Baseball is a kid’s game. Adults who support kids are obligated to do two things that seem to cancel each other:
one side: give the kids a platform to discover themselves supporting them when they lack confidence in themselves;
the other side: get out of the way and just allow the kids to play.
Some don’t see it that way.
A friend asked me to help him organize a weekly summer pickup game at a local playground.
While many of the kids were regulars in the local Little League or Rec and Park affiliate, some were not but played on their school team only – which also meant playing among the kids in organized ball just not as serious or committed.
I was happy to observe that the kids did fine among themselves without adult intervention.
The supervision by the parents who chose to stay rather than drop their kids off and come back in a couple hours was mixed:
it had the affect of helping the parent through their own tendency to try and step in and help their kid through a challenging moment – in the mind of the parent;
or, a chance to observe how their kid handles things when their parent is not around, as is most of the work week.
How do you convince a loving committed parent that on their day off spending time with their kid means not spending time with their kid?
But the parent just being visible may have had an impact on their kid just being a kid.
At times, a parent was compelled to head into the field for one or both of two reasons:
to guide their or any other kid on the field with less grace, skill or experience in how to perform a specific task;
as there may have been too few kids around fill in the gaps in the field so the game was less skewed.
I remember as a kid we always had too few kids on our field but we enjoyed it anyway:
it was our turf; we all adjusted: we hit to the fielder’s range…
That is an important difference I feel in the game today:
now, it is about successfully defeating your opponent;
then, it was about engaging your friends in a dialog in the field, allowing them the chance to succeed in a given challenge.
But to be fair to our kids: the banter at First Base between fielder and runner, among kids ages 5 to 18, did instill terrific hope and optimism in me for the future of generations.
I got that perspective growing up watching the San Francisco Giants mostly fail season after season in their post-1962 post-season run, the year I was born;
admiring my home team, excited from the first time I walked into Candlestick Park, not knowing everyone around me who knew of their achievement, was living in the after-glow, individual players who had astonishing talent stood out only to have their accomplishments tainted by the moment of incredible success by their opponents; a passed line drive just out of range of the third base-person’s glove.
The confusion as a kid was visceral:
why care: if my home team fails to win, even, despite the the ability of Mays, McCovey, Marichal to be super-human?
Why are the other players letting their team mates and the fans who support them down?
Why did my dad drag me and my brother and our friends to the other side of town to sit in the fog and wind or the blazing sun; a mile up in the stands, for 3-5 hours as the National League Champions of 8 years ago continue to fail to demonstrate why they collectively were the Nation League Champions?
Our moms certainly prepared a better hot dog; we could get 25-cent pink popcorn brick at the Zoo by Ocean Beach…
I can run a litany of moments I experienced of the three gods mentioned previously, or the talent of others on our team – and their opponents’.
What game was our 32nd Avenue crew playing every day trespassing on Burke’s Field, at 3:30 in the afternoon doing different than our Giants? Were we emulating them? Living an ideal in our minds our own bodies could not comply with?
My 2, now-adult, kids, 20 and 23, lived baseball from age 5, when t-ball hit their radar. Thanks to a number of parents who stepped up to conduct play, I have pictures and video it prove it.
My daughter had a friend, Jamie, in the classroom, on the playground and on her t-ball team in Kindergarten, who died soon thereafter from cancer. While their school planted a tree and maintained it in his legacy, he became a guiding presence to our daughter who’s memory, no doubt, helped her through many challenging moments as a kid.
I have photos to prove it…
Our son’s first moments, 16 years past, tearing around the dirt field at Moscone Playground (the same field where I observed the same degrees of those first moments of baseball joy, satisfaction and the excitement sharing those moments with dad and older brother, the glimmer in the eye of a 5 year-old girl swinging a baseball bat, practicing for her next turn at the plate, when San Francisco Rec & Park hosted its first ever all-girl baseball tournament Summer 2016; the same field where our San Francisco Youth Baseball League had, ten years earlier launched its first all-girl baseball league, with Rochelle “Rocky” Henry pitching to 48 girls from around our 49 square mile city surround by the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean on three sides,) I have a video of his first at bat: a t-ball stand up triple.
How as a parent would I feel if I wasn’t present for my kids’ most impressionable moments to share in their delight or awkwardness; their glee or sadness?
How did my kid feel when I was their to help or guide them through reality rather than merely try and put myself in that moment and place from the kid’s story, shared miles and hours later, what they were ready to share?
While I was in Stockton, CA, with Jason, age 14, on a Fall day, in 2010, as the coaches and umpires negotiated a start time to the day’s game, the deal due to a sprinkler that flooded the field the night before;
Jessica and her mother were 2 1/2 hours away in Burlingame, CA, where, as an (off season) Varsity High School pitcher, Jessica mowed down two boys, forcing a ground out to end the inning; driving a solid Single up the middl to get on base:
I can only imagine the shared jump for joy Jessica and her mother, Maxine felt a they stole a moment alone in the parking lot…
How many parents of teens reading this have so little to go on when you ask your kid, “how was your day today; what happened; how was school; how was your practice; how is your best friend doing?”
Maybe it means being selfish as a parent, as a person, who is in the life of your kid; to be there when life happens – but finding the perfect balance allowing your kid to experience their own life.
I am only reflecting on how things seemed to unfold; how my own experiences did and didn’t influence my kids’ experiences;
how, observing other families engaged in youth baseball for 16 years – not to forget the year I coached Police Activities League baseball 10 years before my kids swung their first metal bat – taught me a lot about community; commitment to others and their families; perspective; appreciation for the adult volunteers in our community dedicated to our kids learning through challenges.