I'm honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the American Travel Baseball Alliance site alongside so many impressive baseball minds from around the country. Some of you have found yourselves here through the columns I've written for the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League. To those who are new to my words, you should note that yours truly has never connected a bat with a baseball. I have never caught a fly ball. I have never thrown a strike.
I am neither a player nor a coach nor an analyst. I have, however, sat at numerous baseball parks watching my three sons play over the course of the past 17 plus years. I spent many of those years racing around town from one game to the next to try to be present for each kid. And, in fact, a good portion of those years I juggled not only various baseball parks, but a whole lot of basketball courts and golf courses and even a few soccer fields.
Now with two kids in college and only one left at home, my days are a bit less frantic. In fact, the youngest is not only the last player standing in my house, but as of this school year, baseball is the last sport standing. Whether t-ball or Little League or high school fields; whether in my own county or across my state or along the East Coast, I have logged countless hours watching baseball. This game will forever and always be linked to my journey as a parent.
Now that you have a clear understanding of my extensive baseball "credentials", it behooves me to give you an idea of the content you should absolutely not expect to find from my column here.
This will not be a place where you can come to find out how to raise an elite athlete who has gifts the likes of which the world has never seen.
I don't have any of those kinds of athletes. (Side note for the Skinner boys: Sorry to break it to you.)
This will not be a place where I tell you exactly how to get your son to play on a D-1 College baseball team.
I've never done that.
This will not be a place where I will let you know which is the very best travel organization to join.
Among all three of my boys over the course of their years playing, I have experience with seven different travel organizations in my area. One might have been a good fit for one of my boys, but would not have been for another. One might have been perfect for a boy during a certain season, but not as he moved into the next. I know that there are many parents who would love to tell you that one specific organization is far superior to the rest. Alas, that person will not be me.
This will not be a place where I will tell you how to be the most poised, supportive parent in the stands so that your son will someday accept a Cy Young Award and end his speech with, "You're the real MVP, Mom!".
I have been poised. I have been gracious and humble after both wins and losses. I have said all the right things with love and wisdom to my children after victories and defeats.
Also, please be assured that I have said rude things - if not out loud, at least under my breath - about the mom on the other team ringing that God-forsaken cow bell. I have been a very sore, very bitter loser and an over-enthusiastic (i.e. obnoxious) winner. I have been completely unproductive and even unkind in my words to my very own flesh and blood child after a game. And, in one illustrious moment I was put in my place by a high school basketball ref who told me to "Zip it, Ma'am" while the point guard to whom I gave birth glared at me from the court. (I would like to reiterate that the call was objectively terrible. Just the absolute worst. I digress.)
I have done some things right. I have done many things wrong. So what can you expect to find here each month?
Second to a parent and wife, I am a writer - one who looks for beauty and meaning and the odd joke or two in the most mundane and ordinary of circumstances. As Frederick Beuchner wrote, "There is no event so commonplace, but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him."
My search for evidence of God - His wisdom, His humor, His conviction, His very presence in the smallest details of my life - has required that I do so on the baseball field simply by virtue of the fact that I have spent so darn much time there. I have been taught profoundly deep lessons in the heartbreak of an error or in the triumph of a homerun, in the disappointment of a rainout or in the blinding beauty of a sunset beyond the outfield, in the irritating voice of a fan on the opposite side or in the encouraging high five of a fellow Baseball Mom.
These lessons I've learned? These breathtakingly beautiful and hilariously bizarre stories that unfold in the most ordinary of moments? It seems I just can't keep from telling them.
I hope that you will read something here that resonates with you or makes you laugh or makes you think. I'm sure that at times you will read something here with which you do not agree. Still, I would bet that if you're a parent of a baseball player that has somehow found yourself in this little corner of the internet, we will have quite a few things in common.
I would bet that you, like me, love this game. I'd bet that you, like me, love the people it has brought into your life. I'd bet that you, like me, have experienced almost every emotion on the planet as you've watched a bunch of kids throw a ball around a diamond.
But mostly, I would bet that you, like me, have sat in the bleachers looking through the chain link fence and spotted hands-down the most special, most beautiful boy that God ever made. I'd bet you have prayed for him and hoped for him. I'd bet you have been frustrated with him and heartbroken for him. I'd bet that you have watched him make the error that ended the game or hit the walk-off to win it. Maybe you've watched both happen. Maybe more than once.
I would bet you've waited outside the dugout as that most special, most beautiful boy came toward you - all sweaty and smelly with blue Gatorade staining his upper lip. And I'd bet, if it hasn't happened quite yet, that you will look up one day to see that the Gatorade has been replaced by the beginnings of a real grown man's mustache. And I'd bet that your breath will catch in your throat and your heart will feel like it's going to burst out of your chest because you love that little boy-turned-man so darn much it's stupid.
If I'm even close to right, I hope you'll come back here each month. I am grateful to have a place to share my heart and I look forward to sharing it with you.
Happy Holidays, Baseball Fans!
While surfing the internet for the last few days, I have come to realize that you can find a gift guide for just about any person in your life. Perhaps you're looking for a gift for a friend who is an outdoorsy librarian with an interest in 18th century shipbuilding? Or maybe you need something for a tech savvy uncle who loves the Grateful Dead and dreams of starting a cake pop business? I have no idea how to help you with those folks, but based on the emails I've received in the past few days the perfect gift is definitely out there and it's likely 40% off.
I can, however, help you if you have a baseball fan of any age on your list. I've searched all kinds of sites and found some fun and unique gifts for our annual NVTBL Gift Guide. 2020 has been tough and everyone deserves a little extra holiday cheer this year. Take a look!
