I have often wondered why I coach baseball.
Why am I so obsessed with the sport?
Why do I spend an insane amount of time and money just to teach kids how to play a game?
What is so special about baseball that I make it my family’s life for ten and a half months out of the year?
What drives me to instill in young players the desire to compete?
Especially at a young age?
Well yesterday I got as close to answering those questions as I ever have before.
Last night, when the final out was recorded in the 12u Baseball Heaven Championship game, we were on the wrong side of a 2-1 score.
It was a very well played game; very well pitched by both teams.
It was after this “non win” – as I prefer to call it – that I experienced my realization and all my inner questions seemed to be answered simultaneously, on one single night.
One would think that one’s most memorable revelation while coaching youth baseball would occur after a championship win – not after a heart wrenching loss.
That’s the beauty of baseball.
It teaches you how to deal with not succeeding all the time, and the importance of drawing a positive out of every part of the game.
If you allow it, the game will make your life better.
I came home after that tough “non win” at around 9:00 pm in the evening, and as soon as I walked through the door I heard my twelve-year-old son, Maverick, plead,
“Dad, after you eat and settle in, can we go hit?”
I quickly derailed my initial knee-jerk reaction.
The one reminding me that we had just been at the ball fields for the last four hours, had just played a game, that it was 9:00 pm and dark outside, and that we probably could go hit tomorrow and we wouldn’t even miss a beat.
Thankfully I ignored that rationale and listened to my insane inner voice instead.
The one that reminded me that nothing extraordinary happens by doing ordinary things.
So I asked my son, “Why do you want to go hit now?”
To which Mav replied,
“Dad, we have the Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament in a week. You said I should hit everyday to get ready for the tournament. Well, let’s start today.”
“We can go down to the North Street Field, put the lights on by hopping the fence to the control box, and we could hit tonight.
Can we go?”
How do you say ‘no’ to that?
Especially after I promised him earlier in the week that we could get in some extra hitting, but I got stuck at work and we didn’t get to go.
So without eating dinner or settling in, I re-laced my sneakers, I asked my son to grab his younger brother, Travis, to come hit with us, and off we were at 9:30 pm to take some extra batting practice.
While we were driving to the field, a childhood memory entered my mind.
I had the sudden re-realization of just how difficult it is to hit a baseball, and that there are only rare occasions when hitters truly feel they are “In the Zone.”
It also dawned on me that Maverick’s confidence had been rising, and he was seeing more and more success with every at bat.
He had to be feeling like he was “In the Zone” and I’m sure he wanted to take full advantage of that ever-fleeting feeling.
Could you blame him?
It is not everyday that you are “In the Zone” as an athlete.
Most of an athlete’s time is spent in chasing that feeling, so when the zone arrives, you must relish it.
You never know how long being “In the Zone” will last.
It is one of baseball’s unwritten cardinal rules:
You must take advantage of every second that you are “In the Zone.”
Even if the zone calls at 9:30 pm on a pitch-black night after a “non win” in the championship game; when it would be saner to be watching baseball on Sports Center rather than playing it.
Sanity has nothing to do with being “In the Zone.”
Maverick interrupted my thought process with a question and sudden realization,
“Dad, did you realize that was the last game we would play on the small fields at Baseball Heaven?”
Like a rocket… that is how fast the last few years went.
“Yea, Mav, I know,” I answered as the last four years of practices, games and tournaments flashed before my eyes.
“Dad, I can’t believe that my last at bat on the small fields was a bunt.”
“Yea, a little bit more to the left and you would have threaded the needle,” I say.
“Yea, but isn’t it a shame that as soon as I’m able to hit it out of the park, they move the fences back 100 feet?”
“There is more to baseball than hitting homeruns,” I added.
“Yea, I know. It’s almost like starting over though.”
There was an extended period of silence, and he finally said,
“I can’t wait.”
No sooner had he said, “I can’t wait,” we were pulling into the parking lot of the North Street baseball field.
I kept the truck’s headlights on as both Maverick and Travis jumped out of the truck, ran towards the control box, climbed the fence and anxiously flipped
the switch for the outfield lights, half holding their breathes until they heard the buzz of the electricity run through the lines.
Unfortunately, we have been stopped in our tracks on other occasions when the lights didn’t go on.
But not tonight.
Just two brothers finally rooting for each other.
Travis oohed as his older brother’s shots cleared the fence, and aaaahhd as some hit the yellow part at the top of the fence and fell back into the field.
Maverick finally handed out a heartfelt compliment, one that has been long awaited by his younger brother.
Line drive after line drive left the infield.
An inordinate amount of balls left the yard.
Life is good.
Time did not matter.
There is something special about baseball that goes far deeper than just being a game.
It is the father-son relationship that is built, the life lessons that are taught in the process of playing a game, and acquiring the ability to consider yourself a success even though you do not succeed all of the time.
It is the ability to recognize change when it is coming, not to run from it, but rather to embrace it.
It is learning to hone the best human quality – yearning to be “In The Zone” no matter when or where you may be.
There are moments in time so valuable that I would not trade them for gold.
I mean that.
Tonight, throwing this batting practice with my two sons at North Street is one of those times.
I coach to teach big dreams and to take pleasure in small victories, but most importantly, I coach to have nights like this.
Just a day after our special night of batting practice, I was driving home from work when I noticed the most glorious thing.
I saw a father throwing pop ups to his 6-year-old son.
What made it great was that the son missed every one.
Which meant the father and son would have to spend countless hours perfecting the art of catching fly balls.
Exactly what baseball is all about – the father-son relationship.
With every ball the son dropped, the father was there to teach his son how to improve his next attempt.
The results were not immediate.
I sat there and watched for a good six minutes before the son finally caught a pop up.
The next pop up the father threw to his son was just a little higher in altitude.
I’ve got to give this dad a lot of credit for not dropping the ball.
After a few more minutes and a few more catches, the dad wanted to go home.
The son wanted to stay.
He was seeing success and found himself “In the Zone.”
They stayed for a few more pop ups.
Driving home, I think about the thousands of pitches I have thrown during batting practice with my boys.
My arm has become so weak from doing so.
I am sure I need Tommy John Surgery.
I feel a sense of pride in the weakness of my arm.
It means I did everything I could have done; there wasn’t one more pitch I could have thrown.
I will keep throwing batting practice, well beyond the point of pain, just to stay “In The Zone” with my boys.
Because it is one of baseball’s unwritten cardinal rules:
You must take advantage of every second that you are “In the Zone”.
You never know how long being “In The Zone” will last.
And that is the reason I coach.