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Win or Lose: Be a Delight Machine

Win or Lose: Be a Delight Machine


Often playing baseball offers life lessons that are invaluable to my children. More often than that, watching baseball offers life lessons to a mommy still learning. Having watched 423 baseball games - give or take - in the past twelve years, I have been on both the winning and the losing sides of a slaughter rule many times. The key to handling both of those situations is to do so while maintaining as much etiquette, sportsmanship and composure as possible. In layman's terms this would be referred to as being a bigger person, having grace under pressure, not stooping to a lower level and/or in general, not being a sore loser or an obnoxious winner.

But in the words of my dear, wise friend, the lovely and talented Mrs. C., this is called:

Being a Delight Machine

In my illustrious - albeit not very lucrative - career as a baseball mom, I have been on the winning side of a 25-0 score and on the losing side of a 26-0 score. 

(Sorry, Husband, I know it is to be the “game which shall not be named” forever more.)

In both of those situations, no coach was trying to run up the score. No one was trying to humiliate or demean the other team. I know the media is full of stories of whackjob youth coaches, but in my experience, I've most often seen coaches, after a certain point, holding up runners from stealing bases and eliminating the pick off plays. There are always exceptions, but sometimes lopsided scores are just the way the cookie crumbles. 

Fans, however, especially when they are watching little people fielding, throwing and batting and those little people happen to contain their DNA, sometimes get caught up in the win and/or the loss and let emotions get the best of them. It's hard sometimes to be humble, gracious and classy in these situations. Especially when your kid is getting rocked out there or having the game of his life. Add temperatures on the bleachers rising to some where around 147 degrees and things can get pretty dicey. 


I am not Miss Manners and I am most certainly not perfect. I have made more than my share of mistakes in the Be a Delight Machine area. Over time, I have learned that there are ways to handle these situations so that no one is waking up the next morning full of shame and regret.  I'm sure we would all prefer to leave those mornings to our college days.

Whether you are on the big number or the small number side of a lopsided score, here is some advice:

1. At a certain point it's time to keep your seat, Wilma.*
This is also known as: Mastering the Golf Clap. If you are winning by 10 or 15 or 32 runs and the bases are loaded with no outs and your player comes up and hits a weak grounder and the poor kid on the other team makes yet another error, there is no need to whoop it up and cheer like it's the World Series. If any team has spent a good hour out in the field trying to get an out, take it down a notch, Sister.  If you must, just employ the calm and respectful golf clap.

2. It is always, always appropriate to cheer a good play, no matter which team.

A catcher who is hustling after his 23rd passed ball and throwing his helmet off to try to catch foul balls, should be encouraged whether you know his name or not. A kid who lays out to stop a line drive from getting to the outfield should be commended. Giving him a "Good hustle, Catch" or "Nice play, #15" is always a good move. If you love the game, you love a good play.  

3. Bonus points: Kids should be taught to give respect for good plays as well.
To be impressed with an opponent's play is not to be soft or lacking in competitive spirit.  It is to be respectful and a student of the game. One of the classiest moments I have ever seen was when my son, Kyle, was ten and playing left field in a Little League game. A twelve year old we were playing against came up and hit the ball very hard and very far. It was *this* close to going over the fence, but Kyle made a darn good play to rob the kid of a home run. Every twelve year old wants the chance to hit one out in Little League, but this boy did not hang his head. He pointed out to left field and clapped his hands together, congratulating Kyle on a great play. I'll bet his mom was prouder of that moment than had he hit it out of the park. Again, loving the game also means tipping your cap when it is played well by anyone, no matter the team.

4. Back off the umpire, Betty.*
I will take this opportunity to say that very recently I was frustrated with a strike zone and shouted, "That's ok, buddy, just throw a fourth strike." to our pitcher. That would not be filed under, "How to be a Delight Machine". Did I expect the umpire to turn around and say, "Well, now, ma'am, come to think of it, you know, you're right! That was a bad call on my part. Batter's out.  This young lady changed my mind. Thanks so very much for your input, ma’am."? Leave the discussions with the ump to your coach. I know it's hard. Trust me, I know.

5. Love the player, not the plays he makes.
The best advice I've read over and over and over about what to say to your kiddo at the end of the game is "I love to watch you play." Watching a kid hit a home run is amazing. A pitcher throwing a no hitter is remarkable. Sliding safe into home for the winning run? Incredible.