1. Baseball Themed T-shirts
This fun Home Run Santa t-shirt will be a great gift for any of your favorite baseball players or fans. It comes in ten different colors and can be shipped in a cute gift bag for an extra $3.99.
It was such a bizarre year that I often thought of what my mom used to say all the time, "Well, if you don't laugh, you'll cry. And I'd rather laugh." For your kiddos that lost out on their season this year, this "lousy t-shirt" might bring them a smile. They deserve it.
2. Baseball Masks
Well, if there's a more 2020ish gift that you can give than a mask, I'm not sure what it is. Choose from tons of choices for baseball-themed masks here. Grab a few. I think they'll be around for awhile.
3. Baseball Duvet and Pillow Set
I burst out laughing when I saw this adorable little guy dreaming Big League dreams snuggled up in this MLB baseball player duvet and pillowcase set. Choose queen or twin size. There are ten different MLB teams available.
4. Dugout Mugs
A baseball bat turned into a mug? What more could your favorite "Armchair Athlete" need? Dugout Mugs are a super unique gift made from 100% birch wood customized with your favorite team's logo. They hold 12 oz. and are double sealed and liquid resistant. Be sure to also check out the 6 oz. wine mugs here.
Don't forget your tree ornaments. There are some great options here.
But what if you have three little baseball players in your house who might try to steal your Christmas spirit by fighting over the ornaments and knocking over the tree? (This is, of course, a hypothetical question. I have no idea what that would be like since my three were perfectly well-behaved at all times.) If this scenario might be your reality though, you can personalize a baseball ornament for each of your little angels right here.
6. Baseball Park Map Insulated Pints
Help your player stay hydrated with these great insulated cups printed with baseball park maps from Uncommon Goods. You can choose from five different iconic baseball parks.
7. Baseball Theme Socks
Socks make a great stocking stuffer for your players. There are tons of fun options to choose from here.
8. Baseball Airpods Cover Case
I'm not sure I remember what my teenager looked like before he had white plastic airpods hanging out of his ears 24.7. It's getting a little annoying, but what's more annoying is when he steals my airpods. Grab one of these unique case covers for your kid. There are lots of choose from on Amazon here.
9. Wall Mural
This Baseball Scoreboard wall mural would be great for a basement or teen's room. Check it out at Pottery Barn Teen here.
10. Baseball Essentials at Dick's Sporting Goods
If you read my November NVTBL post you know that my son might need a new pair of baseball pants. When I type "baseball" into the Dick's Sporting Goods search bar 2,715 items appear. Where else do we need to go? The good news for friends of NVTBL is that we have some special coupons for DSG just for you. Click here to find deals that go through 12/20/20.
We hope this list gives you some great ideas for your family. To all of our NVTBL families, we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and a 2021 full of practices, games, and carpool schedules!
(Disclaimer: Author - as of this writing - has not purchased many of these items and therefore cannot personally vouch for their quality. Products and companies here have not sponsored this post. However, The View from Behind Home Plate is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn small fees by linking to amazon.com.)
As Thanksgiving approaches this year, many of our friends and families are weathering some of the most difficult seasons they have ever faced. This year has been full of so much loss and so much uncertainty. Gratitude, understandably, has seemed pretty hard to come by in 2020.
To be sure there were many tragic circumstances - losses of relationships, employment, financial security, and even life. As well, there were other relatively trivial losses, but those that were still painful and worthy of grieving. For the baseball community the cancellations of seasons from Little League to the MLB in the spring were particularly hard pills to swallow because the shutdown happened just as the players, coaches, and fans were getting started.
Sometimes there are years when we look around and see an embarrassment of riches. Some years - and I imagine for most 2020 will be one of them - it takes a little more effort to find blessings among the burdens. I have found in my half century on this planet, that sometimes in the most difficult periods of our lives, we are able to recognize extraordinary gifts that we might have dismissed as ordinary occurrences in more abundant seasons.
Baseball has always brought me cheerful moments. Those moments were definitely fewer this year, but there's no doubt that they were there. I had to open my eyes and my heart a little wider to see them, but I found some pretty special gifts in the midst of the madness of 2020. Here are some of my favorite moments from the baseball season that almost wasn't.
1. A Magical Photo Op at the Ballpark
The NVTBL fall season looked different this year, but the league did an amazing job of implementing measures to keep the players safe. For the teams that were lucky enough to play, it turned out to be a very successful season. One evening, only a few days before Halloween, my son had an NVTBL game scheduled for 8:00 pm. It was the kind of night that made me want to put on my pjs by 7:00 and curl up on the couch, but I headed to the game anyway.
The air was damp and cold. The game seemed to move incredibly slow that night. In the latter innings, my back started to ache. As it became darker and cooler, I was wishing for quicker outs. Then suddenly, a little Halloween magic happened.
Fog rolled in and the players were shrouded in an eerie mist. They looked like ghosts and I wondered if Shoeless Joe Jackson was going to emerge from the outfield.
I forgot all about my complaints for a few minutes and snapped some pretty cool photos. I was reminded that sometimes if you just take a minute to shut off the negative voices in your head and open your exhausted eyes, you might see something pretty extraordinary in an ordinary place.
2. The Northern Virginia College League
College baseball players had barely played for a month when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the season. As they returned home to take classes online and work out in their basements, most of them watched their summer league plans disappear as well.
Enter a few good folks from Northern Virginia who pulled together a league of eight teams made up of some of the best college players in and around our area. Strict protocols were put in place for safety of players, coaches, and fans. The season went on without a hitch and ended with the first ever champions crowned by the Northern Virginia College League.
Due to the persistence and dedication of the baseball community leaders in Nova, the boys of summer and their fans were given a chance to get back to the ballpark. I guess you could say there was joy in Mudville again for a few weeks this summer.
