Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, despite my 20 years as a parent of two sport-playing kids (the third is more cerebrally entertained) I’m not now, nor have I ever been, sporty. Therefore, back in Sport Parent, Year One I was blissfully naïve as we ventured into the game that began it all, baseball.
But, oh ho, little kids don’t start with baseball proper, they start at about age five with the extraordinarily cute game of T-ball. Two-inning games with kids that look like little batting-helmeted bobbleheads running the bases, playing in the infield dirt, and picking dandelions in the outfield. While there’s just a hint of future organization on the field, it’s sample baseball: all the elements are there but in an enjoyable, bite-sized piece.
And that’s how they get you! It was so fun, even for us unsporty parents. I remember thinking, “Who knew that I liked baseball? Let me get a camp chair, or maybe a bleacher chair…both! I’ll get both! I’m in this for the long run!”
Six years later, when our second little ball player was ready for T-ball, I knew how painful that long run would be.
Very painful. Not because T-ball wasn’t still cute, but because I knew that if the second kid took the bait like his brother had, I was in for some long years. This is a three-season sport that begins with parkas, fleece blankets, and hand warmers, has a middle of wondering if your shorts are going to show so much sweat people will wonder if you wet yourself, and ends under the layers of blankets again.
The adorableness of T-ball morphs by inches into Coach Pitch then Machine Pitch leagues before the players have the ball for the entire game in the Kid Pitch level. With each step up the ladder of baseball, the games got longer, the rules more complicated, and skills in both the sport and in being a teammate were slooowly built.
In the bleachers and sideline rows of camp chairs and coolers, lessons were being learned too. We spent a lot of time together, not just during the game but also during rain or lightning delays, at practices, and between games during tournaments. We traded handy tips like how to get red dirt or grass stains out of the white game pants. We discussed who chose those white pants for little boys diving into the ground and decided that it was most likely not the person who does the laundry. We realized that kid pitchers were never going to get a runner out at first, no matter how many…so many…times they tried, and we learned from each other what gear we needed in our waterproof totes that we left packed for entire seasons.
Finally, at some point early in middle school, the kids looked like a real baseball team—pitchers even began to throw runners out at first! This was the most expensive phase: the one where your kid loves the game so much you can, realistically, see them playing it through high school and maaaaybe getting a college scholarship. But that level of league, equipment, and coaching doesn’t come cheap…neither did my spirit wear collection that grew with each team change.
Not every kid is going to play college ball, most don’t, including my boys. My older player now supplements his teacher’s salary by umpiring youth ball, and the youngest made a very grown-up decision to play this final varsity season for the joy of it, not for a future in it.
After years of early morning drives to far away fields, late nights of extra innings, and a family calendar heavy with practices, games, and tournaments, my bleacher days are coming to an end. I’m still not sporty, but I have 20 years of baseball memories, time with my kids, and cherished friendships to play as a brain montage.
And a very impressive collection of team spirit wear.
Originally published in The Kansas City Star, March, 2023