What They See

Sitting on the bleachers during a hot Saturday afternoon as the sun beams straight down on my head, or watching a group of five year olds from that same spot on a Wednesday evening as the sun hides her rays and permits a light breeze to tip-toe an appearance every now and again, I feel a dormant part of me wake up. I’m surprised at the butterflies dancing in the pit of my stomach, and I look down at the ragged nails giving up my secret to anyone who would happen to see.

I watch.

And I listen.

I watch the life-lessons that play out before me as little boys chase after a ball that’s rolled into the fence. Fair and unfair, good calls and bad; the ways games play out mirrors the ups and downs of life.

I listen to the cheers from parents celebrating a good hit, cries to Run! as growing feet round the bases. And I hear the shouts of disbelief exclaiming What are you doing?! to the six-year-old who sincerely does not know what he’s doing because, after all, he is only six.

I watch a coach who lets his frustration get the best of him, huffing and puffing, stamping his feet, yelling at a kid for a much longer time than it took to make the mistake. And I look as another coach brings one of his players aside at the end of the inning, teaching him what he did wrong and should do differently the next time.

I watch the faces who see the tantrums thrown by grown men when their little boys miss a play versus the self-control of their own father as he encourages number 21 with Good cut! even though number 21 plays for the other team. And I hope that even in their young age they notice the difference in character.

Because they do watch, and they do listen. I hope they see that hard work and discipline matter and that, more often than not, these qualities are rewarded, but they’re not always rewarded. I hope they hear how to model good sportsmanship with their words and see that how they play the game really is more important than who won the game. And I hope that they learn that now is the time to act like a child and not when they have one of their own. Because their children may learn more by what they see during Little League than by all the words their parents uttered at home.

 

Watching T-ball from the perspective of a parent, I was surprised to learn that I am not immune to the crazy feelings that can start to stir within during the course of a competitive game. However, I find it so important to quell those feelings and provide my children with a better example. How do you model good sportsmanship for the children around you? What other life-lessons have you learned from a sport?

 

The Baseball Tradition: A Love Story

My family didn’t make it into the city very much, as my parents weren’t fans of crowds and traffic. We watched the ’96 Olympics from the T.V., and I can’t remember ever spending a weekend viewing Atlanta attractions. However, there was one exception: a baseball game.

I grew up hearing my father’s stories of baseball history and his favorite players. The Yankees were his team, and their rich tradition was one I loved to hear him share. From my father I learned of Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak and his help with the war effort. I heard stories of DiMaggio’s undying love for his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe that caused him to lay flowers on her grave every day for years. The baseball players from years ago have stories that just can’t be duplicated.

When my family moved to Georgia 25 or so years ago, my dad needed a team to root for, so we became fans of the Atlanta Braves. To say they were horrible when I was a little girl doesn’t even cut it, but my father always said that anyone could root for a winner. We weren’t going to be fair-weather fans, and we cheered for the Braves when they were in last place. During the summer, our T.V. nights were spent watching baseball on TBS, and the love of baseball even brought us to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium from time to time.

While my dad loves watching the game, he has his own history playing. He got a taste of his dream when he tried out in Yankee Stadium, but he wasn’t called to pitch for them. The Chicago White Sox had his name. They picked him for their farm team, but when dad threw out his arm, there was nothing more he could do. The fastball was his pitch, and not having the expert medical care that athletes have today, that injury ended his career.

And for years, the closest my dad came to passing on his knowledge was at a few seasons of my sister’s softball games. I spent ten years living my own sports dream as a gymnast, and so my dad cheered on stuck beam series and high-flying double-backs. The season of the fastball and homerun were no longer a part of his personal life.

Until he was given a grandson.

When Caleb walks to the on-deck circle, I know my father gets a little flurry of excitement. He gets to share some of his knowledge of the game with someone who can finally use it. But I have to wonder, as he looks on across the field, if it’s hard to cheer for the Mets after all his years as a die-hard Yankee fan.

Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.

Mama's Losin' It

What love of sports does your family carry? And don’t forget to come back tomorrow and link up your own Journeys post on gentleness!

The Boy in Front of Me

Everyone says that I will miss the time when you were small. And sure, there will be those days when I miss squeezing that bouncing little boy–who wouldn’t? You were so cute and cuddly!

Yet, as I watched you take your bat in hand and walk in front of the row of coaches looking on from the outfield, my heart raced a little in excitement. We have entered a new phase of life. No longer are you my little baby, but you have grown into a little boy who makes me proud.

Perhaps Play-doh and preschool didn’t come as naturally for us, but Tee Ball we can do. We can play catch and practice and cheer from the sidelines. We can eagerly anticipate every game with you and assure you when you’re nervous. We can celebrate with you when you win and remind you to be a good sport when you don’t.