But this I know for sure. As a mama, I have spent a lot of time in the bleachers. As a volunteer in the pediatric cancer community, I have unfortunately spent too much time in the pews of churches at the funerals of young children. If your kid pitches and walks the house? If your kid strikes out looking? If your kid completely misses the plate? If your kid is walking, running, succeeding, failing, or spilling a full red Gatorade all over your car, you are blessed beyond measure. 


Your player – not the plays he makes - is far and away the most amazing thing you will ever see in all your life. Don't forget it.

(*If you can't tell, we've been watching a lot of The Flintstones lately)


Jennifer P. Skinner

Father's Day

'Attaway, Kid: An Ode to Baseball Dads



I have been watching youth baseball in the Northern Virginia area on and off for twenty-three years. When I met my future husband he was straight out of college and coaching Little League with his brother and his high school buddies. So even before I became a mother of three baseball players and a writer who hails the merits of the "baseball mom", I spent lots of time as a spectator watching both baseball players and their parents in the bleachers.


There is a certain stereotype of dads in youth sports. I've seen the accounts of over-involved, over-bearing dads. I even saw an article that mentioned police being called to Little League game because two "adults" couldn't handle the pressure of watching little people throw a ball around. And yet, in my experience, although I've certainly run into some crazy, most often I've witnessed quite the opposite. We all know it's not quite as fun to talk or write about men who behave themselves - men who show up for their kids, not their own egos. But, the vast majority of them do just that. They encourage them, teach them and love them well. I've watched countless daddies watching countless baseball games, so I thought I'd mention a thing or two about some gentlemen that you won't read about in the newspaper or see in your Facebook feed.


First of all, I'll say at the outset that I am a big fan of the moms. We have our own way at the ball field. We set up our chairs with umbrellas and foot rests. We lay out blankets with toys and snacks for our younger children. We joke about the travesty it is that most ballplayers wear white pants and trade advice on the best stain removers. We spray copious amounts of bug repellent and sunscreen on our boys. We provide all manner of protein bars and Gatorades and band-aids to any kid who passes by. We assure a friend that of course, that was a legitimate hit by her son. Who cares that the ball went straight through the 2nd baseman's legs? Little Johnny hit the ball. He is safe at first. That was an awesome hit. (This is what my husband calls a "mommy hit".) I also happen to know a mom - or three - who can throw a mean fastball and coach base runners like nobody's business.


The daddies? They are a little different. Over the years at games ranging from the 8U-12U NVTBL Championships to the Virginia State Little League Tournaments to High School Regional Play-offs, I have watched them. I've recognized how vitally important and special those differences are.


I've noticed how a boy going up to bat might only look to one other person besides his coach. He might just steal a glance outside the fence and lock eyes with his dad. Of course, there are dads who coach too much from the bleachers. But most often, I've watched how a dad simply gives an encouraging nod or a positive word. I've seen how a player can relish that eye contact - can, in fact, crave it.


I've watched how sometimes a dad will move down to the very end of the fence away from the crowd when his boy is up to bat to relieve the pressure on his kid. I've seen some stand alone watching from as far away as they can on a hill beyond the outfield. I've seen some sit silently and assuredly present behind home plate. I've sat with some who shout and joke and encourage with every single play and every single at bat.


While many sports fathers are portrayed as intensely serious about the game, I have found that it's the dads who do the best job at lightening the mood. On the teams we've been on over the years it's the dads who come up with silly nicknames that stick with our kids. One of our players went flying face first into the right field fence when he was nine years old.  His nickname, "Fence", stuck with him well into high school. I've listened as some dads shout silly phrases to diffuse a pressure situation, not only to their own kids, but to others as well. Some men jump high out of their chairs, smack hands against the fence and raise their arms in victory when we hear "Strike three!" or see a ball sail over the fence. In contrast, I've seen a dad as he watched his son hit a walk-off home run to win a big game, just stand still, eyes wide with wonder, shaking his head in disbelief, grinning from ear to ear and not uttering a single word.


