Little League Baseball & Lessons For Life
LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL IS KID HEAVEN
Is there really a better way for young boys to spend their summer than by playing little league baseball? If there is, I'm in the dark. All I know is that when I was a kid, playing summer baseball was the triumphal peak of kid heaven.
The inviting feel of dirt, the penetrating scent of sweat-laced leather, and the countless hours of uninterrupted joy is baseball to a young boy. I know. I've been there.
Some will disagree. But my two cents say there is no better sport than baseball. Every nook and cranny, every nuance, and every romantic gesture of the game, I love. Always have. Always will.
When asked, it doesn't take long for any red-blooded American to relate their favorite baseball memories. Whether forged in back street alleys or on neighborhood lots, baseball recollections are vast and varied. For me, this year offered an extra-special serving of baseball pie.
2008 was the year my love for baseball was indelibly etched in my heart.
The 2008 Dragons made it to the little league playoffs. They did so by playing their best baseball when it mattered; by playing smart, playing tough, and never giving up. These are real-life lessons played out on the well-manicured fields of the 3 & 2 baseball club of Kansas City.
Yes indeed, these boys are winners. Little league baseball is truly kid heaven!
In Late March, signups for the 3 & 2 baseball club of Kansas City began. As we anxiously drove the few, winding miles to the ballfield, our eagerness to meet our coaches and potential teammates was evident. Those boys wanted to play that day. Little did I know the role I'd eventually inherit.
To be honest, coaching these impressionable young boys was the furthest thing from my mind. After all, I had never coached little league baseball before and only by chance did our younger boy make the team. Everything was new. And it was soon to become a life-sharpening experience.
Here's my story.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Before I continue (in order to fully grasp these lessons) I need to remove a small piece of my childhood from the closet. Don't worry; it's not that bad.
I was born the middle of three boys. (AKA the hidden, somewhat-disturbed, peace-making child). As a gift to our neighbors and family, all three of us were extremely competitive. If you ask our mother, she'll offer a few reasons. I believe it had something to do with that nasty, fruit-flavored space stuff we had to drink at breakfast.
Seriously though, to us, competition was a way of life. It was all we knew. And with an entire neighborhood noisily swarming with alpha males, we had no choice. Only today, can I begin to understand the scope of such shaping. Sometimes it was scary fun. But mostly, it was harmless.
My brothers and I competed in everything from Monopoly to croquet (which is another hub entirely). But it was on the baseball field where we truly butted heads; not to mention a few other body parts.
Hardball, softball, wiffle ball, or cork ball. You name it. We played them all with intensity. Nobody gave a flip that I was born with basically one eye (darn those genetic switches). My gear was always set on high and I was never out-hustled.
It was this testosterone-based sibling rivalry that drove our bodies to pain and our parents loony. We didn't care. It was the greatest fun known to boys.
Looking back, we understand it was natural and healthy. Looking forward, it was in need of a tempering.
So, In a nutshell, my life growing up (and continuing somewhat to this day) was built around a culture of competition. It would take this team of joyful little leaguers to begin my reshaping.
Maturity was in the mold. I just didn't know it. Someway, somehow, I was helping coach a competitive little league baseball team.
Heaven help me.
Getting Down to Business
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
With a literal, rag-tag group of boys (most of whom had never played an inning of organized, competitive baseball), practice began. There were many anxious moments. Questions such as: who has the most graceful drop? Or, which boy owns the most lopsided throw? swirled in my head and I knew they shouldn't have. In all honesty, it was sometimes painful. But the boys persevered. The boys grew.
Practices were not always pretty. Most were hot and uncomfortable. But that's baseball, the boys of summer. It's supposed to be hot. Positions were learned and unlearned and in the end, each boy patroled his turf. Things were taking shape, on the field and within my heart.
"Be a man of patience. These boys are looking up to me. I need to have patience. Yes, I know it's difficult. Not everyone will play the way you did or how you expect them to. They are young boys having fun. Be a mentor. Learn to accept each boy for who he is. True, you can teach the fundamentals, but don't try to make them into a player they are not."
Those were the conversations I had with myself. They were frustrating and cleansing at the same time...in hindsight, of course!
The longer we worked on drills and fundamentals, the more I realized my own weaknesses. Yes, I was helping coach these boys but the boys were actually coaching me.
The regular season began after we took a serious beating in our pre-season tournament. We played three games. We lost three games. In fact, we were never competitive. This was as alien to me as an eight-legged cow. Good grief, we got creamed!
Thoughts such as these crept into my head:
"My goodness, we're the bad news bears. This is embarrassing. How can I leave? I can't believe I'm saying what I'm saying. I'm an embarrassment. Where's the bathroom?"
The boys persevered. The boys grew. I persevered. I began to grow.
Believe in the boys. Be willing to lose. Speak in gentle tones. Accept the smallest of victories, and remember, these are only boys living out their baseball-heaven dreams.
SMACK. A dose of reality right across my face. I'm never too old to be humbled!
Amidst the chaos of learning and unlearning, these boys began to get it. It was awesome.
This group of strong-willed boys held their ground and literally stepped up to the plate. They fought back tears as well as numerous bad pitches. They came together and became a team.
Sure we lost our fair share of games. But we won our share as well. In all honesty, this is the best they could have given. I'll never ask for more!
A big high five to all you larger-than-life little Dragons!
THE PLAYOFFS :)
The 2008 Dragons lost their second game of the double elimination playoffs. I'm bummed, but boy am I proud! Those boys played their guts out and lost both games by one run each. (In the bottom half of the final inning I might add).
2008 was a great year to be a Dragon!
Cherish the moment. Accept small victories. Control your emotions because these boys are looking up to you. Remember, they are only boys. They, too, may grow up to become coaches. Instill in them a sense of integrity, but most of all... LET THEM HAVE FUN.
Little league baseball is kid heaven.
I continue to grow.
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