Yes, we can do Tee Ball, and we can do ‘Go Fish.’ We can do ‘Go Fish’ and puzzles and put on little plays. We can practice reading stories and writing our own ones (with illustrations!), too.

People said that I would miss those days when you were a baby, but I don’t know. I’m pretty excited about that big boy who is in front of me now.

Did you have a favorite phase in your child’s life? When was it?

And don’t forget about Journeys this Friday! The topic for the week is forgiveness. Don’t really understand Journeys? Check out the new tab at the top of the page, and tell me what you think!

Adding to the Baseball Greats: Josh Hamilton, the Rangers, and a Ginger Ale Toast

There’s something about a good baseball story that gets me every time.  I don’t pretend to follow the sport closely or know much about the players–in this season of my life, I know more about Larry the Cucumber’s moral epiphanies and Curious George’s adventures than the teams heading to the World Series–but I can’t look away when a highlight reel is playing.

Maybe it’s memories of dates with my husband, sitting in the outfield on summer nights when the heat of the day has subsided, clapping to silly cheers, and biting into a stadium hot dog and soft pretzel–both with huge globs of yellow mustard–that help turn my heart toward the sport.  Maybe it’s the influence of my father and remembering the stories that he shared, stories of Joe DiMaggio and baseball players who turned in their gloves for guns during World War II, stories of his own time as a player under a coach who took a group of last place boys and trained them into championship men, stories of his time as a pitcher and his one-hitter that still ended in a loss.  Or maybe it’s the soft spot in my heart for the little guy and loving the stories of the unlikely hero who took a team who was losing by one to winning by three in one play.

To this day I can still picture Sid Bream rounding the bases, the Atlanta Brave not known for speed, running the fastest he had probably ever run, huffing around each base, and finally sliding into home ahead of the tag in a ninth inning, two-out situation as Skip Caray yelled, “Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!”  It was 1992 when this play happened, yet any Atlanta Braves fan can recall this moment that sent the Braves to the World Series and chills down our spines.

Baseball has a rich history, and these stories and memories have made a lasting impression on this little suburban mom.  Last week, baseball gave me another story to file away among the great ones.

The story of Josh Hamilton is inspirational in and of itself–a superstar rookie with all the promise of a baseball great throws away his career for his drug and alcohol addiction.  Yet years later this man grabs his wasted life by the collar and starts again sober, finding faith in God and meaning in his life, and the baseball talent he had almost lost for good.  Yet the story goes on….

This man goes on to receive the award for MVP from the Texas Rangers as they clinched the American League championship last week.  But what makes this story great is not what happened on the field but off.  As the game ended and the teammates gathered to celebrate, they put aside their champagne bottles and beer cans and whipped out ginger ale out of respect for their teammate, Hamilton.  Previously, Hamilton had excused himself during times of celebration so as not to be tempted by the substance that he had allowed to almost destroy his life, but this time, his teammates took away that temptation for the moment, putting aside their wants for the need of Hamilton.

Under a fountain of ginger ale, this team celebrated together, not one player left out, as they rejoiced over their achievement.  In this world where our sports idols and movie stars frequently disappoint by their inability to say ‘no’ to the pleasures of the moment, in a society where ‘gimme’ is a favorite word and people are adamant about exercising their rights even if they are wrong, it’s refreshing to see a team who was able to say, ‘wait.’  It’s refreshing to see a team put into action what being part of team really means, waiting ten minutes to whip out the traditional champagne  so that their teammate could enjoy his own kind of bubbly.

The kind of compassion the Texas Rangers demonstrated adds one more reason why baseball has my heart.  So I’ll lift my glass of ginger ale and toast the Rangers with best wishes for an incredible World Series, and I’ll look forward to the memories they will give us to tuck away with those other baseball greats.

A Lesson from Galarraga

I don’t watch a lot of baseball on TV.  I love the sport, but I don’t want to devote three hours to anything, not with the mound of chores I always have to do.  If I do watch baseball, I’ll watch an Atlanta Braves game, so the fact that I caught the ninth inning of the Detroit Tigers versus the Cleveland Indians is completely by chance.  And I’m glad for my husband’s unusual change of the channel.

It was the ninth inning when we tuned in, and Armando Galarraga was pitching a perfect game.  He had retired 24 batters in a row, no walks, or errors committed.  We watched as the center-fielder made an amazing running catch to keep Galarraga’s once-in-a-lifetime dream alive.  Out one.  The next batter up swings and is thrown out at first. Out two.  It was now time for Galarraga to make history–only 20 other men have ever thrown a perfect game in the Major Leagues.