And what of those dads who are their player's most ruthless critics when things go wrong? Sure, I've seen that many times. But I've also seen something else. I've seen a dad agree to take his frustrated hitter out to the batting cage at late hours of the night to help him practice. Not at his own insistence, but because the boy asked and in fact, needed to methodically swing his bat over and over while his biggest fan quietly fed balls from behind the L Screen. I very clearly remember watching a boy and his dad during the Virginia State Little League tournament about five years ago. I saw the 12 year old boy as tall as his father blink back tears after he had struggled at the plate during a game. I did not hear instruction, criticism or advice come out of his dad's mouth. I simply saw that father wrap him up in a bear hug and sway him back and forth, whispering support and love in his ear. And, by the way, I watched that same boy hit two balls out of the park the next day. Coincidence?  Maybe, maybe not.


People all over the country including me will be at the ball park this weekend as we celebrate Father's Day. We will run into every sort and kind of dad. I will remember that we live in a world where everyone seems compelled to share their opinions on every blasted thing - especially parenting. I have heard baseball dads praised. I have heard them criticized. I've heard whispers that that one is way too hard on his kid while that one goes too easy. That one thinks his kid can do no wrong. That one will not shut up about his kid. That one thinks his kid will go to the Majors next week.


In the end, despite any judgment or criticism I might have of the way another person parents, we all know that not a one of us is remotely perfect. I am 100% sure of one thing and that is that there is a strand of truth that runs through every single dad I have encountered on the ball field. Each deeply, completely, earnestly is doing the best he knows how to do for his kid and each screws up and succeeds all the darn time. From the harshest critics to the biggest supporters, I've no doubt that these men love their children to the ends of the earth.


So this weekend as I settle in to the bleachers at the ball field, I'll be grateful for all the dads present because I am fully aware that there are many that are missing. And I'll know that there are boys from six to sixty who would give any thing to have their daddies in the bleachers for one more day whether cheering or criticizing, sitting quietly or arguing with umpires. I am hopeful this weekend that those who have lost their dads feel the presence of their fathers from the tips of their cleats to the tops of their ball caps. This year in particular, there are two sons who I know will suffer on Sunday. I will be praying for a 13 year old ball player from our area who lost his dad a year ago. And as I do every year, I'll be lifting up my very favorite baseball coach who lost his dad over thirty years ago. It seems to me that on Father's Day the pain for a grown man missing his dad is the same as it is for a young boy.


I never met my husband's father, but I have looked to the heavens and thanked him many times over for the man he raised. I have no doubt that he has not missed a game since the Lord took him home when my husband was seventeen years old. I know in my heart that he watched his son play his senior year of baseball and he has watched him coach our sons and many others over the past twenty years. Very often when I notice the serious, unflappable expression on my husband's face break into a relaxed grin when the win is near, I look up at the sky and give a wink to my father-in-law. I have a feeling that in addition to the bleachers filled with baseball dads this weekend, there will be an equally raucous cheering section in heaven. I'll bet my father-in-law will make room for our friend, Tom, as he watches over his boy, Ryan. There will be some high fives, a subtle fist pump or two, and a couple of wide smiles and a gleams of pride in some fathers' eyes up there.  I have a feeling that though we won't hear their voices, there will be a chorus of baseball dads cheering, " 'Attaway, kid.  That's my boy."


Happy Father's Day, Dads. You are cherished.



Jennifer P. Skinner

Mother's Day




For at least 8-10 of the 18 years that I've been a mom, I've spent Mother's Day in the bleachers at a baseball field. Most of my best friends have done the same and to be honest, there's really no place we'd rather be. If you've made your way here to this site today, I'm guessing you can relate.  Let's see.


Have you ever . . . 


1) . . .noticed that flip-flop tan line and then realized that was actually a mix of baseball field dirt and sunscreen permanently staining your recently pedicured feet?


2) . . .decided to splurge on the large Diet Coke before the game because it was a Thursday and you remember that the Port-A-Potty is always cleaned on Thursdays?


3) . . .realized that the Port-A-Potty people didn't show and started whimpering on your way to use it, breaking into a full-out tantrum when you had to go in?


4) . . .received your Pottery Barn Bed and Bath catalog and instead of picturing your own bathroom remodel, imagined those monogrammed towels and accessories in the Port-A-Potty at your local baseball field?


5) . . .had a number of 40ish year old men, who are not your husband, walk through your laundry room to get to the garage to get a beer to drink during the Little League Board Meeting while your bra (your very small sized bra) was hanging to dry?


6) . . .not been able to pass off said bra as your pre-teen daughter's because YOU DON'T HAVE A DAUGHTER?!


