The Soon-To-Be Former Life of a Baseball Parent

The Way Back Machine

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.

Older son started umpiring while younger son was in Middle School

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

Maryville: Hitting close to home

“Did you see this?!” I shoved the front page of The Kansas City Star in my husband’s face last Sunday afternoon. “Did you read this article? Two barely teenage girls raped- one left in freezing conditions passed out on her mother’s steps- cell phone video, a confession, physical evidence…and the two teenage boys both arrested- and then set free.” I tried to remain calm. My own teenage son walked in the room and I pointed at the paper now in Brian’s hands.

“I want you to read this article,” I said calmly, well, attempted calm. ” I want you to know that ‘no’ ALWAYS means ,’no’. Drunk ALWAYS means, ‘no’.  I want you to be a guy who doesn’t think with his penis, but thinks and acts with his heart and brain. I want you to understand the harassment and victim shaming those poor girls had to endure in their high school and small town; I want you to know what it looks like. No girl should be called a ‘skank’; a ‘whore’. Never. But high school kids did that to these two girls after they were raped. I want you to imagine  how you would feel if this happened to your sister and I want and you to remember that feeling tomorrow.”

Poor Luke, he just wanted to sit down and watch the Chiefs play but he had seen Mama Rants before, he knew it was best to pay attention. “Why tomorrow?”

“Because your football team plays the former team of the boys who raped those girls.”

The very next day that article, (THIS ARTICLE), the story of what happened in Maryville, Missouri went viral. It was everywhere I turned online, in the news…people were talking and a lot of the talk was angry and negative; a lot of the talk was aimed at the town.

Later that day, I traveled the 90 minutes from my home to the football field at Maryville High School to watch my son’s team play.

By the time I left home for the game I was a wreck. I had spend a good chunk of the day reading what the online community thought of small midwest towns like Maryville, like where I live.

While the town where I live is closer to a major metropolitan area than Maryville is ( the closest larger town to them would be St. Joseph. Where? Exactly) it’s not completely different. When giant swaths of stereotypes are painted, I live in Maryville: A small rural town in a flyover state. According to that paintbrush, the residents are morons, the police are allowed to be corrupt, the town is governed by decades long social rule of a group of established families, and local sports are king. The town will do anything to preserve order and outsiders are not welcome.

This is not true. It’s not entirely true of  Maryville, and most definitely isn’t true of my town.

Do shades of it ring true?


But that day, after reading what people thought of the town, the people who allowed this to happen to those two girls, the potential cover-up, legal maneuvering that got the charges dropped, the speculation of what really happened…being in Maryville  was the LAST place I wanted to be. I thought that the town would attract the vigilantes looking for a highly visible target, and a stadium in the high school where the kids in the case all attended is very visible.

But my son’s freshman team was long scheduled to play. The Maryville Spoofhounds varsity team had come to our field the previous Friday night and smoked us with a 50-10 victory. The football program at Maryville is beloved by many in the town, their 22 straight victories brought enough visitors 90 minutes away to our school to fill the guest bleachers.

I was a wreck of conflicting thoughts:

I wanted to stay home and keep my kid home.

I wanted to go and make a peaceful statement in support of the girls who were raped then shamed and re-victimized.

I wanted our freshmen boys to kick some Spoofhound ass.

daisys for daisy

I put two daisies in my hair, one for each girl. I didn’t know if this was foolish or bold, but I felt like I couldn’t pretend it was just another day, another game in another town.

I have a fairly overactive imagination. On the drive to Maryville I envisioned many scenarios when locals saw my daisies. As the afternoon unfolded:

No one said anything when we stopped at Burger King for dinner.

No one said anything when we sat in the bleachers and cheered on our team.

No one said anything when I went to the snack bar or the ladies room.

(Probably because I looked like this most of the game. It was rainy and I huddled with my younger son and husband under an umbrella.)

maryvilleDuring the game I looked at the other parents, the boys on the field, the cheerleaders. I wondered if they had participated in any way. Then I wondered if it  came as a surprise to them when they had read the same article I did. I don’t have answers for that, only they know.

Do I want justice for the girls?

Hell yeah.

Do I want those who wronged and got away with it to accept what they did and face the consequences?

Hell yeah.

Do I support broad, generalized strokes of anger directed at every citizen of Maryville?

No, I can’t.

There are so many lessons that anyone, anywhere can learn from this case. So many lessons that we can teach our kids including- and certainly not limited to- victim shaming, rape culture, respect for others, cyber bullying, lying, throwing political weight around, Old-Boys networks, and teaching our kids to accept consequences for their actions.

Mostly I want parents, myself included, to continue to have those talks with our kids- all of our kids. Not just the boys, but the girls, too. And not just once, not when the next Maryville happens, but all through their childhoods and teenage years. As long and as often and as creatively as we can, even if they sometimes come out as rants because variety in presentation gets noticed by our kids; rote repetition gets tuned out.

Maryville may not resemble your town, it might not be near to your town, but as parents the lessons learned from Maryville land very close to home for all of us.