It was a hard hit, and the first baseman ran to retrieve the ball.  Galarraga ran to cover first base, arriving in time to make the catch.  He stuck out his glove, extended his foot out to touch the bag, and he and his teammate turned excitedly toward the first base umpire to see the call:  SAFE!  The umpire extended both arms out to the side making the signal that forever changed the way this game would be remembered in history.

The replay was clear; the runner, in fact, was not safe.  He was clearly out.  It really wasn’t even a close call, but baseball doesn’t use instant replay, so it was the final call.

As I watched this play unfold, I literally felt my stomach turn queasy.  I may not have any experience as a baseball player, but I know how rare a perfect game is.  A no-hitter is an amazing accomplishment for a pitcher, but a perfect game–that’s more like a dream.

But what amazed me most wasn’t the bad call and horrible ending to this game.  No, it was the events that happened since that call was made.

Armando Galarraga, after getting this call that blew his chance in history, didn’t yell.  He didn’t throw his glove.  He simply smiled at the ump.  Yes, it was a smile that said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” but it was a smile nonetheless.  He then walked backed to the pitcher’s mound and faced his 28th batter.  He got the out and won the game for the Tigers.

As he walked off the mound to the dugout, he was greeted by the catcher who hugged him. Galarraga was clearly disappointed.  The rest of his teammates came to congratulate him and offer sympathy at the same time–Galarraga earned a perfect game, but it was taken from him. And then his coach and teammates went for the umpire.

I can’t imagine what it felt like to be Jim Joyce, that infamous umpire,  booed by the crowd, surrounded by hostile teammates defending their pitcher, but it was clear he wanted to get out there. But, apparently, he didn’t get out of there and go home.  After seeing the replay for himself, he sought out Galarraga and apologized.  In the interview I saw last night on the MLB Network, Galarraga said the umpire came to him and said he was sorry with tears in his eyes, still in his sweaty clothes.  Joyce knew he made a bad call that ended Galarraga’s perfect game.

And Galarraga hugged him.  He hugged him.  He said in his interview that Joyce was only human; mistakes happen.  In fact, I heard that phrase many times that night.  The coach, catcher, and center-fielder all said the same thing: Joyce was a good umpire.  He made a bad call, but he was human.  That’s baseball.

Galarraga smiled and joked with the reporters.  Yes, he was disappointed, but he would show his son someday that he pitched a perfect game.  It might not be in the record books, but he knew he did it.

After the game was over, the interviews finished, and the clock screaming that I really needed to get off the couch and clean up the kitchen, I continued to sit.  I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had witnessed and heard.  I wanted to process what I had just learned.

Finish What You Start

Galarraga could have stormed off the field after the bad call, and while it would’ve been unprofessional, no one would’ve blamed him. He could’ve lost his composure and given up a hit with that 28th batter.  Instead, he made the out and secured the win for his team.

Live in Such a Way that Others Will Fight for You

After viewing that final inning and the events afterwards, it was clear to me that those teammates surrounding Joyce weren’t just protesting a bad call.  They were fighting for a good man, a man who deserved a perfect game.

Have the Guts to Admit When You’re Wrong

If I were Joyce, I would’ve run away and hid.  Instead, he confronted this pitcher face-to-face, not in an e-mail or over the phone, but to his face, and in the same night he made the mistake.

Freely Forgive, and Keep Moving

Galarraga and his teammates all agreed; Joyce was a good umpire who made a bad call.  They felt sorry for him–Galarraga suggested that Joyce might feel worse about the ending of the game than he did.  After the fury of emotions immediately following the game died down, these players could acknowledge that the ump simply made a mistake, and they moved on.

Always Choose the Higher Road

Even after a night’s sleep, I’m still in awe of Armando Galarraga.  What a class act.  It’s not too often in this sports world that we get to witness men and women with true character, men and women who don’t barrage an official with profanity and insults after a call doesn’t go their way, men and women who keep their composure during and after the game.  But Galarraga did, and he earned my respect.

When I want to teach my children about character, I hope to share this story with them someday.  Life isn’t fair, and sometimes we don’t get what we deserve when we’ve done well, but there is a respectable way to act.  And if we’ve lived a respectable life, we won’t have to fight when we’ve been slighted–others will fight for us.  And the one lesson that hit me the hardest is that we shouldn’t care about getting recognition from others–Galarraga said he knew he threw a perfect game whether or not history acknowledged him–all that should matter is what we know to be true about ourselves.  This lesson is one I have yet to master.

Before last night, I had no idea who Armando Galarraga was, and I wouldn’t have cared.  Now, I am so glad that Matt changed the channel, because what Galarraga did changed me.