As I sit down with my laptop to write for NVTBL today, I'm watching the College Baseball Super Regional on TV. My Texas Longhorns have a three run lead, but the bad guys have bases loaded with one out.
So it follows that in addition to writing and watching, I am holding my breath and clinching my hands together and using all of my well-honed jedi mind tricks to convince the baseball gods to extend my team's season by at least one more game.
I believe in the baseball world this is otherwise known as "DO NOT CHANGE YOUR SEAT. DO NOT GO TO THE RESTROOM. KEEP YOUR FEET, HANDS, TOES, FINGERS AND ALL OTHER BODY PARTS IN THE EXACT SAME POSITION OR ELSE YOU WILL RUIN THE MOJO AND THE BAD GUYS WILL WIN AND IT WILL BE ALL YOUR FAULT FOREVER MORE."
I will grant you that in the days when May turns to June and the end of the baseball season looms ominously and ever closer in the distance, it's possible that I take it a little far when it comes to my rituals, prayers and superstitions. And yet, I know that there are many fans in bleachers, in fold up chairs, and in stadium seats right now who understand my specific brand of crazy.
Of course, we want to win because winning is indisputably more fun than is losing. But as I sit here feeling all of these familiar feelings of hope and uttering all of these oft-repeated pleas that maybe, just maybe this could not be the end for my team, I realize that in the last few weeks, this has been a universal feeling for parents at baseball diamonds all around the country. Whether it's Little League or NVTBL play offs or High School post-season play or the College World Series, countless moms and dads have held their collective breath waiting and praying and hoping for their players to give them just one more day at the ballpark. (or on the couch with the television tuned to the Longhorn Network, as the case may be)
Because no matter if it's the parent of a "Little League-age-12 year old" or of a high school senior and even of a grown man playing in his last college game, for us parents, it's not as much about facing losing as it is about facing the possibility of that true, final inning.
Sure, we might loudly lament the washing of uniforms, the smelly cleats and the half drunk Gatorade bottles we find under our car seats, but if you look deep into the heart of a baseball mama in the late days of the season, you'll likely find she can't help but want to do it just one more time. She wants one more chance to be forced to buy one more bottle of Shout and one more bucket of Oxi-clean. She wants one more chance to rearrange the family schedule to make room on the calendar for that next game. She wants one more chance to load up the car with snacks and drinks and sunscreen and that funky catcher's bag. Just one more time, please Lord. One more.
And for many a dad I know, he wants one more chance to stay late after practice to hit the batting cages. He wants one more chance to rustle his kid awake early on a Saturday morning for practice. He wants one more chance to remind him of how he should widen his stance or narrow his stance or play up or play back or play sideways. Just one more time, please Lord. One more.
Last year I wrote about the last baseball game my oldest boy would ever play. It was emotional, perhaps a bit melodramatic, and very heavy on the sappiness.
I now look back a year later and know that - just as I had hoped - the walk off that field that day, while it was certainly an ending, also proved to be the start of some amazing beginnings. I knew at the time that baseball was a game that had served him well in his childhood and I hoped that it would continue to serve him well in adulthood even if he never set foot on the diamond again. And that hope came true.
He learned from this game that there would always be some who were better than him and some who were not. He learned to accept the role he was meant to play on any given day and to play it to the best of his ability. He also learned that if there was another position he felt he wanted, he'd have to pay his dues, show up early and often and work harder than the next guy to gain a spot. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn't and that will be true every day of his life. He learned that no matter the role, whether he was leading from a position on the pitcher's mound or supporting his team from the bench, his commitment to that role should not waiver.
As his baseball playing days are over now, I have had to switch my focus from being a fan watching my boy show up for his team on the field, to watching him show up for his life. In a new state with new surroundings and new challenges, I have seen him take on the smallest roles with a commitment and focus as if it they were the biggest. I have watched how hard work has paid off and that opportunities often show up for you when you choose to show up for them first. I have watched him adapt and change and adjust, just exactly as he was taught to do on the baseball diamond.
So sweet moms and anxious dads, here's the thing: Whether you are facing that very last inning or have a number of innings left to watch in your little buddy in the future, I can tell you that as a mom on both sides of that equation, I do not regret a single moment of the time and the stress and the juggling our family has put into this game. And I would contend that I'd feel this way with any sport. Those of us who have jumped on this sports-crazed bandwagon with our kids have no doubt had moments when we've wondered if it was too much. We've heard criticism that we're all delusional and have "pie in the sky" notions that our kids will all be Major Leaguers.
I will tell you with almost 100% certainty that none of my three kids will play ball in college and I would still choose the path we've taken with them over and over again. That's not why we have dedicated our time to this sport. The commitment to baseball (or any other sport, frankly) is not a waste of time. It's not simply a hobby that will remain in the past as your kids go on to other things. It is a game whose lessons will stick: Keep swinging. Brush off the dirt and hustle back to the dugout to await the next at bat. Don't stop playing until the final out. No matter what.
Do not fear that final inning, Moms and Dads. When it comes just remember that for everything there is a season - even a final baseball season. Remember that there will always be another game to be played - even if it's not on the diamond. Remember that the walk off the field leads down a path to a life where all of those lessons your boy learned over all of those years will surely serve him well. Give that kid a hug and keep being his biggest fan. It's just beginning now so take a front row seat and watch how he walks on. It's a heckuva lot of fun.
Jennifer P. Skinner