A Rite of Passage…For Both of Us

I really don’t think this is going to be a baseball-dominated blog, but it is a big part of what’s going on in this household right now so it’s gonna get its due. 

The lastest addition to the Gleason collection

I took my five-year-old to his fifth tee ball practice last night.  I know it was number five because he gets a baseball card after each one and, on the way home, he informed me that’s how many he now has.  He loves studying the pictures and reading the backs.  He keeps them in a shoebox under his bed and is going to have to decide which ones he wants to trade and which ones he’s going to keep no matter what.

He is going through one of those rites of passage in a young boy’s life.  He’s beginning a journey that has the potential to be a lot of fun.  And, if it’s done right, he’ll learn a lot of really important life lessons.  From my own experience, each time I’ve been involved with sports, I’ve come away a better person.  This was never more true than when I coached a little league baseball team for a couple of years with some buddies of mine from law school.

We decided to coach a team even though we didn’t have any kids of our own and we ended up with a bunch of 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds.  It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and, more than ten years later, we still tell stories about those kids.  I’ve even kept in touch with several of them – although they’re a long way from being kids now – through the wonders of social media.  We spent a significant amount of our practice time teaching them about little things that most people think aren’t that important.  I’ll guarantee you that those kids will never step on the white line between innings.  And, they’ll never cross their bats in the dugout.  And, they damn sure won’t talk about a no-hitter while it is in progress.  OK, I recognize that what we did here was ingrain superstitions into the souls of a group of adolescent boys.  But, we also taught them that there was a right way to do things.  They knew to take off on the pitch when they were on base and the batter had a 3-2 count with two outs.  They knew the batter was automatically out when the ump invoked the infield fly rule.  They knew to hit the cutoff man.  They knew to shorten their swing and make contact with two strikes against them.  They knew they had to take care of business in the classroom if they wanted the chance to get on the ballfield.

We loved teaching them the technical parts of the game.  We loved teaching them its history and traditions even more because we believed the game is more enjoyable when you understand you’re part of something bigger than yourself or your little league.  So, they knew Babe Ruth was the home run king (this was pre-Barry Bonds).  They knew Ted Williams almost never swung at the first pitch.  They knew Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he walked onto a major league field wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform on April 15, 1947.  They knew the Texas Rangers had never won a postseason series but they believed it would happen one day.  They knew that baseball was supposed to be played outside.  On grass.  These are little things that matter.

I think my son is the youngest kid on the Denison Little League Phillies and there are certainly times he acts like it.  He’s got a lot of lessons to learn about how to play the game and how to respect the game.  But there are some things he already knows better than most of the other kids on his team.  Whether it’s at practice or a game, baseball players wear baseball caps.  With the bill facing the front.  Shorts are for slowpitch softball and soccer; baseball players wear pants.  The Gleasons love the Texas Rangers.  And loathe the New York Yankees. 

And, even though I’m not coaching his team this season, I’m still being reminded of some important lessons.  Like there’s something magical about getting a shiny new baseball card.

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