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Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Rambling AllStar Wrap Up and an Ode to Daddies

Our AllStar run for the state championship is over.  We lost in the semi-finals which means we went farther than our league ever has before.  And suddenly, it's over.  So, I have to write something to conclude it...because, well, because I just do.  Practice and games and husband/coach being gone a lot have taken up six weeks of our lives.  I tried to think what stuck out the most as I stood back and watched this summer.  I was not a parent this time, so I watched a lot of other parents and I noticed something contrary to what we read about a lot these days in our culture.  We read a lot about some crazed youth sports fathers out there.  We read ridiculous stories of fights and arguments.  I even saw an article that mentioned police being called to Little League game because two "adults" couldn't handle the pressure of watching little people throw a ball around.  Since school let out I have watched countless baseball games and therefore, I've watched a lot of daddies watching countless baseball games, so I thought I'd mention a thing or two about some gentlemen that you won't read about in the newspaper.

First of all, I'll say that I am a big fan of mommies.  We have our own way at the ball field.  We set up our chairs with our umbrellas and foot rests.  We lay out blankets with toys and snacks for our younger children.  We joke about the travesty it is that most ballplayers wear white pants.  We jump out of chairs and run for ice when a player gets hurt.  We paint our children's numbers on our cheeks. 

The daddies...they are a little different.  I watched a lot of dads watching their boys have the opportunity that so many little ball players will never get and of course, that so many daddies didn't get growing up.  I watched how different they can be from the moms.  I noticed how a boy going up to bat might only look to one other person besides his coach.  He might just steal a glance outside the fence and lock eyes with his dad.  I watched how a dad would give an encouraging nod or a positive word.  I watched how sometimes a dad would move down to the very end of the fence away from the crowd when his boy was up to bat.  I listened as some dads shouted silly phrases to the players to lighten the mood in a pressure situation, not only to their own kids, but to others as well.  Some men jumped high out of their chairs and smacked hands against the fence and high fived and hugged each other when we heard "Strike three" or saw a ball sail over the fence.  Some just stood still, shook their heads in disbelief, grinned big and didn't say a word.

I also watched these talented and determined children and wondered what kind of men they would become.  I hear a lot of chatter about "kids these days" and it's usually not positive.  I think the future is bright here.  These boys have a ways to go yet, but based on the families I was around these past few weeks, I see quite a few kiddos on the right track.  The tournament officials complimented them on their class, their sportsmanship in the nine games they won and the dignified way they faced the crushing defeat of their final game.  These little boys looked so strong and big and confident on the field in their uniforms.  They walked tall and focused from the dugout to the plate.  I watched an 11 year old  pitcher throw a two-hitter in the biggest game of his life as if he was playing wiffle ball in the backyard.  I saw our smallest kid hit the ground after being hit by a pitch and then, pop back up and get himself down to 1st base as quickly as he could.  I saw kids make ESPN-worthy plays, give a quick fist bump to the teammate nearest them and hustle back to their positions to be ready for the next play.

But when they came off the field, they magically transformed into little boys again with smiles wide and eyes bright.  Overwhelmed by their success, they hung arms around each other and smacked each other's helmets. They supported and cheered each other.  They allowed their mommas to kiss on them and their little sisters to give them hugs.  Wonder and joy oozed out of them. 

Truthfully, sometimes they weren't all smiling.  These boys expected big things from themselves.  When they made mistakes, their coaches didn't yell;  they only encouraged.  I  never heard a dad shout disappointment.  Could've happened, I guess.  I was in line at the concession stand for a Diet Coke once or twice.  But honestly, I only saw the boys expect too much of themselves.  They weren't looking to be heroes, but they were determined not to let their teammates down.  I stood back and watched as a boy as tall as his father blinked back tears after he had struggled in a game.  I watched that father wrap that boy up in a bear hug and sway him back and forth, whispering support and love in his ear. (And I watched that same boy hit two balls out of the park the next day...coincidence?  Maybe, maybe not.)

There is a dad that wasn't there.  I never met my husband's father, but I have looked to the heavens and thanked him many times over for the man he raised.  He was a West Point graduate.  I am told he was serious and reserved, but with a dry sense of humor that could border on goofy at times.  Hmmmm...I know someone like that.  In our quarterfinal game, we were in the last inning with a 9-0 lead.  My husband, as a coach, is of the mindset that it ain't over 'til it's over, but I saw his shoulders relax and I saw a bit of a grin on his unflappable face.  I looked up at the sky and gave a wink to my father-in-law.  I have a feeling there was a cheering section in heaven this week.  I have a feeling when we won that game that there might have been a subtle fist pump, a wide smile and a gleam of pride in a father's eye up there.  I have a feeling that though we couldn't hear his voice, there was yet another daddy saying, "'Attaway, kid.  Nice job, son."

A PS to any of the 2012 AllStar families that might be reading this:  I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support you gave my husband and my family this summer.  You, each and every one, have blessed us.

To the boys I want to say first of all, that I know you aren't likely going to read this.  The thing about this blog is that I just write stuff and I don't really need an audience.  Good thing, because when I write to my own children on this blog, they get about half way through a post and then start searching for baseball bats or video games on my computer.  In any case, maybe if your mom or dad reads this, they can relay the message: Not one of you is my own child and although I only knew a handful of you before this summer, I would have claimed any one of you as my own and not because of your baseball skills, but because of your character and I'm pretty sure your coach would've, too.  There is a bit of summer left, boys, so go out and get it.  I would suggest a cannonball or three.

And a bit of advice to some baseball coaches out west:  We are sending a special family your way and along with that we are sending you a heckuva baseball player. (actually we're sending two of them)  You're going to want to clear a space on the pitcher's mound for a kid we like to call Lights Out.  After he strikes out all the batters on the team you're facing, you're gonna want to ask that kid to do his Elvis impersonation.  You're welcome. 
Good Luck, Lights Out and family.   You will be missed.

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