Is History Repeating Itself?
When I pick up a newspaper only to read another youth sports horror story about parents fighting at a youth hockey, football or baseball game with each other or with coaches or umpires, I often think back to the time when I was playing youth baseball:
How, when I was 10 years old, an umpire had to throw a parent out of the stands because he refused to stop showering him with obscenities for a pitch he called a ball; How, eighteen years later, I can still hear that parent shouting and can still see the expression of fear on the teenage umpire's face, thinking the man was going to beat him up after the game (Eventually, the police had to be called to remove the parent from the park); How some of my teammates' parents yelled at their kids if they struck out or made an error; how humiliating it must have been for them, how it often brought them to tears right on the field in front of everyone;
For me, at least, the positive experiences I had playing organized baseball, starting with Little League™ and continuing on through high school and at the major college level, far outweighed the bad. I learned life lessons through baseball that remain with me today: the value of sportsmanship, the joy of camaraderie, the importance of teamwork, how to become a leader and motivate others, the rewards of hard work, how to deal with success and failure. How is it that I could play in the same league as other kids but have an entirely different experience; an experience that has kept me involved in the game of baseball, which has been the second biggest influence in my life? To answer that question, you need to know about my number one influence: my Mom and Dad.
How, sadly, the same things that I saw when I was a kid are still happening today, but more frequently, and, as with the recent death of a hockey dad in Massachusetts, often with tragic consequences.
More Than Just Being There
It was not just that they went to 99% of the games I played in, from the time I was six to the time I was 14.
It was not just that if my Dad were on trial the day of one of my games, he would get the judge to grant a recess so he could fly into town to see me play.
It was not just that my Mom played catcher for me in the back yard so I could practice my pitching, or that she would always take me to practice no matter how far it was from home.
It was not just that, weekend after weekend, year after year, my parents and grandparents spent countless hours at the ballpark watching me play in 90-degree heat.
No. It was more: It was the advice my parents gave me when I was six years old, before I had even played in my first Little League game.
Three Bits Of Advice
It was one of those few moments from one's childhood that become frozen in time; one that I can remember like it happened yesterday. Advice elegant in its simplicity that made sense to a six year-old child, excited at the prospect of his first Little League game; one that, for different reasons, still makes sense to a 28-year-old adult; one that, perhaps for different reasons still, will undoubtedly make sense to me when I pass it on to my son or daughter when I have kids.
Before that first game, my mom and dad and I had a short talk. They gave me three simple pieces of advice:
Baseball is, and always will be, just a game,
Ice my elbow after throwing a lot of pitches; and
- Once I started the season, I had to finish it.
They were teaching me, of course, lessons for life that transcend sport. With the benefit of hindsight and years of reflection, here are the lessons I think my parents were really teaching me; life lessons that were not just about baseball at all:
Always keep things in perspective;
Take care of your health; and
- Finish what you start.
I know that, as the years go by and as I learn and grow, I will continue to see new meanings in the three rules my parents taught me way back when I was six. They were rules that established a wonderful foundation for my youth sports experience, which has become a major part of who I am today.