So, you’re wondering, how does baseball and motorcycling transect? I don’t know exactly. Maybe it’s because motorcycling, like baseball, can be long stretches of mundane routine punctuated by moments of absolute terror. The routine of riding the same route everday can lull you into a lack of diligence until someone pulls out and takes the lane. Playing baseball can be the same until someone hits a grounder that passes between your legs and into the outfield. Both require alertness and diligence to keep disaster at bay.
But this rambling isn’t about motorcycling, it’s about baseball. On the ride in this particular morning baseball was just about all I had on my mind. The previous night my youngest son’s little league team was eliminated from their hunt for the championship. It was somewhat of a bittersweet ending; the season had dragged on a little too long (for little league) yet many of us left the dugout that night with the feeling that we won’t really be back to the ball diamond until next year. The ballfield was were I was most at peace. As I was fond of saying all season long: a bad day on a baseball diamond is always better than a good day at work.
Baseball has many attritbutes that make it in many respects the perfect life-teaching tool, as well as the perfect sport. In his Nine Principles of Baseball and Life, Raymond Angelo Belliotti writes, “Baseball is passing down an American legacy, reinforcing family love, teaching values and a way of life, sharing joy and triumph, sorrow and defeat.” It is all that and more. Baseball is a team sport that requires individual performance. Every member has to work hard together; lose focus for a moment and it can lead to disasterous results. What baseball really teaches is that everybody has a purpose in life but it’s pulling together and working as a team that really gives the purpose some meaning.
I came to baseball late in life — my father preferred basketball to any other sport, which has always surprised me because his father a semi-pro catcher for the Ariel Athletic Club out of Jamestown, NY, one of the many regional ball clubs that cropped up at the turn of the last century. Those clubs were a little like the travel teams of today — they went around town to town and play games almost purely for the entertainment of the game and the camaraderie of the team. In some small way I wish my grandfather could have been there to watch my sons play the sport. I know he would have been very pleased.
But, as I said, I came to the sport late in life. I played a little softball in my early years but the bulk of my experience has been helping with my son’s little league teams. I’m reluctant to say that I’m “a coach” because the coaches I’ve worked with know far more about the sport and the mechanics of playing the game than I do. I know that by working with some very fine guys who know how to teach, coach and work with kids that I’ve gained a far better appreciation for the game than I would have just sitting in the stands and watching. And by working with the little leaguers I’ve gained a far better understanding of my sons and of being a parent.
My youngest son grounded into the final out that ended the season. As we congratulated the winning team and walked back to our dugout I noticed my son was missing. I figured he was off grumbling about losing so I thought it best to let him go and work it out, and turn my attention to the remaining ballplayers sitting dejectedly on the bench. One of the hardest things to teach kids at this level, 5th and 6th graders, is to encourage and cheer on your teammates instead of assessing blame for missed plays and strikeouts.
What I saw in the dugout last night were players who were upset at the loss — not because of someone else making a mistake, but because of the plays they missed and the outs made against them. I saw young kids taking responsibility for their actions — wouldn’t it be grand if the world’s leaders, and the rest of us adults would do the same a little more often?
My son had disappeared to the backseat of the car where he laid until we reached home. He grumbled a little bit and I worried that he’d start up the blame game but by the time we reached the house he was very upset over how the game ended and kept saying it was his fault and that he should have waited for a better pitch — and this coming from a kid who played with two sprained fingers on his left hand and a bandaged right forearm from a bicycle accident the day before.
The second hardest thing to teach ballplayers at this level is that the loss isn’t your fault; it’s the culmination of many things on the field, and that both winning and losing is a team effort.
Baseball teaches us a lot of things. I know I learned a little more that night. I learned a little more about my sons, my family and the ballplayers I spent the summer with — and it all reinforced the notion that baseball is indeed life.