3. A Lesson in Letting Go
The pandemic has forced many of us to rethink some things. We've had to reevaluate the importance we placed on certain activities of our former lives. We've had to learn to let go. This year I'm grateful for the fact that I let go of any semblance of caring about getting stains out of my son's pants.
Dear Reader, I assure you that the above photo features a pair of freshly laundered pants straight out of the ol' Maytag. They have gone through a full wash with your basic garden-variety Tide detergent. However, there was no Shouting it out, no scrubbing with a Fels-Naptha bar, no bleaching, and no Oxi-Cleaning.
I have zero shame about the state of those baseball pants. Five years ago the thought that a mama might send her kid to begin a game in those things would have made me clutch my pearls in horror. This year? Not so much.
I'm not saying that next season won't bring yours truly a renewed sense of focus on stain removal. All I'm saying is that in the Fall of 2020, my mantra was, "Ain't nobody got time for that."
4. The Craziest Play I've Ever Seen
We held our breath all the way through April, May, June, and most of July hoping that the MLB would figure out a way to bring the professional game back to us. We didn't ask for much. We let go of any hope that we could attend in person. We didn't even care if our favorite teams weren't that good (I'm looking at you, Washington Nationals.) We just wanted them on TV. We got used to the piped in crowd noise and even felt less and less creeped out by the weird cutouts in the stands. We just wanted baseball. Any kind of baseball.
Then in game 4 of the World Series, in perfect 2020 style, the Rays gave us this:
and especially, this:
I'm not sure I've seen a more bananas baseball play in my whole life. And if seeing a grown man "airplane-ing" around the outfield while being chased by other grown men didn't bring you a least a tiny bit of joy, then you might be dead inside. Thank you, Rays. In the words of the airplane guy, "Man, baseball's fun."
5. An Early Morning Sunrise
My kid works out at an indoor baseball facility four mornings a week at 7:00 am. My kid does not have a driver's license. That means I have to set the coffee pot for really early and I have to get in my car when it's cold and I have to drive him over there - sometimes in my pjs. I've driven to this facility so many times over the years that I could do it with my eyes closed. But it's a good thing I don't. Because then I'd miss this every time.
Earlier this year as March turned into April and the news about the virus and the shutdown of sports continued to get worse and worse, I heard author Shauna Niequist say this:
"The circumstances of our life will not always line up for happiness and joy. We are responsible for being on the lookout all the time for joy, for gratitude. Life has gotten difficult enough for me in the last couple of seasons where I am aggressively hunting for reasons to be joyful and thankful every day. There are always challenges. We are responsible for being on the hunt for beauty and goodness and hope and joy all the time. That's our job."
2020 might have made the search for things to be thankful for more difficult than ever before, but it's still our job to keep searching. I've found that it's worth the effort. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to write in this space and for all the players, coaches, families, and friends of the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League who stop by to read. Happy Thanksgiving, Baseball Fans. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and great success as you go out to aggressively hunt for joy.
Well, who woulda thunk it, baseball fans? As of this morning, we have 2020 World Series Champion. In my own life, my son's fall baseball season is coming to a close, which is awesome because I wasn't sure it was going to come to an open. Since the pandemic forced the cancellation of the spring season and shortened the summer season, I am immensely grateful that we got it in at all.
Even with all the new rules and Covid protocols, our fall season actually went off without a hitch. After the longest and most boring spring of all time, it got really busy around here. My 15 year old son, Drew, had a few out of town tournaments, practice three days a week, and strength training four mornings a week. I had loads of laundry to wash, stand-still traffic on I-95 to sit in, and even a few stale-smelling hotel rooms to spray with Febreze.
Before I knew it, life seemed almost back to normal.
Last week I spent more time in the car than I did anywhere else. In addition to making a 14 hour round trip to Knoxville and back to Northern Virginia with my college sophomore, our baseball schedule was particularly packed. We had a Sunday round trip to Richmond and back for a double header. That added four hours to my road trip tally. We got home from that to receive the schedule for the next weekend's tournament.
We were scheduled for a 8:30 pm game on a Thursday night at a stadium two and a half hours away from home. That meant we wouldn't be home until after 1:00 am and Drew had school the next day. Then we had practice scheduled for Friday night an hour away from home. To top it off, we had a 7:00 am arrival time for two games on Saturday all the way back at the same stadium from Thursday night. If you're doing the math with me, we're talking somewhere around 7,432 hours in the car - give or take. (And perhaps, some questionable parenting.)
As I sat in the bleachers with some of my baseball mom friends telling them the nightmare schedule we had drawn for the weekend, one asked, "Are you going to all that?"
Huh? I hadn't thought about that option for some reason. The reality was that I didn't have to go. My husband could do the trip with my son alone. I could bail out of at least one or maybe even all of the games. I could stay home and get some work done. Or I could just sit in my pjs with a glass of wine and a chick flick on tv.
But in that moment I looked out at my 15 year old high school sophomore crouching behind the plate and saw this:
This third boy of mine? He waited so long for his turn. From the time he was three years old until he was issued his very own tee ball uniform, he wore mismatched baseball clothes pulled from his brothers' drawers pretty much every single day. He memorized the batting stance of every player on the 2010 Boston Red Sox lineup when he was five. (His Kevin Youkilis was uncanny.) He looped his sticky fingers through the chainlink fence to watch his older brothers' at-bats. He stood behind the backstop imitating the umpire's movements.
One time, when he was about five years old at somebody's game, he climbed up a tree along the first base line, sat high up in the branches, and heckled the opponent's coach when he was complaining about a call. Our friends still laugh remembering how that poor coach looked around wondering who was making fun of him. (Again, not great parenting, I guess.)
