It’s been a good twenty + years since my small, cleated feet hit the red dirt of a t-ball field. I was a far-from-MVP member of the Orange Crush t-ball team back in nineteen ninety-something, and I had no clue what I was doing or why I was doing it. Looking back on the picture of my awkward little stance and over-sized trucker hat, I can’t help but wish I had a clue as to how awesome that small cluster of Saturdays was in my life while I was living it.
My son is now in his second year of t-ball, and last night was our first game. I had had an incredibly busy week, like most working moms with kids do these days, and didn’t realize how very badly I needed to be reminded of the simplistic bliss of springtime t-ball.
Nothing stirs memories like the sense of smell. As I was un-buckling my daughter out of her car seat in the parking lot of the t-ball and baseball fields, I was overcome with memories. The smell of fresh-cut grass and the savory smoke of concession stand burgers and hot dogs hit me like a ton of bricks, and immediately I was reminded of countless t-ball and softball adventures from my childhood. A quick scan of my surroundings revealed hundreds of cars crowded into the small park, parked chaotically as if everyone had just gotten off work and whipped in just in time to see little Johnny step up to the plate. Some moms and dads were loaded down with folding chairs, buckets of balls, coolers, and blankets and were walking toward the fields. Grandparents were helping herd younger siblings toward the bleachers. Umpires were taking breaks between games, eating hot dogs and swapping stories of unruly parents or highlights of “kids that played just like their parents did” in the last game. In a small town, the parents of the t-ballers played with or against each other on those same fields years ago, and the stories of games long past get better with each telling.
I could feel the tension of the long work week slowly subsiding as the excitement and feelings of nostalgia settled in. I took my little girl’s hand and started walking across the park to the field we would be playing on, breathing in the atmosphere and involuntarily smiling as we walked. I can remember how it felt before my softball games when I got a little older, being filled with anticipation for my game to start. I remember the wins and the losses. I remember working hard at practice, wishing so badly to make the all-star team, and later the junior high and high school teams.
T-ball was the beginning of years of sports; it was the beginning of years of hard work and determination.
Sports taught me so much that I needed to know about life. I learned respect for authority. I learned putting in the hard work for the greater good of the team. I learned that with hard work comes self-respect. Sports taught me how to win graciously, because I knew how hard it was to be the losing team in a game you wanted so desperately to win. Sports taught me that each person has individual talents, and that the differences in our talents is what made our team successful. It was okay for someone else to be better at pitching than I was, because I had other talents to contribute to the team.
Playing sports created in me a hunger for improvement, a desire to better myself.
But it also taught me that I couldn’t win a game all by myself, no matter how awesome I could become. Sports taught me that being a part of a team that works well together is something to be valued. In life, you will have teams that never quite get it right because they don’t learn from or about each other. Rarely, you will be a part of a team that is so cohesive, so in-tuned to one another’s talents that you know you are a part of something far greater than yourself. You build each other up, you learn to strengthen areas of weakness, you anticipate each others moves before they are ever made. It is an art that many never learn to appreciate.
I am idealistic enough to hope that our world can carry on the lessons I learned while playing sports.
I want my children to learn the structure provided by learning and abiding by the rules of the game. I want my children to understand that everyone has different levels of potential, and with that knowledge always display kindness. I hope they understand that current adversaries can become future co-workers, friends, and even family. T-ball has reminded me of the very core beliefs I hold fundamentally about life, and I hope it helps to build them into our future generations as well.
I watched my son in his uniform walking alongside my husband, the head coach of our team this year, and couldn’t help feeling all sappy and sentimental. This is what life is all about. We are making memories that he doesn’t even realize are some of the best times of his life right now. More importantly, we are starting an adventure that will help shape him into the man he will become one day, years from now.
Time to take in a deep breath of that sweet ballpark smell and dive in.