People talk about the benefits of being active as a justification for encouraging kids to play sports all the time. Advocates also talk about inner-city sports literally saving children's lives. Both of these are great, but they're not my concern. My kids bounce on trampolines, swim, ride bikes, and chase each other often. They can safely move about our neighborhood and at least as of this year, there's no lure to check out illegal drugs after school. But the lessons on the field still abound.
1. Respect. The players are learning respect. Respect for the game, respect for the coaches who give so much time, and respect for each other. They learn to play by the rules, fist-bump their friends, and treat their opponents kindly. As for the parents, we congratulate our own children on a well made play and when that kid on the other team makes a great grab in the field breaking our own child's heart? We congratulate that fielder, too. It's not at all because we think we have to tell everyone good job. It's because we really respect that player who put himself on the line and played hard.
2. Compassion. We've had a lot of instances lately where a child gets hit by a pitch, slides in the dirt and gets hurt, or face plants on the field trying to make a play. The game stops, we quiet down, and every player on the field takes a knee. When my team's pitcher hits your child, I feel awful for your child. When your son hits my son, I know you feel badly, too. And we both empathize with the pitcher because unlike an angry major-leaguer who was trying to plant one in revenge, these pitchers are just trying to sling that ball over the plate. No harm was intended. And we never root for injuries - not the players, not the parents.
3. Give it everything. Sports isn't everything. In fact, it's practically nothing. I'd hazard a guess that among all the players I watched play this year, maybe one or two will play college ball and not a one of them will ever wear a major league uniform as anything more than a bat boy. But none of that matters. What matters today is giving everything you have in this one game. And I have watched the boys mature over the year so that when they pop up a ball, they run that bugger out. And even when the play at first seems obvious, they try to leg that single out. Often, they make it. Because at least in your first year of kid-pitch, balls get bobbled, someone else fails to give it their all, and if you're playing hard - you have a good chance of getting that single. We even have a child with a broken arm on the team who comes just in case he gets a chance to pinch run.
4. Persistence. Kid-pitch is hard. Balls are flying at you in a sometimes erratic manner. The pitcher changes every inning so you never get a consistent rhythm. But you keep trying, and in Connor's case, you take a few lessons on the side, and you know what? All of a sudden those hits start dropping in, you're advancing the runner, and you realize somewhere deep down that keeping at it can pay huge dividends. Baseball has been a lot of fun this year.
5. Thankfulness. It's no small task to coach a little league team. There's the lugging the equipment, showing up early to every game and practice, planning and executing the practices, and keeping all those boys focused on the game. If your guy draws a walk, you run in to pitch to him (league rule - no walks, coach takes over if the kid pitcher walks a player). At the end of every game, I walk with Connor to each coach and thank them for their time. I wasn't at the last game but Ed reported that on his own, Connor made sure to thank his coaches. Connor could never know how much his coaches give to him, but he most certainly should be thankful for the commitment shown to him. Ed gives them home brew.
6. Sometimes it takes a team. You cannot play baseball by yourself. And though you might not need all the players all the time, you most certainly need a group around you. I'm not much of a team player myself - I prefer to work alone. But it's important to recognize that sometimes a team of people is the only thing that will get the job at hand done.
Well done, boys. Undefeated in the regular season and a win in the first playoff game. The weather looks dismal tonight to get the second playoff game in. No matter when the season ends, it's been a great run.