He ran the bases after every game. He hitched a ride on the tractor to help drag the field. He stood in line for his medal when he was the bat boy.
Two of my ball players went and grew up on me and hung up their cleats. And I will continue to be each one's biggest fan, cheering for them in everything they set out to do.
But I've still got one guy left to watch play. I know I will blink and the reddish-brown clods of dirt will have disappeared from the floor of my car. I won't need to add the jumbo tub of Oxiclean to my grocery list anymore. I won't have to stop by the ATM as often to be sure I have cash for the gate fees and the concessions.
To be clear, I'm lucky my schedule is flexible enough to allow me to attend most of my son's games. I don't think a mom is good or bad based on how often she sees her kid play. I also know that I might bail out on a game next season or next week or even tonight. Frankly, I don't think my son cares all that much whether I'm there or not. He doesn't look for me in the bleachers or ask me what I thought of his throw down to 2nd base.
But I watched how a final season was snatched out of the hands of so many kids and their parents this year, so whenever possible I will make the trip. I'll roll my eyes and complain about the schedule. I'll glance frustrated at my watch and wonder why in the world the coach has to talk for 30 minutes after the game when we have a two hour trip home. I will fill the gas tank and make the hotel reservation at that basic Hampton Inn that sits right off the highway one more time. I'll drive through whatever crappy fast food place he wants me to after the game. I'll pull in the driveway at 1:15 am on a weeknight and crawl into bed knowing we have to get up in five hours.
Because this guy waited his turn. And his turn won't last forever. For me, he is the last man standing (or crouching, if you will). I'll follow him wherever I can, whenever I can.
You're up, #8. Third time's the charm. Let's play ball.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I really only came to know that about seven years ago because of the brave fight of a number of children in our area including Gavin Rupp, who was a a 13 year old Northern Virginia baseball player whose team played in the NVTBL. I've written about him here before. So enormous was his journey's impact on our baseball community and on me, personally, that I imagine I will continue to write stories about him for as long as my fingers can type.
In June of 2013, the NVTBL put out a call to action on its social media platforms for the support of Gavin. He was battling brain cancer and his family had just heard the news that there were no more adequate treatments available for him. Thus began my more in depth understanding that cancer wasn't a disease reserved for adults. As a mother of three young baseball players like Gavin, I was deeply affected by his story and by his passing only six weeks later.
Today would be Gavin Rupp's 21st birthday. Some of the boys who prayed for him in the summer of 2013 have gone on to play college baseball. Some are working on degrees and looking toward a future with hopeful anticipation. There is no doubt that each of their lives will be forever marked by knowing him or hearing about his brave fight, as mine has been.
This column is dedicated to baseball. But for those of us who have been around the sport for a long while, we know that baseball is about more than hitting a ball and catching a ball. Baseball is about people, community, and relationships.
I wrote the following piece in 2015, only two years after Gavin passed. The hole he left here remains and time, unfortunately, does not heal all wounds.
There is much to mourn in 2020. Today,on Gavin's birthday, the NVTBL hopes that you could make room in your heart to pray for all of the children affected by Childhood Cancer. And then take a few minutes to mourn a young man whose fight on and off the ball field taught us lessons too numerous to count. No matter the mess that we find ourselves in this year, today is a gift. Show up for it and leave it all on the field. Gavin Rupp sure did.
Well, it's Thursday. In social media circles this is the day where people post old photos of themselves, family and friends. Some go way back causing those of us who were teenagers in the 80s some serious shame and regret. Some show photos of college parties or weddings. Most - at least in my circle of friends - are posted by parents of their children.
We remember the awe of peeking at pink newborns swaddled tight. We giggle at toddlers with cake smeared on their faces on 1st birthdays. We zoom in on baby faces, looking for familiar traces of the teenagers who tower over us now. We lament the lightening quick passage of time, commenting, "How did she grow up so fast?" and "What happened to this little pudgy toddler?" and "This baby is going to college?!"
In theory, I could choose a Throwback Thursday photo of my children from last year, last summer or even from last week.
But, what if as each day passed, my options for Throwback Thursday grew farther and farther in the distance? What if I had no choice but to scroll down weeks, then months, then years to find a photo of my child? What if I didn't have a new photo to compare to my old photo? What if all of the images of my child stopped at age thirteen? Or five? Or two?
This question stirred my heart at Curefest this past weekend - a national gathering to raise awareness for pediatric cancer which took place in Washington DC. This reality hit me hard as I walked among throngs of grieving families after spending most of my summer away from fundraisers and awareness events. Time had marched on for me, for my children, and for the world around us. The question nagged me, Does time, in fact, heal the wounds of my friends?
I'd like to think it does. I'm pretty sure it doesn't.
On the National Mall last week, tents and tables set up for cancer awareness organizations from across the country stretched out as far as I could see. Shining faces and gleaming smiles of hopeful children stared out at me on posters and on t-shirts, on brochures and on buttons. Many were photos of triumphant survivors. Still, countless more were "throwback" photos of children lost - last month, last year or many years ago.
And as I looked out at all of these children - all of them important and vital and missed - I tried to put myself in the position of the precious parents I have met on this journey. I wondered about them as they left to go back to their neighborhoods and schools to stand among parents like me. Parents with Iphones poised to capture important milestones, goofy selfies and momentous events - new experiences to stash away for a Throwback Thursday far in the future.
What if there would be no more League Championships? No more first days of practice or school? No driver's test? No SATs or college choices? No graduations? No weddings?
And then this: What if as the years marched on there would be countless more children following in my child's place? More diagnosis. More death. More funerals. More fundraisers. What if each child gone might get lost in a sea of others? What if I felt like the image of my child had become blurry and frayed around the edges? What if I felt like he was being forgotten?
