Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why Do I Do It?

Today, of course, is Father's Day. Since I'm the father to four (sometimes) wonderful children, I should have spent today surrounded by my kids and doing "Dad" things, like making a barbecue, having the kids wait on me hand and foot and you know, stuff like that. But that's not what my day was like this year.

Today started like most Sundays. I woke up pretty early, took an shower, and because my oldest son spent the night, woke him up so we could get haircuts (it was needed for both of us).

Before we came home again, one of my twins called and asked if I could come over because they wanted to give me something. Now understand, for all the years I was married, I don't ever recall any of my kids doing anything for Father's Day. As one of those cruel ironies of life, Mother's Day occurs during May, while kids are still in school. So each day, during that week, the teachers have them make art projects, or cards, for the kids to bring mom on Sunday.

Well, we fathers have no such luck. School ended a week ago and therefore, there weren't any teachers making my kids make ashtrays, or whatever it is they made when I was young.

Now, in my house, we always celebrated Mother's Day. But, whether it's because of my personality, or whatever, I was always lucky if one of the kids remembered me before I finally reminded them before bed. Don't laugh, they forgot my birthday two years in a row!

But this time, they actually bought me a gift. Well, their mother paid for it. But it was something the kids wanted me to have. It was so sweet that I was at a loss for words.

Anyway, that isn't why I'm writing today. What I did today was - after hanging out with the kids for a short time - was coach baseball.

I've always enjoyed playing ball. Even as a kid, when I was pretty awful, I still loved the competition. By high school, I became a pretty good basketball player, and a decent quarterback in football. But of course, I was just a legend in my own mind - especially once I seriously injured my back, when I was just 20.

But I still loved the games, even of I wasn't able to play anymore. I knew how to play and as they say, those who can, do. Those who can't, coach. I knew how to coach. Oh, I wasn't able to necessarily teach the kids any great moves, and I certainly am no genius. But one thing I've always known was how to interact and motivate kids. It was the reason I spent so many years as a youth adviser for NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth).

My first coaching opportunity came in Houston, where I coached the kids from the Hebrew Academy, in basketball. We were not expected to be able to really compete, especially given that we were generally smaller than the other teams. But we only lost one game that season and somehow, someway, defeated that team in a rematch for the championship. It was at that moment that I realized I could do this.

While I spent many of the following years continuing my career as a youth director, I didn't get another opportunity to coach again until my own kids started growing up. Then, a few years ago, I came to the conclusion that my older son would greatly benefit from playing in a league. For those who know him, you know that he has Asperger's Syndrome (I don't say he suffers from it because in many ways, it's a blessing as well). But although he loves baseball, he was simply outmatched in this league. Nonetheless, the experience turned out to be very beneficial.

This team was pretty good. But what made them great was the way they not only accepted my son as a teammate, but they way they all reacted when he finally managed his first base hit. It was magical for him and for me. These boys were so good together that it was no surprise when they scored 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th (these games are only 7-inning contests and the championship game went to extra innings) to win it all. While my son did not get the game winning hit, the boy who did was also in the same boat as my son. He was not a very good hitter, but was treated so well by the team that even when he got out, he knew no one was making fun of him.

Well, we won that season. But the season took a lot out of me. I was still recovering from my heart transplant and would often need a day or two just to get back on my feet afterward. But my son asked me to coach again the next year. This time, it was softball and it seemed that this group of kids were not all that interested in playing. I was lucky to be able to field enough players to play each week, and a couple of times, we had to forfeit because we didn't have enough players. It was a brutal season and I felt afterward that it took too much out of me.

But this year, my youngest son decided he wanted to play and he asked me if I would coach his team. How could I refuse? This time, I was in far better health and far better prepared for a season.

When I met my players, I knew I had something special here. The only thing that upset (and disappointed) me was that for some reason, there weren't many parents coming to the games. While that was a concern, I used it as a motivator to show the boys that they only had each other. However, the first game was a disaster, as we fell behind 8-0. But my boys proved to me that they had no quit in them and although they lost, they ended up coming very close - losing just 8-7.

The next week game us our first win and our only tie - which would have been a win had the umpire not blown a call on the last batter. Still, at 1-1-1, I started to see my boys start to play as a team. From there, we reeled off 6 straight wins - some by very large margins. What I also noticed, which was similar to my last championship team, was how the better players treated the less talented ones.

My son started the season afraid to swing a bat. However, he was pretty good in the field, so I kept him at second base. His talent really showed through in the one game he missed. His replacements made four errors at his position that one day. But the team continued to help him learn to hit and by the end if the season, he became one of the better hitters on the team. I was very proud of him, but I was even more impressed with his teammates.

In the first playoff, we were missing one of our best players (and my second pitcher). It showed when we were at bat. But the two boys who pitched were unhitable and we pulled it out 1-0 in 9 innings. Of course, I figured that with that player back in lineup, our chances were excellent that we could win it all.

But sometimes, things don't always work out the way we expect. Today's game started okay, but though the first two innings, we left 4 players on base. After two, the score was tied 0-0. Because of the rules of this league, a pitcher can only pitch 4 innings. So, to keep my best picture available to close the game, I went with my second best pitcher to get us through the middle innings.

That was when things went downhill, and fast. The pitcher has a lot of power and often strikes. But today, the other hitters were just teeing off of him. By the time I had to relace him, the score was already 4-0 them.

The next few innings were hard to watch. We didn't let up any more runs, but it seemed we left at least two men on every inning, but just couldn't score. In the 7th, all the wheels came off and we let up another 5 runs. We did manage, once again, to load the bases in the bottom of the 7th, but once again, they were able to shut us down. We lost 9-0.

And yet, as horrible as I felt for my boys, I still couldn't get over how incredible the season went. Winning isn't everything and tomorrow, these kids will no longer care that they came up a game short. As summer camp, or vacation trips become the focus of their lives, I know that the experience this kids had, coming together as they did, will be a source of pride wherever they go.

I know it is for me.

So now I've been asked to coach in the summer league and I am considering it. Both of my twin boys may play and it would be wonderful if they could have the same incredible experience one of them just had.

So maybe this wasn't the standard Father's Day. And it didn't end with us winning the big trophy. Yet, I wouldn't have traded this Father's Day with anyone. I hope they are all as wonderful as this one was.

1 comment:


Great post, Shayne. Thanks for sharing. Little League is one of the not-very-many things I miss, living as I do in France, but your piece put the vicarious experience right into my pocket. Happy Father's Day!