Our oldest son, Christian, has just completed his first season of organized baseball. In our family at least, this is a big deal. From the time Christian was old enough to walk, he’s loved baseball. People probably think he’s had no choice in the matter, since Joe is a coach, or that we’ve forced baseball on him. But we haven’t–honestly.
Well, maybe a little.
But Christian dresses himself now, and he’s still wearing baseball clothes. He practices baseball in the front yard–by himself–swinging, running, and sliding. He plays “wall ball” inside the house with tennis balls, bouncy balls, wiffle balls and sometimes, no ball at all. He plays MLB The Show on his PS3. He collects baseball cards. He records late-night baseball games on the DVR and watches them the next day.
It’s not hard to imagine, then, the apprehension and concern Joe and I felt about the how’s, when’s, who’s and where’s of Christian’s first experience with youth baseball. We (mostly I) wanted it to be perfect.
The much-anticipated introduction finally happened this spring. And, after a bit of a bumpy start, it was better than we could have hoped for. The experience reminded me not only that first impressions can be woefully inaccurate, but also that, when it comes to choosing what’s best for my kids (or for myself), I really know very little.
Christian turned six in March, and not long after his birthday we signed him up for the co-ed baseball league here in town. We had to wait several excruciatingly long weeks to find out what team Christian would be on. We finally received a phone call in late April. It was the coach’s wife. She introduced herself and sounded really kind, but I’d never heard of her or her husband before. (We live in a small town–and I had falsely presumed that I already knew everyone there was to know.)
The coach’s wife told me that Christian would play for the Royals. She asked me for his t-shirt size, and said she would text me to let me know when the first practice would be. Later that day I got on the phone with some of the other moms I knew who had children playing in the league. “Reds,” “Giants,” “Padres,” were some of the responses, but no “Royals.” I was disappointed. I wanted Christian to be able to play with kids he knew. Plus, practices and games would be more fun for me if my friends were there.
Finally, in May, the day of the first practice arrived. We drove to the field, all four of us, and I quickly felt out-of-place. Christian ran out onto the field while Joe and I set up our chairs and looked around. No familiar faces. The coaches looked nice enough, but again, they weren’t people Joe or I knew. I smiled and tried to make small talk, but for the most part we just kept to ourselves and watched the practice.
Well, this is certainly not the team I would have picked for Christian. I grumbled. I guess this season is not going to be the special first baseball season that I was hoping it would be.
I had a knot in my stomach watching the practice, but it soon became clear that the coaches were serious and knowledgeable about the game of baseball. The practice–for six and seven year-olds–went for two hours! And there would be another one in two days.
Four hours of baseball practice in one week? Maybe Christian was going to like this team after all.
After several weeks of practice, the first game arrived. The Royals lost, by a single run. But the team looked good, and the Royals won their next game. And the next. And the next.
After another win, I was talking with one of the parents about how impressed Joe and I had been with the coaches and the way they worked with the kids. The parent casually told me that the Royals had won the league’s championship last year.
The Championship? Really?
The winning wasn’t accidental. Besides being competent, the head coach was committed to the team. He paid out of his own pocket and made arrangements to rent other practice fields, so the team could get in not just one practice a week, as the league allotted for, but two. Also, he had the team over to his house before every game for batting practice, with his own personal pitching machine and in a hitting tunnel that he’d set up in his yard.
Of course, Christian loved every bit of it.
Winning helped to make for a fun season, obviously, but the season was memorable for lots of other reasons, too.
Christian made new friends.
His coach treated the team to ice cream after almost every game.
On Father’s Day the coach and his wife took the kids to the Cardinals vs. Royals game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The kids got autographs from major leaguers like the Royal’s left fielder, Alex Gordon.
And Joe, Henry and I got to tag along.
Christian’s team continued their winning ways and finished the regular season 8-1 and in first place out of ten teams. The playoffs were last week. The Royals won two games to make it to the championship last Thursday. The kids played really hard, but ended up losing the game by three runs. No one appeared disappointed, though. Not even our super-competitive Christian (although he may have been in denial).
Or, maybe the really awesome trophy distracted him.
Champions or runners-up, it had been–without a doubt–a magical first season. But I couldn’t forget that if it had been up to me, Christian’s first season would have been completely different.
Christian never would have made the new friends that he did. He never would’ve discovered that Snickers taste really good crunched up in chocolate ice cream. Our family never would have experienced the excitement of fifteen innings, four home runs, and fireworks on Father’s Day at Busch Stadium. And, Christian never would have gone to the championship game, won a trophy, and made memories with his first baseball team that will most certainly stay with him for a lifetime.
Thank God He is in control, and not me!
I will remember this season, too. The analogy has been clear to me for some time now. Like the Royals, I did not choose Poplar Bluff. Sometimes I am disappointed by this. A lot of times I feel like I don’t fit in. Often, I get lonely for my family. And yet, I am making new friends and experiencing things like teaching, and even writing this blog, that I may not have had the time or opportunity to do someplace else.
There may not be a cool trophy waiting for me at the end of my time here, but I can trust in my heavenly Father that it was just what I needed at this point in my life, and better, not just for Joe’s career or for our family–but for me–than any other place that I could have picked out for myself.