Honestly, I don't have the answers to these "what ifs". As a mother of healthy children, unless something like this befalls my family (and it could), as compassionate and present as I might try to be, I simply will never understand the depth of this pain. No matter how many of these parents I meet and how many with whom I chat, I will never know.
So what can I do? What in the world is there to do?
Yesterday, as I was mulling over these thoughts in preparation for this post, I went to put away the laundry of my 14 year old son. He has grown old enough for baseball games that don't end until 10:00 pm and to study math problems that are over my head. He has grown old enough to make his own dinner and wash his own clothes and stay up later than me. My boy is certainly old enough now to not need his baseball jersey, hat and pants laid out for him by his mommy.
When I picked up his jersey out of the laundry basket, I noticed his new number. He wears the #15.
In the dark early hours of a July morning in 2013, I made a promise to another young boy who once wore the #15. A boy I had never met, but whose face and family had consumed my thoughts that entire summer. His name was Gavin Rupp and he had passed away due to brain cancer at the age of thirteen mere hours before. Today - Throwback Thursday - is Gavin's 16th birthday. As I held my son's #15 jersey, I knew what there was to do.
Romans 12:15 tells me to "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep".
Today, Gavin's birthday will be a day for remembering and rejoicing for his life and weeping for its loss. Today I will remember Gavin.
I will rejoice in the beauty of a world that can be brutal. I will rejoice in the gift of the time that Gavin was here with his family and I will rejoice in the gift of whatever time will be given to my boys. And I will weep. I will weep for the gaping hole that Gavin's absence leaves in his home, in his school, and in the world where his future was not realized.
This Throwback Thursday, I will lay out a new jersey for a new #15 and I will not forget a boy who wore #15 before. The image of Gavin and the lessons his life taught me are in sharp, clear focus in my mind and heart today.
We will not forget you, Gavin Rupp. We will rejoice for you and we will weep for you. We will hold your family in our hearts today. Happy Birthday, Buddy.
For baseball fans, most of the spring and summer felt like the longest 7th inning stretch of all time. With no live games or even practices, our family has had to get our sports fix wherever we could.
We re-watched the World Series wins of the Nats and the Red Sox. We watched the Texas Longhorns winning the National Championship in 2005 and I jumped up and down and cried again as if it was happening live while my people looked at me like I was a giant weirdo. We watched some of my son's high school basketball state play-off games from last spring. (FYI: I jumped up and down and cried again.)
With nothing but time on our hands, in addition to re-living some of these amazing moments, we turned to searching for as many movies, documentaries, and podcasts centered around sports as we could and we curated quite a list.
Thankfully, we have professional baseball back and some travel leagues will be playing in the fall, but I thought this month I'd share some of the best sports-related content we found to get us through the pandemic. Here are seven resources that are worth a watch and/or listen for coaches, parents, and players alike until we can get back to the ballpark.
1. 30 for 30: Little Big Men
Among all the cancelations Covid caused, perhaps one of the most crushing was the loss of the Little League World Series this summer. It is, in my mind, the greatest of all sporting events. I wrote about traveling to watch our local Little League's appearence in Williamsport last year and it was one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. This documentary about the 1982 champions from Kirkland, Washington is a really great watch which chronicles the way these little boys brought the country together during a difficult period and also touches on the ups and downs of their lives after becoming nationally famous at such young ages.
2. Keep the Kettle Hot: The Official Podcast of the Cotuit Kettleers
In full disclosure, I must admit that I'm quite biased about this podcast as one of the co-hosts is my very own flesh and blood son, Joe. He was supposed to be an broadcast intern with the Cape Cod Summer College League's defending champions, the Cotuit Kettleers, this summer until the season was canceled. (Thanks again, Covid). Working with the team's managers and owners, Joe and his broadcast partner set out to release this weekly podcast this summer. The show gives insight into life in college baseball's premier summer league through interviews with the team's manager, host families, former interns, and numerous former players, including a great chat with MLB player Tony Kemp. The most interesting interview, in my opinion, was with Dr. Adam Naylor who discussed the importance of mental performance in sports, particularly in baseball. This is a fascinating look at the mental game with information that will serve coaches, parents, and players of any age.
3. Nine Innings from Ground Zero
Of course, there is not a single American of a certain age who will ever forget where they were on September 11th, 2001. For baseball fans, there are also very few who will forget where they were when President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch in Yankee Stadium during Game 3 of the World Series that year. While this documentary features that historic moment, it looks even more deeply into the ways that baseball helped with the long healing process of our citizens, both in New York and around the country. Nine Innings from Ground Zero is not an easy watch, but it is an important one for all baseball fans.
4. Baseball Family Podcast with Troy and Denay Silva
I just recently happened on The Baseball Family Podcast hosted by Troy and Denay Silva. These are quick 15 minute episodes where the Silvas share the experiences of being a baseball family. Topics range from how to avoid burnout for your kid, a discussion of "daddy ball", decisions regarding multi-sport athletes, and walking your kids through the lost sports season.
Fastball is a documentary narrated by Kevin Costner which throws a little science at baseball fans. It looks at the physics of the pitch as well as the psychological aspects of standing at the plate facing the fastball. With appearences by scientists and baseball legends like Derek Jeter and Nolan Ryan, this is an fascinating look at the phenomenon of the world's fastest recorded pitches.
6. Real Recruiting Podcast
Real Recruiting is an informative podcast in which former players of Northern Virginia high schools reflect on their personal journeys through the process of being recruited to play college ball. I'm a little biased as I know a few of the kids interviewed and having watched them play Little League, I found it a delight to hear them speak about the process. Each young man has a unique story which can be helpful for players who are interested in playing college ball and their parents.
