”
“Ok!” he says as he trots out to go behind the plate.
As the third hitter of the inning reaches base, he looks over at me with even more disappointment in his eyes.
“He’s still mad about striking out isn’t he?” asks the head coach.
“Yeah, he is,” I say.
As I look back at him, I mouth to him, “It’s ok don’t worry about it. You are doing your best.”
He shakes his head.
As the game went on, the team we were playing continued to hit and score runs. It wasn’t that our team was playing poorly because they were playing well, the other team was just playing better that day. William comes to bat again before he walks up, I remind him to try his best.
He steps in, hoping to erase the memory of his previous at-bat. The first pitch comes a little low, and he swings and misses. The second pitch, down the middle and fouled off. The third pitch, high and outside but he held his swing. As I’m kneeling outside the dugout, I say, “Good job William!”
He knew why I was proud. Standing up with the pride that my son listened to me, a tear starts to run down my eye as the fourth pitch of his at-bat is thrown. It’s down the middle, he swings and pops it up between first and second. The runners on first and second in everything we have coached them to do forgot to tag up.
The dugout and the crowd are yelling for the runners to go back to their bases, the other team’s coaches are shouting for their first baseman to touch first base. Meanwhile, William is standing on first, not realizing that he was out because a fielder caught the ball.
The other team doubles us off and William, again, slowly trots back to the dugout. My eyes still watering from the time he held bat swinging the bat, I again kneel down and say, “good job! There is nothing you could have done about that ball being caught. You hit the ball, and that is what matters.” holding out my hand for another high five.
What I couldn’t see was that he was upset because he didn’t know why everyone was yelling. I’m gearing up the catcher for the next inning and see my wife who walked into the dugout to comfort our son who was in that moment visibly upset from what happened. She tells me about what happened, and the head coach looks in the dugout and tells William good job.
Looking up from the sunflower seed covered floor of the dugout, “Thanks, coach!” It was then that I knew he would be just fine and ready for his next game the following day.
Parenting isn’t all too much different than this. There are days that as parents, we have it all going for us, the kids are listening, we can do the chores, and there are smiles and laughs all around. Then there are the days when our kids are incapable of hearing, the house looks like a disaster zone, and you are doing everything you can to soothe a child who is crying because they don’t want to eat what is on their plate.
Much like baseball, parenting is a marathon and not a sprint. There will be slumps with days turning into weeks where you feel like you can’t get anything right, but then there will be streaks where you feel like you have this whole parenting thing down.
Much like seeing my son step into the batter’s box after striking out, what matters is that you step back in and try and try again. While it might seem like it is just you in the box and your child is the one throwing you curveballs, you have a support network behind you, cheering you on letting you know just how good a job you are doing, even if you strike out.