7) . . .yelled at your son, "Get your head in the game!" after he made an error and then realized that it wasn't your son that made that error?  Yikes.


8) . . . thought your husband's head was going to come right off his body when your son actually did make an error? 


9) . . .prayed to God something like this:  "I know, dear Lord, that there are tsunamis, earthquakes and starving children, but if it is Your will, could you please, oh please, oh please, could You just get my boy on first base safely in any way that You possibly can?  And could You please, oh please, oh please keep my husband's head from exploding if he doesn't happen to get there safely?  Thanks much.  Amen."


10) . . . stomped over to that obnoxious  other team's side to give that mom a piece of your mind, then in this order:  


a)  realized that she was slightly scarier than Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear with as many tattoos.

b)  glanced down to make sure your running shoes were tied tight.

c)  real-quick-like, muttered something under your breath. 

d)  hustled your 5 foot 2 inch self back to the bleachers safely next to the biggest dad on your team.


11) . . . felt pretty tired of waiting for the game to start, so took it upon yourself to yell, "Balls in, comin' down" from your fancy schmancy Costco chair with umbrella, bottle opener, foot rest and cooler?


12) . . .found that your younger children think that the batting cage is their own personal playroom during game time?


13) . . .wished you could find a padlock for that batting cage?  


14) . . .channeled your inner Martha Stewart and created a "Ladies Fit tee" out of that boxy spirit wear tshirt with some craft scissors and ribbon?


If so, then you are my people and I wish you a blessed Mother's Day while you're watching your kid play. If you're not at the ball field, I'm just going to assume you got the blessing of a rain out which, let's be honest, can be a bit of a burden because what in the world do people like you and me do for an entire afternoon when they're not at a baseball field?


Maybe you can find your way to a nice restaurant? Maybe one that doesn't have 321 tvs or buffalo wings and cheese fries as the signature dish? 


Listen, sister. Do it. Because let's face it, before you know it you're going to be sitting in the parking lot during extra innings while your toddler takes his afternoon nap in the car, drinking a warm Gatorade that you found in your son's bat bag and chomping on a bag of Twizzlers you bought at the Snack Shack.  


Happy Mother's Day, Baseball Moms!!!



Jennifer P. Skinner


Not Too Big

I wrote the following last summer after the Virginia State Little League Baseball Tournament. My oldest, Joe, played on the All-Star Team and my husband was the coach of the team.  Our league is young and we had not had great success in past years in the tournament.  Much to our surprise and delight, our boys rolled through the District 16 tournament winning the first District Championship for our league.  The team went on to the Virginia State Tournament and went undefeated in pool play, only to lose in the quarterfinals.  It was an exhausting and exhilirating experience for our family and friends.  I found myself praying a lot...seemingly mundane requests, but requests that I know my God heard.  

As Tim Tebow and his faith made a splash in the NFL last season, sports radio and tv blew up with debate about whether or not God has the time or the inclination to care about football or sports in general.  All of that reminded me of last summer when I wrote this.  My contention is that God is not small.  He is not stressed out with the millions of prayers He hears, sending certain pleas to His SPAM file and labeling others with a giant "!!!".  He might not care specifically about RBIs or touchdowns, but I believe He deeply cares about His people.  He meets us where we are and He cares about what is important to us.  

All-Star season begins this week and I am trying to take deep breaths in preparation. My husband has the honor of coaching the 11/12 year old team again this summer. My middle man, Kyle, will play on the 10/11 team - not on his dad's team.  So my prayers will begin in earnest again...for my husband, for the other coaches, for the players and for the families.  I won't put my God in a box.  I will lift my voice to Him and I will know that He is big enough to hear me.

From July 2011:
Not too big, but big enough
“And even though my issues seem trivial, You alone are never too imperial”
From the song, Big Enough, by Ayiesha Woods
I pray a lot.  I pray for big things and small things.  I pray in the shower and in the car, when I’m running and when my eyes are heavy with sleep.  This summer I have prayed for a friend’s 18 year old niece battling cancer, a little 4 year old boy who survived a car accident that his mother, father and 2 year old brother did not, and for a father serving in Afghanistan away from his wife and two young sons.  But the overwhelming majority of my prayers this summer took place sitting in metal bleachers behind home plate and they had to do with one subject:  Baseball.