7. NVTBL's EDU Podcast
Last, but not least, our very own NVTBL offers a fabulous podcast with a wealth of baseball information for coaches, parents, and players. The NVTBL's Education Podcast features interviews with area coaches and players discussing everything from the fundamentals of various field positions, coaches development, overcoming performance anxiety, navigating college recruiting, and injury prevention. You will be hard-pressed to find a topic this podcast hasn't covered. Don't miss it.
Happy Listening and Watching and Waiting, Baseball Fans! Here's to hoping this particular 7th inning stretch ends soon and we can all get back to the ballpark!
Sometimes, just for kicks (or for torture), I look back at my 2019 calendar and see what was happening a year ago. You know, to do a little reminiscing, a little reflection, a proverbial "walk down memory lane", if you will. Here's what memory lane looks like:
Last summer we went to Nashville with my son's travel team for a tournament. We spent four days there, including the 4th of July. The boys exchanged their baseball caps for cowboy hats each night as we roamed around the city with families we'd spent baseball summers with since our kids were seven years old. As you might imagine, that was no fun at all.
Then a few weeks later I was watching the Little League team from our very own town win the Southeast Regional Championship in Georgia to guarantee their place for our league’s first appearance in the Little League World Series. A huge crowd of our community members jammed into a sports bar to watch our boys on ESPN. I wasn't really all that into it. Whatever, man.
Then my son and I drove the three hours up and back in one day to Williamsport to see the boys play at Lamade Stadium. WE HATED IT.
Yep, last summer there was traveling and there were tournaments and there was Little League and there were friends sitting right next to us sports bars watching games on tv. We might have even shared a plate of nachos. What a weird world it was, right?
When so much that we enjoyed last summer got canceled this year, most days I tried to look at the whole situation with a glass half-full approach. It was a great time to reevaluate our busy schedules, to spend some slowed-down, quality time with our family, perhaps to contemplate how much we wanted to continue to commit our family’s time and money to athletic endeavors.
And I did that. Through March. And April. And May. And June. And parts of it were wonderful and meaningful. Still, as July crept closer with no definitive change in world events, I tried to tell myself that maybe it would be good to continue our sports-free days of deep introspection and familial bonding. Do you know what I concluded?
NOPE. NO SIR. NO MA'AM. THAT'LL BE QUITE ENOUGH OF THAT, THANK YOU.
Enter the savior of summer in Northern Virginia, the hero we'd been waiting for: the Northern Virginia College League.
Due to the relentless work of a few good men who worked with state and local government officials we've got a summer college league right here in Northern Virginia. A tireless group of interns and committed coaches have worked throughout the month, five days a week, to safely bring the boys of summer back to us. And I could not be more appreciative of their efforts.
As a fan, I'm thrilled, but for this area's players it has been a true gift. Most collegiate players not only had their seasons cut short in 2020, but also had their plans to play in summer leagues across the nation canceled. They found themselves at home working out in their garages and basements for most of the spring. Now, due to the hard work of the NVCL team, these Northern Virginia kids have been afforded the chance to play a shortened summer season right here at home.
Some are playing against or with some of their high school classmates again. Some who rivaled each other in travel ball as little kids, now find themselves as teammates. For our family there is not one team that doesn’t have a player we know or a name we recognize. Each time I’ve shown up at a game, I’ve run into yet another family that I might not have seen since Little League. It’s like a big ol’ family reunion – at a distance.
There are theme nights like Beach Day and Jersey Day. Interns have produced a livestream for those who can't make it to the game in person. There are kids who I watched swing at a tee who have turned into men with facial hair. We’ve cheered them as we did when they were little, watching them hit towering homeruns, make leaping catches in the outfield, and popping up to throw out runners stealing on the base path.
Our area is saturated with baseball talent and we are so lucky to have them show off their skills right here in our local fields. For players from Little League to High School who aspire to play at the next level, there is no better classroom than to sit in the bleachers and watch the way these guys approach the game.
There are just about two more weeks to get out there and watch these teams play. Be smart and respectful of the comfort level of the other fans. Wear your mask in the bleachers if there are too many people there to adequately social distance. Set up your chairs along the fence using the markers for spacing.
And, hey, here's a thought. Try real hard to stop talking about the virus just for an hour or so. It’s important and it’s real and it’s not over, but give your brain a break. Just for a little while, you might have a chance to forget about all the darkness in the world right now. Because as we learned from Field of Dreams, "This field, this game - it's part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again."
Thanks for the reminder, NVCL. We needed it.
Check out the remaining schedule for the NoVa College League HERE.
Well, baseball fans. It finally happened. Our boy had an actual-real-live-honest-to-goodness baseball game this past weekend. In the days leading up to it, I was almost too nervous to put it in writing on the calendar because of the possibility that it would vanish into thin (rainy and/or virus-filled) air again.
The last time I had watched a live baseball game was on March 11th. That night we returned home from my son's second high school scrimmage to find that due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA was shutting down and school had been canceled for the next two days (which quickly turned into the next three months). Since then we watched them fall like dominoes - the NCAA season, the College World Series, Little League, the MLB season, Summer College Leagues, and of course, our son's high school season. With each cancellation I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest and crushed with a bat.
(If you're new here, now might be the time to give you a heads up that I tend toward the dramatic.)
Anyway, two weeks ago we were finally supposed to play, but we got rained out. So due to that heartbreak, I was hesitant to count on us playing this past weekend. Fortunately, we did play. The sun shone and the games were on. We loaded up the truck with the bat bag, the packed coolers, and the chairs and set off to meet up with our old trusty companion known as "Standstill Traffic on I-95".
