I can’t count the number of baseball games I’ve watched my son play. It’s a crazy number — in the high hundreds? — considering he started as a toddler and has continued playing until now, his senior year of high school.
There are memories from so many years of teams, tournaments and trips. Some are seared into my brain.
The first time his Little League team won its division. In a picture from that day, you can see the pride on his face, knowing that it was his first “earned” baseball trophy.
The time a coach told him: “Baseball players carry their own bags. Don’t let your parents do it for you.” He took it to heart, and never let us carry his bat bag again.
The time when he proudly wore a Team USA jersey and played on a ramshackle field in the middle of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After the tournament, he and his teammates left their cleats and equipment for their Dominican opponents, who were in need.
The time, at age 12, when he came out swinging for the fences and hit his first of many home runs during a week of play in iconic Cooperstown, New York.
There are tough memories, too. Injuries. Sitting on the bench. Losses that hurt badly.
I loved watching him play. As I write that, in the past tense, my sadness is palpable. He made the decision to not play in college, so I have likely seen him play baseball for the last time.
The coronavirus pandemic halted his final competitive season. (It is especially painful since last year his team lost their final championship game, finishing second in the state and leaving heartache as the last baseball memory.) In Washington state, school has been called for the year. Even though my calendar notifications keep alerting me otherwise — “Game vs. Garfield, Thursday, 3 pm” — there is no baseball to watch. We are used to bad weather here cancelling our games, but this is the ultimate rain out.
For the class of 2020, other rites of passage have been washed away too: proms, senior traditions, graduation ceremonies. But for me, not seeing my boy run out of the dugout to take the field one last time is the most searing casualty of this lost spring.
Not seeing him leap to snag a ball at first base. Not seeing him pitch his knuckle ball and watching the subtle, half-smile that crosses his face when he knows it worked. Not seeing him wearing his beloved school colors, futzing with his cap, cheering and fist-bumping his buddies when they score. Not seeing him have just one more at-bat.
Watching your child play a sport they love is one of the great blessings of parenthood. The thrill is both vicarious and immersed. It’s exhilarating to see their athletic prowess and grit. But, at times you feel like you, too, are throwing the ball, swinging at the pitch, getting benched. As a parent, you get a knot in your stomach when he’s brought in to pitch with bases loaded or bat in the last inning. Over the years, both of my children have teased me about my sideline antics, whether it was kicking an imaginary soccer ball or jumping up from my seat as if I were the one that was going to catch a fly ball.
That physical and emotional investment just comes with the territory of being a sports parent. For our son, it started the day we put him on his sister’s T-ball team at age 2. It’s an investment that I don’t think ever ends.
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As our son heads off to college in the fall, a new season for all of us begins. For the first time in 16 years, baseball will no longer be part of our daily family life. I can’t say I’ll miss sitting in the bleachers in cold, rainy weather, but I’ll miss the joy I get from watching him play the sport that practically raised him.
I hope he realizes all those memories made and lessons learned through baseball don't end here, with a cancelled season.
Always work hard to earn that trophy. Instead of something shiny and silver, it may come in the form of a grade, job or promotion.
Always carry your own bag. No matter the task or project, it pays off to do your share of heavy lifting.
Always help others. There will be people who have less than you, or who need help. Notice them and take action.
And always, always swing for the fences. Have aspirations. They are your dreams to realize, your home runs to hit. I'll be on the sidelines rooting for you, like always.