Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Am I One of 'Those' Dad's?

I sort of knew this day would come.  My son would eventually try his hand at baseball, and my hand would ever so delicately guide the way, hoping that he would have the same experience I did as a child.  With digital distractions, 300+ channels, and him already making fun of my obsessive baseball habits, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle.   I don't think he's actually watched an entire game with me on TV yet either.  It's usually him running in front of the TV to grab some Lego's he left in the next room, maybe stopping long enough to say, "Is Chipper up?" or "Has Jason Heyward hit yet?".  On occasion, when I'm not watching baseball, he'll look at me with his eyebrows cocked in confusion and say, "Aren't you suppose to be watching the Braves?".

Now I'm fully aware of my obsession so I'm extra careful not to push it on him, to let it come with time and curiosity.  Sure, he's seen me watching games on TV and we play wiffle ball in the yard and talk about 'that time he hit the neighbor's car', but it's never been much more than playful attempts to see if he was ready to give it a heartfelt go. So when signups for Cal Ripken coach pitch baseball came around my wife and I did our best to get him excited for the upcoming season.  

New baseball uniform!  Pick out a new glove!  Grab a new bat!  Heck yeah, you can have two batting gloves!  Grab some Big League Chew while you're at it!  Practice with your friends from school!  Let's goooo!  

The Kid.

I'm sure my excitement was oozing all over the place but I seriously tried to contain it.  Sure, I went to the first practices with iPhone in hand taking pictures and videos, but I wasn't going crazy with it, just being the supportive Dad....right?  I mean, it had to be documented, right?  Right?  

So on the night of the first game, I was dead set on letting him do his own thing, to be supportive, but not put any kind of extra pressure on the kid playing his first game after only one practice.  If I had to sit on my hands and only yell out the occasional, "Good job!", that's what I was going to do.  

And I did.

Heck, I was even accused of being too quiet!  "Why don't you go over there and tell him to stop playing in the dirt and pay attention?"  Oh no, not a chance.  He can play in the dirt as long as he is on a baseball field and having fun.  There were some things that I would address with him very carefully after the game, but I wasn't going to do anything to embarrass him during the first game.  That wasn't going to happen.

And then it happened.

The kid came up to bat.  New uniform, number 10, new cleats, new bat, two batting gloves...and he gave us a slight wry smile just before he stepped in the box.  My experiences in baseball growing up, seeing the grass at Fulton-County Stadium for the first time, watching the Braves win it all in ' all came gushing back to me in an instant.  I steadied my camera and watched him swing through the first pitch.  "Hang in there, boy." I thought, which was probably directed at myself more than the naive kid at the plate.  The second pitch left the coaches hand, and I can see it as clear as day, and luckily so did my son.  In one short burst he unloads on it and sends the ball well over the pack of infielders on the left side of the field and it rolls all the way to the outfield grass - easily the longest hit of the day.  All civility was thrown out the window, and the instant he connected you can hear a rather boisterous Ric Flair-esque 'Woooooooooooo!!!!!' from my mouth.  He easily could have rounded the bases but was held to a single by the kid on first picking his nose instead of running on contact.  Regardless, it was possibly the greatest single in the history of baseball.  Definitely the best since Francisco Cabrera.

What actually happened.

What I saw.
It only took a split second to take me from the guy not wanting to push his kid too hard into the game of baseball for the fear of him pushing back, to becoming the guy looking online to see if Scott Boras accepts videos of seven year olds.  After the game we whooped and hollered about how awesome the hit was, with the kid telling me more than once  "You've already said that, Dad!", instantly putting me in my place where I knew I belonged.  He let me have my excitement, and in his own way, tempered my expectations without killing the dream.  I don't know if he consciously knew what he was doing or not, how could he at only seven years old, but in that moment I was reminded of how great this game is and even greater the kids are that play it.

So, am I one of the those Dad's that wants his kid to play baseball and love it for all the same reasons I did growing up?  One of those Dad's that will shag flies until you can't tell the ball from the bats in the darkening sky?  Or one of those dad's that thinks he knows when to sit on his hands and when to show encouragement?  And one of those Dad's that will ultimately be OK if his son decides that baseball isn't for him?

You're damn right I'm one of those Dad's.

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