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September 2010

Bonding Over Baseball

Coach-son Tonight Silas ended his second season of little league baseball. It ended as I imagine most seasons will; a loss in the playoffs.

I can't help but think maybe it's just a little bit cruel to invest so much energy into something as trivial as little league knowing that the last emotion we're likely to feel at the end of each season is disappointment. Let's face it, only one team will finish on a winning note. And no matter how good our kids may be, odds are always against them being on that winning team.

But as I tossed and turned in bed over the last two hours, the restlessness that overwhelmed me had little to do with tonight's loss, and the season ending, and more to do with the end of a window of personal bonding with my son.

Those who know us know that Silas and I have a very unique and intense relationship. We love hard, laugh hard, play hard and fight hard. Some may say that it's because we're so much alike. I believe it's because he's so much like his mother -and that's the kind of relationship Elizabeth and I have. I just don't have to ground her from video games (only trips to Home Depot).

As I have helped coach Si's baseball teams over the last two seasons, we have discovered that this baseball thing is something that we enjoy together like nothing else. There is something mystical about putting on a pair of old leather gloves and firing hard balls back and forth at each other in the back yard. 

We sit on the couch and watch the Blue Jays or channel surf the other MLB games and talk about the players and the way they play. We note who wears short pants and who has a flat cap. We rewind the pvr and observe the way fielders get in position to field grounders or we study the arm motion of the pitchers and watch the spin on their pitches in slow motion. These are magical moments.

Silas has enjoyed a few seasons of soccer and a couple of lacrosse. He's taken tennis lessons and we've been out for a few rounds of golf. We've even made a number of father-son fishing outings, which we both love. Throughout all of it I've played my part on the field, the court, the back yard, the driving range, the course, at the lake... wherever. But I swear there is nothing like a father playing catch with his son. Nothing.

To watch Silas' skills develop over the last two seasons has been a blast. In this evening's game he was playing second base during the final inning. Our team was really struggling at getting outs. Silas made a beautiful play on a ground ball up the middle and took a couple of steps to the 2B bag to get the force at second. And then, to everyone's shock, he turned and fired a throw to first in an attempt at a double play. His throw was a little off target and the runner was safe, but I could not have been more proud of him at that moment. It was a play we had NEVER practiced. He just knew what to do. While all the parents cheered the play, I know most of them were applauding his instinct and not the simple fact that he'd made the routine play at second; although given our infield struggles tonight, it was an important play.

Silas is only 7 years old. When I was 7 I was still playing t-ball! I certainly wasn't trying to turn double plays.

So, now our next discussion is his opportunity to play at the AAA rep level. Tryouts are in September. And, truthfully, I think he's got a good chance of making the team. He's got good baseball instincts, developing skills and a real love for the game. Of course, there are no guarantees, but I like his chances. The flip side of this path is that I will not be able to coach him at that level. Even if I had the experience and expertise, I cannot make the time commitment.

On one hand, it doesn't seem like a big deal. Silas will enjoy the game whether I'm coaching or not. The truth is, some of our biggest father-son conflicts have come when we've been on the field and he's decided that he will not "listen to the coach" (i.e. me/Dad). I know, in his way, he is testing boundaries. And even though it makes things difficult at times, we always walk away closer. Besides, we always have our backyard and the ball field down the street where we can hang out, play catch and hit grounders to each other. 

Well, however things unfold, we'll do it as "together" as we can. There is nothing like it; nothing in the world.

My advice to you - go play catch with your son. Today.