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.
Dear 2020 Baseball Player,
I'd like to be so bold as to speak for all of your mamas today. We - who are your biggest fans and sometimes your harshest critics. We - who have to use all of our mental fortitude to will our bodies to sit still in the bleachers when you get hurt out there on the field; whether physically or emotionally. We - whose every instinct tells us we need to hop the fence and run across the diamond to get to you. We - whose every bone aches to wrap you up and kiss your forehead and tell you everything will be okay.
We see you.
We see you hurting. And some of us can't necessarily tell you that you'll get 'em next time. We can't whisper through the chain link fence, "Next play, bud, next play."
We want you to know that even though there are so many losses right now - so many tragic casualties in the wake of this crisis in our country - you are allowed to grieve this loss. Whether you are a 12 year old Little Leaguer, an 18 year old high school senior, a college player, a coach, or a granddad whose bleacher seat will stay put in the car's trunk for the season, we see you and we are grieving with you. As I recently read, there is no reason to play "Hardship Olympics" during this time of loss. There are no winners here.
You have suffered a loss. And we know well that you don't like to lose. You have experienced losses before on the field. The time you were tied and the walk-off hit brought your opponent home to win the game. The time you struck out looking with your teammate standing on 3rd, all set to have you knock him in. The time you misjudged the throw or the time the tag came down on your foot just before it hit the plate.
But this is different. This was over before it started. The final inning was left out there to dangle for awhile and then it disappeared in an instant. You weren't even able to try, to give it everything you've got, to show yourself that all the hard work you put in during the off-season would pay off. You had barely broken in your new cleats and the plug was pulled.
We are so sorry.
But, listen to your mother now, Son.
You are more than this. You are more than the unlucky kid who happened to be a senior or a 12 year old Little Leaguer in the Spring of 2020. You are more than a player, more than a teammate, more than a position on a field.
And yet, your mama would like to remind you that you should never dismiss these roles that you have played for all these years as something you will have to leave in the past. These parts you have played in the story of your sport - the clutch player, the leader, the hustler, the sub at the ready, the star who everyone always counted on? These traits that have made you a good teammate are the same that will make you a good human.
These skills you have learned, these adjustments you've made, these early mornings and late nights, these injuries suffered and the stamina and focus it took to come back from them? These errors and web gems? These strike outs and base hits?
They have formed in you all the parts of the man you have been created to be far beyond the baseball diamond.
Did you imagine that your parents signed you up to play all those years ago, that we drove you all over kingdom-come, spent all that money on equipment and lessons, and sweated our tails off in metal bleachers just because we wanted to see you connect a bat with a ball?
No sir. We did not.
We did that because we knew that the lessons you learned in this sport and the relationships that you formed would carry you through the whole of your lives.
When you were a little T-Baller with a helmet that wobbled on your head, we could not imagine all the things the world would throw at you. We certainly could not have imagined this. We supported your years in this sport because we knew it would teach you that when things got tough you were to adjust your grip, stand in the box, keep your feet, and stare down every nasty curve ball the world could throw.
Whether you return to the field one day or not, you have been offered an opportunity. It is one you did not want and certainly one you did not deserve. But it's here. And so are you.
Your team is made up of more than your "bros" now. Your teammates are every one of your country's citizens now - the strong and the weak, the athletic and the fragile, the old and the young, the capable and the vulnerable. You have an opportunity now to take on your role and make them all grateful that you are a part of their team. And you will be able to look back and be proud of what you sacrificed for them.
Your teammates, your coaches, your parents, and your fans are waiting to see what you can do. Now that circumstances are very difficult and the opponent is very formidable, show them what you learned as a baseball player. Show them you can take it on the chin and get back up to kick the dirt off of your cleats. Show them that you can overcome this disappointment because it is the best for your team even though it's hard and even though it hurts.
Whatever your future holds, rest in the knowledge that you've been practicing for this all along. You've got this, Kiddo. We are watching. Batter up.
Your Biggest Fan
photo credit: https://sentrysportslighting.com/panorama-of-empty-baseball-field-at-night-from-behind-home-pate/
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.