Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lesson of the Game

It was a typical day here in Northwest NJ---it had been quite warm, nearly 70 degrees for the middle part of the day, but now it's 6:00pm and clouds were moving in, making the parents glad they'd brought a jacket.  The wind at the ball field began to pick up too.   The baseball game is underway and there are hits, catches, throws and steals by both teams.

This is recreation baseball for 10-year old's so all the boys are from the same town, go to school at one of three elementary schools here.  Many have been playing since T-ball at the age of 5.  Dads coach the teams, assist in the dugout, warm up pitchers, and provide plenty of advice on the proper way to hold the bat.

The boys do their best to run the bases properly, pay attention in the outfield and cover the bases the way coach taught them.  A mistake here, a panicked throw there and the Red Sox have the game well in hand.

A player for the Red Sox hits a home run and puts them even further ahead of the Yankees.  The coach pulls the Yankees together and reminds them of several lessons they'd covered in practice that week.  "Let's refocus and play the way we know we can!" he tells them.  The boys get the third out and end the top of the fourth inning.

Hitting continues to be a struggle for the Yankees.  The boys don't score in the bottom of the fourth, but still keep their enthusiasm as they head out into the field for the top of the fifth and final inning.  By this time the clouds are high and the sun has set.  Daylight hours have turned to the light is dwindling.

The first batter on the Red Sox scores, making it 13-6.  Another batter gets on base, as the Yankees fastest pitcher is on the mound.  Then, a strikeout.  The next batter gets a little shove out of the dugout by his dad.  He's reluctant to stand in the batter's box.  He walks instead over to his coach who is coaching third.   The boy would rather do anything than face the pitcher.  He and the coach talk for quite a while which draws the attention of the rest of the players, coaches and parents.

The Yankees coach starts encouraging the reluctant child to take his at bat.  The Yankees pitcher adds a clap and words of encouragement.  "Matthew"  it begins quietly.  Slowly building - the chant - Mat-thew, Mat-thew, Mat-thew, MAT-THEW!  Before you know it, both teams, all coaches and parents are cheering loudly for a tearful frightened boy!  He steps into the batters box and the pitcher kindly tosses a gentle pitch to the catcher.  Swing and a miss.  Two more soft tosses and the batter is out, but the cheering was for Matthew and for facing his fear!

The Yankees are re-ignited by the impending end of the game, their experience with Matthew and proceed to score three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, making the final score a respectable 13-9.

During the shaking of hands after the last out, Matthew was surrounded by all the boys on both teams and congratulated.  The lessons learned on this ball field had little to do with baseball, and more to do with life.

Sportsmanship is so often overlooked when players and coaches are stuck on Winning.   How unrealistic to have Winning as the only goal, the be-all-end-all to sports.  The Yankees haven't won a game this season so far, but still found it in their hearts to reach out to a classmate who was having a hard time.  That is a real champion in my book!

(The name of the boy has been changed for his privacy, as well as team names.)

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