Last weekend we woke to a cold crisp Saturday morning. Fortunately there was no wind. But at 25 degrees, it was plenty cold. This was the day for Meridian Youth Baseball Assessments. The thought of going through a baseball combine at that temperature didn't seem to phase the kids, they had adrenalin to keep them warm. We parents on the other hand, we were a bit chilly. And of course, nothing runs according to plan, so we waited in the cold for about an hour longer than we were prepared for. But it was only adults, like me, whining about the weather.
The kids, 10-12 years of age were split into groups of 5-7 players. Then over the next 15 minutes, they were to strut their stuff. First came fielding three high pop fly balls in the outfield then throwing to second base. My son's arm is a bit stronger this year and he over threw, nearly hitting the pitching machine near the mound. By his third catch, his aim was much better. Next came fielding grounders. That went well with little drama. Then came three swings at the plate. Now this was a bit tough. Already with his travel team he's been swinging at balls around 50-60 mph. But this machine was set a 40 mph tops. It seemed that some of the older kids were not hitting well. My son, at the plate, took three nice swings and had three nice strikes, all early on the swing. At least its better than watching them go by, I guess. Then last, a run around the bases. My son's fast, so he turned on the speed and took flew around the bases. And he was done.
Perhaps the best thing for us as parents was the confidence we saw in our son. He didn't do well on a couple throws, or at the plate. But he was being assessed in front of coaches who have seen him hit game winning triples, pitch a shut-out, or aggressively run someone down for a tag when played catcher. He walked onto the field, not cocky, but confident. Knowing that you were not going to be judged by only 15 minutes of your life, but upon the sum of several years of effort was a relief.
Kids need opportunities at confidence that is not cocky. They've seen too many athletes who must overcome some kinds of psychological burdens by trash talking other, by aggressively questioning coaches and team-mates, or by blind disregard for others. The whiny self-centered athletes get to take center stage too often, while the quite ones seem to be overlooked. But they are not overlooked by coaches. Confidence that is not cocky is not only a statement of skill, it is a demonstration of character. And in the end, character is what sports really builds up.
My son's Cal Ripken coach called last night. For three months my son will be a Dodger. Though we live in Idaho, I'm teaching him to say "Dodger" like, "Dah-jer" so he sounds more Brooklyn than Angelino. He already started talking about being like Jackie Robinson. The coach told me that my son, and his summer traveling team buddies were the top of the draft. They have a reputation for playing skillfully and being good people. It's pretty cool knowing that your child is in demand.
This is my son's last year in Cal Ripkin ball. Next year, at age 13 he'll enter the Babe Ruth League, and we'll see what comes after that. It will be another challenge. Like being a freshman, being at the bottom again. But life is filled with those experiences that demand that we start again, begin again.
The draft is complete, practice starts tomorrow, soon we'll hear "play ball!"