THE END OF THE INNOCENCE

 

I could see the trepidation in his eyes, and, for the first time, I could do nothing to alleviate it. He knew it and I knew it. It wasn’t preschool where I could just take him home if he was having an off day…or a rough tee-ball practice when I could give him a treat…or a trip to the park ending in a scraped knee that always felt better after one of daddy’s milk shakes…I could offer little comfort today. This was the beginning of Reality 101 (inasmuch as a parochial kindergarten can be reality).

 

Somehow, I felt this was tougher on me than on him. He did not comprehend the realities that begin with school: homework, 17 years in the classroom, teachers, bullies, the wonders of the universe, computers, painting, art, science, math, history, camaraderie, girls, crushes, crossing guards, recess, lunch, field trips, and everything in between.

 

ADVENTURE TIME

 

To him it was the beginning of a new adventure, as it should be. To me it was the end of an era. Our direct daily dominion was now being supplanted by a myriad of outside influences, all of which were out of our control.

 

As my wife and I lay in bed before the boys awoke that morning, she traced our oldest sons six years of life by recounting brief memory shards. Focusing on the highlights, wonders and joys inextricably connected with that first child. I marveled at the love in her recollections and I visualized each moment as she described it.

 

MEMORIES

 

As he climbed into bed with us before his first day of kindergarten, the innocence that comes with the initial half dozen years of life was beautifully reflected in his eyes. As he put on his school uniform, so painfully similar to the one I had donned for eight years, I flashed-back to a hundred different grammar school memories, a few of them were even positive! Hopefully his experiences would be better.

 

As we approached the school my son spotted some of his friends from preschool and they chatted excitedly about the new path on which they were about to embark. I looked around at the other parents, all looking around at the other parents, and the realization of this new journey struck like a fastball to the gut. The teacher made a very subtle overture for the parents to leave, “I need all the parents to please leave the classroom!” But being the product of a rebellious youth, we ignored her.

 

DON’T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU

 

“Please now, say goodbye, we need to begin our day,” the teacher tried again. Photos were taken, hugs exchanged, and we made our way out the door. As the parents all shuffled down the stairs, I told my wife I was going back in for one final pat. My son patted me on the hand and assured me everything would be all right.

 

I could see the trepidation in my wife’s eyes, and I could do nothing to alleviate it. It was time for our son to begin a new facet in his very young life. But the remembrances of his first six years will live forever in our hearts, replaying like a favorite old film offering comfort and joy.

 

PLAY BALL?

 

Coaching my boys Tee-Ball team is one of the best things I have done as a parent to date.  For those of you not up to speed on this sport sweeping the post-toddler set, it is baseball with the ball placed firmly on a stand at the child’s waist level.  The child takes a bat and tries to hit it as far as he can.  Sometimes the tee will make it to the pitcher’s mound!  Other times they will make contact with the ball which is even more exciting since that is the object of the game.  Hank Greenwald, one of my favorite broadcasters, used to say, “You can come out to the ballpark and see something new every day.”  Truer words were never spoken than at the tee-ball level.

 

The time I spent with eleven kids under the age of seven was very satisfying, and remarkably entertaining.  Mind you, I am to coaching what the NHL is to etiquette, but my emphasis was on fun and teamwork which appeared to satisfy all involved.  Except for some of my fellow coaches, that is.

 

IT’S A GAME

 

This is one of the kid’s first exposures to team sports, if not sports in general.  I was pleased if I could get them to find first base, throw the ball forward and put the glove on the correct hand (“Remember, not the hand you throw with”).  Yet, some of the other coaches thought they were teaching them how to focus and win games.  Win games, you don’t even keep score in tee-ball! 

We played against one team who actually had a chant every time one of my players was up to bat.  I looked at the kids on this team and they did not seem to be having much fun.  Maybe I am off base on this (pun intended), but there will be plenty of times in their life for competition and bearing down for an achievable goal, tee-ball is just not one of them.

 

ROGUE BAT!

 

I remember in the second game of the season, I was given a new player who stood just slightly higher than the tee.  He was assigned the coveted fielding position of mid-second-shortstop.  In his first at bat he dribbled the ball up the third baseline.  A little unclear on the concept, he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand.  It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run.  No one on the other team interfered with his mission for fear they would get clocked by the bat. 

 

I am confident that the other coach, already holding a low opinion of me, felt I was very ineffectual as an instructor, and you know what, I could care less.  My kids were having fun, I knew that much, and the parents did not have any complaints. 

 

In practice they were learning some rudimentary baseball skills (very basic, such as, “This is the ball, you catch the ball with your glove, it goes on your hand”) and how to play as a team, and respect other players.  To me those were lofty goals for a two-and-a-half-month season.  I made sure that the parents knew where I stood right from the start in my coaching philosophy, and I was pleased to see they all appeared to feel the same way.

 

NO GROIN INJURIES

 

I am sure I encountered a myriad of situations that Bruce Bochy never has, but I also did not have to deal with high priced players and hamstring pulls.   Loose teeth, yes; donuts after the game, certainly; potty breaks, undoubtedly; but kid durham did not involve a single groin injury.

 

If you get this opportunity, I have three words for you, jump at it!  But utilize the opportunity to educate them on teamwork and the fundamentals of the game.  By fundamentals I mean, “This is a bat.  This is a mitt.  Try not to get them confused.”  Take the time to enjoy the kids, their enthusiasm and childishness.  Who better to act like a child than a five-year-old?  Don’t get into the competitive thing with kids at this age.  They will have the rest of their lives to worry about being first.

 

As time goes on, I hope my boys will excel in some sport, if that is their choice.  I feel they all have the skills and the potential to be very athletic.  I plan to encourage this, but not force it upon them, and especially not at the ripe old age of five.

 

Editors note: No groins were injured during the writing of this blog.

…he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand.  It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run