I think I said I was finished writing posts on youth sports. Apparently not…
As my son Samuel’s final high school baseball season comes to a close, and Elisha’s final summer baseball season begins, I’m doing quite a lot of reflecting on fathers and sons, baseball, sports, and just how deeply all of it has shaped me.
I grew up with a dad who was a ball player. He was very very good, played professionally, and cast a wide shadow. I was never nearly as good as he was – as much as I asked, nobody ever paid me to play – and never stopped to consider if I even wanted to play. I simply did; I was a ball player raised by a ball player. He coached me for many years, we connected on fields and in dugouts and on our back porch reliving each inning of each game. It was really the best. And it’s what we do here, too. Maybe these boys value it as much as I did or as much as I do (probably not, we have a different kind of relationship), but when we coach, play, watch, and rehash every pitch and at-bat, it’s like there are 4 of us in that room instead of the 3 we can see and touch. I wonder if my dad would make the same decisions I do – he would almost certainly not. But mostly, I think about how much he’d love to meet and watch my boys play, or do anything, how much he’d love to see them live their lives and become the men they’re becoming. I miss him more than I can tell you, especially in baseball season.
I’m sappy and sentimental because it was our first game last night (I coach Elisha’s 16u team). He pitched, the boys were terrific and we won comfortably. I am not too great as a head coach (we’ll get to that in a minute), but the players on this team are as talented as they are beautiful souls, so that means they make me look ok.
As a player, I looked for my value in wins and losses, just as my dad always did. We were competitive – it made him great and it made him awful. It just made me moody, with a fragile identity that hung solely on performance.
So I’m a coach that isn’t awesome. In fact, I’m so not awesome that last year the president of the league walked up and down the line of both sides of spectating parents and spectators (including THE ANGEL!!!!!) detailing my many faults as a coach. He’s right. I have 3 great friends (Paul, Bryan, and Justin, not to name anyone) who coach circles around me, I’ve ridden their coattails to several championships. But how awesome (or not) doesn’t matter at all to me anymore. I’m a different sort of coach.
My dad taught me to be a ball player, and then in my 30’s, my Father taught me to be a human being, taught me to be a man. As that New Father (always there, present, always holding His arms open) loved me, as me, regardless of performance, separate from wins, losses, hits, or strikeouts, He re-wrote my identity. Of course, this process is taking years and years, but I notice it’s effect.
Sometimes I notice it more than others. Like game day. I want these kids to know I love them. They’ll make errors, sometimes soooo many errors, and I’ll yell at them, but they will know they are loved and that they have a group of men who would do anything for them. I want them to understand that baseball is like life in so many ways, that how they show up here is how they’ll show up everywhere. I want them to know they have a Father, too, whose love is bigger, deeper, wider, than all of us put together could ever dream of.
This Father gave me my dad, my boys, the lovely Angel, those friends, this team, every day, every moment, and you, and I am very full and very thankful. But today, I’m mostly thinking about how He opened my heart and gave me me.