There are soldiers facing guns and death and enemies I will never comprehend.  There are mothers sitting by the bedside of a dying child.  There are families suffering divorce and brokenness.  And isn’t my God too busy, too important, too big to listen to a mother of a healthy 12 year old  boy plead for courage and a steady swing when her son is faced with a curve ball from a Little League pitcher?  I have found, most assuredly, that He is not.  He is important enough.  He is big enough to hear every plea, every heart’s desire, every shaky voice of a nervous mom and wife, an anxious coach and dad or a determined young athlete.  I found that He listened to every word I spoke this summer.  He might not have given me what I thought I wanted every time, although many, many times He did.  I know that He watched in delight like so many of our fans did these past few weeks.  He saw the plays, the errors, the hits and He saw a mom and wife’s fears, hopes, worries and pride.

I had some disagreements with my manager/husband during this run, I will admit.  How much was too much practice?  Don’t they need a break?  Have you ever heard of burnout? Who is he, Cal Ripken? When you say practice ends at 8:00, it should end at 8:00. What exactly do you want him to do all day if he can’t go to the pool for more than an hour and he can’t go out in the heat for long?  In the end, he was the coach and I was not.  But I did feel better at least venting. (very quietly and respectfully though and with only the occasional eye-roll, ahem.)  We weathered the strain.  We had one date night during that time, in which we ate sushi and discussed pitch counts, batting orders and field positions.  It was quite romantic. And again, I prayed.  I prayed to hold my tongue.  I prayed for my marriage. I prayed that the younger boys in my house would feel as important as the oldest.   I prayed for my husband’s stress level.  I prayed, Dear Lord, that he would have a job at the end of this.  I prayed that my husband and I would still have friends when this was all over!

What I do know is that my manager/husband might have had an earful from his loving wife, but he did not hear a single complaint from a player.  The boys worked hard day after day after day when many of their friends were having late night sleepovers, beach trips and camps.  They suited up in those hot polyester baseball pants and they showed up every single day.  They endured Moms spraying buckets of sunscreen on them and swatted those persistent little gnats away in the outfield.  And as for the player that lived in my house, I never heard him sigh or argue when it was time to get ready yet again for practice.  They practiced with intention, kept their heads in the game and had immense faith in their teammates.  Mine wasn’t a starter, but he was all in, as was every last player on the team.  And again, I prayed.  I prayed that my son wouldn’t feel too much pressure.  I prayed for each and every boy.  I prayed that each one would get a moment to make an important play or at bat or base run.  God answered that prayer.  Every player had a moment.  Not one boy quit trying and believing that he could make a difference for his teammates.  I could see it on each face.

I am grateful for the parents and their support of my family. I am grateful for fans who showed up.  I am immensely grateful that if there was any grumbling or second guessing of the coaches, it was kept from me.  I am grateful for well-wishers from around the country who texted and emailed and called in their support for our boys from miles and miles away.  It seemed that every man from 30-70 years old that I knew was pulled in to the excitement with memories of his own Little League experience dancing in his head. I am grateful that God loves and delights in each and every player around the world who is playing and has played this game.
And then the end came.  Compared to so many Little League players’ experience, our end was long in coming, yet it still seemed too soon for us.  I watched as the boys and their coaches lingered on the field, having trouble convincing their feet to move their worn cleats off the green grass of the outfield.  As my boy faced the end of the run for a State Championship and walked up to accept a handshake from the Tournament Director, though he had been told to “keep his head up”, his head was slightly facing the ground.   His eyes were blinking back tears and his mama watched with a heavy heart.  He shook the hand, accepted the pin and turned away.  Quickly, but surely, I watched my boy tap his chest, raise his head and point to the sky where the sun was setting over the trees behind left field.  He knew His God was big enough to ask and he knew his God was big enough to thank in every circumstance.  This mama was as happy and as proud as if those hands had swung the bat to hit the ball over the fence.  He had understood the gift he was given this summer and he was grateful to the One who rejoices in his victories and consoles in his defeats.   Our God is more than big enough.  He gave us a big, giant gift this summer and my little brood of boys and I will remember and be grateful for it and for all of the players, coaches, and families that came with it forever.

PS.  A big shout out to my pastor who was gracious enough to surprise me with including this on our church website last summer.  I was humbled and I think it just might have given me a little kick in the pants to find a place for these ramblings of mine.  Thanks, Pastor C.

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