I never gave much thought about the different dynamics of sports until my kids started playing them. I’d played soccer, basketball, and softball, with varying skill, but didn’t realize how different their rhythms were. A missed pass is forgotten quickly during a soccer game but on the baseball field all eyes are on the player at bat. And when it’s your son at bat, striking out game after game, having that failure be so visible is nothing short of agony.
Jack loves the game of baseball more than any other sport. He loves the strategy, the history, and most of all, the dug out camaraderie. When we watched 42 together on opening night, he whispered the details of Jackie Robinson to me as the movie unfolded, thrilled to see his hero come to life on the big screen. He only closed his eyes for one scene, when Robinson got hit by the pitcher in the face. He huddled in his seat, face covered with his hands, saying, “I can’t watch him get pegged. It’s coming. He’s about to get hit. Tell me when it’s over.”
The pegging was personal for Jack. He’d been hit in the face by a pitch last summer in the second to last tournament of travel baseball. The ball gave him a big shiner, but also left him with a deep fear at the bat. The rest of his summer baseball games were a disaster. He ran away from the pitch, struck out and slunk back into the dug out, baseball hat shielding his eyes.
We hoped that a few months would get the fear out of his subconscious, but time had ground it in even deeper. He ran away from every pitch, arms out in protest, and rubbed out his tears of strike out frustration in the dug out with dusty hands. After four long and painful games, I made an appointment with a baseball coach. A little league shrink! In their hour together, he hit Jack with tennis balls. He helped him strategize how to present his shoulder to a pitch aimed too close. And he pitched to him over and over again. He forced Jack to face his fear and move beyond it.
Tonight, under a perfect spring sky, Jack got his first hit of the season. It wasn’t a home run, just a single, but you wouldn’t have known it by the reaction of his team and the parents in the stands. Everyone was shouting his name, jumping up and down, and when he made it home, all the boys rushed the dug out to clap him on the back. The joy on Jack’s face was beautiful, and it was my turn to wipe a tear discreetly. In one night, he got his confidence back, rediscovered his swing, and learned that he had the support of his entire team.
The final game score was a tie. 12-12. But Jack came out as a winner, having faced his fear and won. A life lesson in the little league dug out.