As we drove, I thought about these past few months when there was not a thing on the calendar for my youngest son - no practice, no hitting lesson, no catcher's clinic, no game. My two oldest boys normally attend college out of state. Both were supposed to be busy with internships this summer, including one who was to be working as a broadcaster in the Cape Cod Summer College Baseball League (cue the sad trombone music). They both came home from their campuses in March and all of their plans were canceled as well. So it was, that on just about every last one of those wide open nights, our family of five sat around the dinner table together. As I often have in the past few months, I thought about what a truly unexpected gift it was.
I think when I look back at this time, although I'll lament all the things we lost (and all the meals I had to cook), I'll cherish having all three of those knuckleheads around the table. While that might sound a little Beaver Cleaver-ish, I can assure you that June and Ward would not be thrilled with the general atmosphere at the Skinner table. Dinner time with my husband and my 21, 19, and 15 year old sons does not a tranquil evening make. There is often a lot of spirited discourse (i.e. ear-splitting arguments) and good-natured taunting (i.e. brutal smack talk).
Sometimes, it got too loud and too contentious, but most of the time I loved it. Many nights those "conversations" would center around our memories of season after season of spring and summer nights spent at the baseball field. As the boys recounted their favorite moments, I was stunned at how clear and detailed each of their memories were of so many seasons past.
We talked about the summer we took the whole family to see the Sox at Fenway Park for the first time and watched Jacoby Ellsbury hit a walk off Grand Slam.
We remembered the time Kyle got to play a game on the field at Nats Park in the Kyle's Kamp Memorial Day tournament. . .
. . . and the day Drew hit his first homerun ever causing his teammates (and his mama) to lose their ever-lovin' minds over it.
We remembered the very first Little League Championship we celebrated with Joe . . .
. . . and the days when the championship trophies were taller than the champions.
The boys talked about the coaches who had meant the most to them, both on and off the field - those who could be serious enough to teach them meaningful life lessons and silly enough to celebrate a heckuva great season with them.
. . . and we remembered the time the most stubborn coach of all - their Dad - went against the advice of nurses and doctors to show up to coach third base in the Middle School Championship only a handful of hours after his knee surgery. Using a fungo bat for a crutch, he convinced his players to keep watch so that his frustrated wife was locked out of the dugout and then they went ahead and won the darn thing just to spite her.
Of course, we talked about championships and amazing plays and fun times with our friends, but we also remembered those moments that didn't lend themselves to a great photo op. The opportunities lost and the silent car rides home. The misplay at short that resulted in the winning run for the opposing team. The frustrated tossing of the 2nd place medal into the trash can and how Mom had to bite her tongue and wait to talk about being a gracious loser until cooler heads prevailed. And perhaps one of our favorites: the time the younger brother struck out looking with his older brother making the call behind the plate as the umpire. Almost a decade later they are still arguing about that call.
I'm more than ready to be busy again. I look forward to setting my Waze app to find me the fastest route to the field and I hope I'll be settling in to my chair for a lot of extra innings. I've got one more ball player left in this house and I don't want to miss a minute.
But I hope one of things that our family will have learned from this season is to take the time to slow down and give our brains a chance to remember. The quarantine gave us that chance. There was arguing. There were accusations and denials. There was shouting and joking and there was a whole lot of laughing.
There was the five of us trading stories too many to count of moments when we thought we'd just about bust out of our skin with joy. We've had far more of those moments than we deserve and we've learned in the last few months that they are not guaranteed. When I look back at the spring and summer of 2020, I'll think about all those nights around the dinner table and to steal a line from Field of Dreams, I'll recall that "the memories were so thick we had to brush them away from our faces."
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Pathetically Sad Baseball Fans,
Lend me your ears.
I have waited yet again until the very last moments of May to submit my monthly piece for the NVTBL because I didn't really have any riveting thoughts on the Korean Baseball League. I have already whined and poured out my busted up heart in this space detailing all the things we desperately miss about baseball. Many of us have spent weeks slumped sadly in front of our televisions, watching replays of games from lo so many years past, eating bags upon bags of potato chips, and wondering with great shame and sadness if we'll even fit into our brand new Washington Nationals World Champions tshirt when this whole thing is over.
Maybe, just me?
Anyway, I come to you today with tidings of great comfort and joy. Of course, the details are a little sketchy and information seems to change on the daily. However, it appears that some of our area baseball fields will open starting this weekend. Even better, some hard-working heroic folks in the Northern Virginia baseball community have just drafted eight teams for the first ever Northern Virginia College Baseball League set to start up in a few weeks. I took this news in with cautious optimism and in a stoically calm and reserved manner. Kinda like this:
Now if you're like me, you've done a lot of thinking during this global pandemic. I daresay, perhaps a little soul-seraching. You've recognized that you didn't appreciate all the ordinary routines and obligations of your one precious life until they were taken away. Maybe, you've even pleaded with the Lord to forgive you - bargaining, cajoling, and negotiating the terms of the return to normal life. You've promised that you'll be a better person after all of this is over. You've admitted that you've been a spineless clod of grievances and you understand now that you should have been more grateful.
Again, just me?
Well, y'all. It looks like the time is now. Baseball is going to be back maybe even in the next few weeks. It's time to make good on all of these promises. This is where the rubber meets the road. It's push come to shove time, put up or shut up, gotta make hay while the sun shines, etc.
Your list might be different from me, but here's mine. Let's do this.
Jenn's 2020 Return of Baseball Resolutions
1. I resolve that when my kids strikes out looking on a pitch that was very clearly a ball meaning that the umpire has made a gross misjudgment, I will react with the utmost respect and maturity, understanding that he is a human being who possibly, perhaps, maybe, just might have seen something I didn't see from my vantage point.
