By Jay D. Prince
As much as I love playing squash, I am also a baseball nut. From the time I started playing pick-up games in my childhood neighborhood—where I was always the youngest and smallest and, therefore, the “official” ball boy (you know, when the ball rolls down the hill…and I have to go get it)—I loved throwing and hitting the ball. Of course it didn’t take long before I realized that having bouncing balls rocketing toward my face in the infield really wasn’t for me, so center field became my second home.
Nearly 30 years later, I’m still involved in baseball, though now as a coach. In one capacity or another, I’ve been teaching and coaching the game every spring, and my son has always been right there…with me as his mentor.
If you have children playing squash, or another sport for that matter, you can probably imagine the see-saw battle going on in my head every time my son steps up to the plate or is making a play in the field. The coach in me focuses on the fundamental mechanics of everything he does, always looking for ways that he can improve and pointing out the things he’s doing well, while the parent in me just gets excited when he’s successful and feels badly for him when he isn’t.
But I had a strange sensation watching him play in a game a couple of weeks ago. This year, my 13-year-old has been playing on two baseball teams—one at a recreational level and one that is more competitive. I am the coach of his “rec” team, and I offer whatever help is needed with his “Pony” team. This time, I was sitting in the bleachers while he played in the Pony game.
Interestingly enough, this particular game was the second of a “double-header” of sorts for my son because we had just finished getting slaughtered 22-2 in his “rec” game before his other team took the field. And it occurred to me, as I watched my boy step up to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning and an eight run lead (if the team stretched it to a 10-run lead, the game would be called because of a “mercy” rule), that that was really the first time I’d watched my son play a baseball game without me being in the dugout. It was a very strange feeling. At that particular moment, there was no part of me that was paying attention to his balance, his bat speed or whether he was watching the ball all the way to his bat. Instead I was just watching him have fun playing baseball.
The first two pitches were balls, and he took a swing (and missed) at the third pitch that looked to be a bit high. He took the fourth pitch for a ball and the fifth pitch for a called strike. So with the count full, I’m sitting there with my heart starting to beat faster (sound familiar to you squash parents), just hoping for a good outcome.
After getting the sign from the catcher, and my son had taken his place back in the batter’s box, the pitcher started his wind-up and…my son took a nice fast swing at the ball and sent a hard line drive into the gap in right-center field to bring home two runs—a “walk-off game-ending single” and the home team pouring out of the dugout to fist bump and high five my middle schooler.
My wife and I—and all of the other parents—were high-fiving each other too. And as my son walked off the field with his catcher’s gear in tow—and doing his best to maintain a “cool” demeanor—I could sense that inside he was really feeling good about himself. I just said, “Awesome hit, big fella. That was so cool!”
Once we got into our car, he couldn’t stop talking about his hit and every pitch that led up to it. And I kept thinking to myself, “How cool is it to just sit back and watch your child have fun playing sports?!” Sometimes we just need to take a step back and be there to enjoy the moments or to offer a supportive ear when things don’t go as well. We really don’t need to be “coaching” or “encouraging” all the time. Because what our kids really want is for us to just watch them do the things they can do.