By Andrew Kardon from Mommy’s Busy… Go Ask Daddy
I played Little League as a kid until I was almost 13 years old. I was atrocious at first and hated the game. Really, I detested playing. But as I got older, I came to love baseball. Now it’s a lifelong passion.
My oldest son Jason, however, is a bit different. Jason will watch the occasional Yankees game and even enjoys going to the stadium with me. He plays Super Mario Sluggers on the Wii all the time. But actually going outside to play baseball? That’s a whole different story.
I wanted Jason to share my passion for baseball, so we signed him up for T-Ball. When the season started, he really wasn’t very good. He understood the rules. But throwing the ball or swinging the bat just weren’t his strengths.
That first year, I was just a dad cheering him on from the sidelines. It was a tough season. The combination of his lack of skills mixed with the tremendous amount of “sit around and wait” time, just made the whole thing a painful experience for Jason.
At one point he had asked why I wasn’t a coach. So to get him to give baseball another chance, I said I’d be his coach the next year if he played again. He agreed reluctantly and the second year, I signed up to officially be an Assistant Coach. See, I figured, like me, he’d start to love the game once he got older and got a bit better at playing. It probably took me three or four years to really start enjoying the game myself as a kid. I was hoping improvement in Jason’s skills would be all the encouragement he needed to keep at it.
Pretty soon into Year 2, though, it became clear that his desire to play hadn’t improved. When he stepped into the batter’s box, he’d barely lift his arms to swing the bat. If he was lucky enough to connect with the ball, it’d roll maybe three or four feet in front of him and then gently stop.
In short, Jason hated Little League. He didn’t have it in him to swing that bat a little harder and get better at playing. He’d whine and complain every time we had to go to a practice. There were even a few tantrums tossed in for good measure. He just wanted to quit.
Believe me, there were plenty of times I was sorely tempted to give in. But I had made a commitment to be an Assistant Coach for the season and certainly wasn’t going to back out of that. And besides, I wanted Jason to learn the value and the meaning of commitment. He had signed on for the season, and he’d have to play out the entire season. I still hoped he’d learn to love the game, but now my focus was on teaching him about sticking with something, even if you don’t enjoy it.
About halfway through the season, Jason came to bat during a game where I was pitching to the kids. He stepped up to the plate and, as usual, I told him to get that back elbow up and give it a good swing.
In my head, all I kept chanting was “Please get a hit. Please get a hit. Please get a hit.” I knew if he struck out or barely tapped the ball, he’d spiral down even further into his anti-baseball world.
The first pitch lobbed in and he swung and missed. His teammates gave a few, “Come on, Jason” chants and we had him shuffle a little closer to the plate. I moved a step or two closer myself and let the second pitch go. This time he fouled it back lightly. Again, some more encouragement and advice.
And then I let the third pitch go. I adjusted a bit so the ball wouldn’t be so high. It got closer and closer to the plate. For some reason, time seemed to be moving in slow motion. The ball approached Jason and…
It hit him square on the hand holding the bat.
I hit him. Yeah, I hit my own son with a baseball.
I instinctively responded just as any other father would’ve. “Run to first!” I screamed.
Before he could really register what was happening, he started huffing towards first, while nursing his sore hand. In fact, at this one moment, Jason was finally playing the game – just like I’d hoped, if not under the circumstances I wanted.
But even though I always found running bases exhilarating (no matter the circumstances) the same wasn’t true for Jason. He made it to first base, stopped, looked at me, and then broke down crying.
I ran over to see how his hand was. It was fine, but I know how that can sting. I asked if he was okay and he just shook his head and wiped tears away from his eyes. I asked if he wanted someone to pinch run for him so he could sit and put some ice on his hand. He, of course, said yes. I wasn’t surprised. In fact, Jason sat out the rest of the game, which was fine. I wasn’t going to push him any more that day.
I was proud of him, though. He could’ve just collapsed at home plate and started having a tantrum. He could’ve given up and screamed he’s never playing again. But in that moment of “crisis,” he did exactly what he was supposed to do. He ran to first base. He played the game.
The next game was the real test. Would Jason be too scared to pick up the bat for fear of being hit? I was shocked that he didn’t even complain once. He wasn’t overly enthusiastic, but he got his bat, stepped to the plate and hit a little dribbler like usual.
I don’t know why he got back into the swing of things so easily. Maybe it’s like when you fall off a bike that first time. It hurts to hit the ground but the next time you get on, you realize you already know the worst that can happen – and the worst wasn’t as bad as you’d thought. He had been hit, survived the day and now had to get back out there and do it all over again.
Jason had finally learned the meaning of commitment. We made it to the end of the season and then that was it. He didn’t want to join again the next year, so we didn’t.
At the beginning of the year I’d hoped to teach my son how to love baseball, just like me. Well, it turns out Jason hates baseball. And that’s okay. He’s not me. He can pick his own favorite sport. By the end of the year playing T-Ball had turned into a lesson about commitment instead. Jason learned that it’s not about how good you are. It’s all about the fact that you showed up. And persevered, despite the difficulties.
Quite frankly, that’s more important than him having the same favorite sport as me.
Pst…check out Andrew’s other blog post on How (NOT) to Help Your Kid Train for a One-Mile Running Race.