2. I resolve not to complain about sitting in the metal bleachers on a steaming hot day and will look forward with glee to all games even if the forecast looks like this:
3. I resolve that when the game gets intense and that fan on the other side is yelling her fool head off about some nonsense or God-forbid utilizing some kind of noise making device (Lord, deliver us from the cowbells), I will remain calm and collected, recognizing her as a fellow child of God with reasonable thoughts and feelings who is just doing the best she knows how to do.
4. I resolve that I will accept the challenge of all baseball laundry with gratitude, joy, and a servant heart, relishing the Shout, Fels-Naptha bar, and 28 gallon tub of Oxi-Clean as undeserved gifts of immeasurable worth.
5. I resolve that even if we're losing by ten runs in the 9th inning and even if our team looks like they forgot how to swing a bat and even if the ball just went between someone's legs, and even if it's about to start raining or the wind is brutal or the sun is blazing or my back is breaking, I'll remain full of joy and hope and remember this:
Take heart, Northern Virginia Baseball fans. It looks like maybe, just maybe, our long national nightmare is almost over. We can do this. We can be better and we can do better. Make your resolutions list today, my friends.
For more information on the Northern Virginia College League, check out @_NVCL on Twitter.
To be honest, I waited and waited and waited to write this April post for NVTBL. I thought maybe if I held out long enough, I'd be able to write about the triumphant return of America's favorite pastime. Maybe we'd be able to salvage some of the high school or college season. Maybe we'd be readying for our World Champion Washington Nationals to take the field again.
I knew deep down that it was a futile hope, but still I kept waiting. Instead, here we are at Tuesday, April 28, 2020 and I'm not doing what I was supposed to be doing on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
My calendar for today reads:
JV vs. Briar (A) - 6:00 PM - Drew
Tonight I should be driving across town to watch my son play baseball with his teammates. It should be the second meeting between Briar Woods High and Freedom High. It should be the 12th game of the season.
Instead, we actually only played two scrimmages the entire season before it was canceled. I go out running a few times a week and see our beautiful High School field. It sits silent and empty. The gate locked tight, the dugouts gathering pollen and dust. I know, I know, I know that there are greater losses than this game. Our citizens are suffering in ways that we never imagined they could and I'm not comparing sports to life and death. But that empty baseball field is sad. That silence makes my heart ache and I miss it an unreasonable amount. Sometimes if I let myself sit in those feelings very long, I end up pretty much like this.
I miss things that I never ever thought I would miss about this game. Because it's not just the base hits and the double plays and the victories that I miss. It's more than that. I miss every darn little thing.
I miss those nights when I wondered if we would ever sit down to a real meal at the table together. I miss sunflowers seeds stuck in the dryer vent and I miss running out of Oxi-Clean. I miss fuming in the parking lot an hour after the coach said practice would end, still waiting for my son to emerge from the field. I miss carpools full of my son and his friends when I have to roll all the windows down because deodorant has its work cut out for it when it meets a 15 year old boy. I miss hampers full of orange dirt-stained pants and sweaty socks that make me gag.
I miss the clack of metal spikes on the asphalt as my catcher runs behind the dugout to warm up a pitcher and how he avoids my eyes because he's too cool for his mom. I miss the announcer's voice on the loudspeaker and funny walk-up songs. I miss rolling my eyes at a dad that can't stop yapping about how great his kid is or how bad the ump is or how mistaken the coach is. I miss texts from grandparents asking why they can't figure out how to get the Game Changer to work. I miss a mom friend assuring me that the ump just made a really bad call even though we both know good and well that my kid should have swung the bat because that pitch was right down the middle.
I miss numb toes and huddling under blankets when it's too cold for baseball. I miss warming my frozen fingers in the automatic hand dryer in the public bathroom that hasn't been cleaned in forever. I miss thinking I might burst into flames on the metal bleachers when it's too hot for baseball. I miss the smell of bug spray and sunscreen and the green grassy outfield.
I miss the flip of fire-red hair when he pulls off his catcher's mask and the way he fist bumps a friend to congratulate him on a good play. I miss watching him glance over to the dugout to get the sign. I miss seeing him call time to go encourage the pitcher when things start getting rough. I miss the obnoxious chants and nicknames called from the dugout and the fact that the moms can identify each voice because we've been listening to those jokers since they were seven years old. I miss holding my breath and feeling like my heart is going to jump out of my chest when we just need to get the last out to win the game. I miss high fiving and hugging at the victory. And almost as much? Almost? I even miss the errors, the crushing losses, and kissing the forehead of a kid who didn't have his best day on the field.
I miss falling into bed exhausted late at night and lamenting the schedule that barely allows us to take a breath before we have to show up for the game.
I miss lying there staring at the ceiling and wondering if this has all been too much - too much busy-ness, too much pressure, too much practice, too much travel, too much money.
And I miss that realization that I come to every single year, every single season, as I fall asleep thanking God for the day: that all the baseball over all the years has never ever been too much. The blessings this game has brought our family have far outweighed the burdens. And I just want all of it back. All the blessings, all the burdens. I want them back.
I miss you, baseball. So much.
Jennifer is a Texas-native living in Northern Virginia with her husband of 25 years, Steve. A free-lance writer, most of her musings recount her 17 plus years as a baseball and basketball mom to her three sons, Joe, Kyle, and Drew, on her blog, The View from Behind Home Plate. Outside of racing between basketball courts and baseball fields, she spends her time as a Women’s Bible study leader, childhood cancer advocate, and rabid Texas Longhorn fan. Her writing has also appeared in columns for Arcola Methodist Church, the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League, the Dadvocacy Consulting Group, Dysautonomia International, and the pediatric cancer advocacy organization, Kyle’s Kamp.