This week marks the playoffs for my son’s Little League team, which means that win or lose, his baseball season will soon come to an end. While some might think I would be eagerly looking forward to reclaiming hours of my weekend that are now spent on dirty, windy fields, and no longer having to plan my laundry schedule around the seemingly endless need for a clean uniform, I am actually sad that the season is coming to a close.
Growing up, I never participated in team sports. My elementary school extra-curricular activities centered heavily on theater. Gymnastics and ice skating rounded out the calendar, but I was never skilled enough to advance to any competitive level. So, until my older son’s penchant for all things sports, I never experienced the many great things that come along with being part of a team.
All too often, we read about the negatives—aggressive coaches, angry parents, and poor role modeling for the children who are the ones actually playing the game. And while I caught rare glimpses of that this season, and now understand how one can get swept up in the competitive spirit, there was so much about my son’s Little League experience that was tremendously positive for him—and for our entire family.
In no particular order, here are five things that I will miss as the spring days on the baseball field fade into summer days on the beach.
1. The community. I have written before about how much I love my children’s Jewish day school. But the downside is that their school is not located in our neighborhood, and many of their friends live a good drive away. Also, as someone who attended a public elementary school in a diverse neighborhood, I sometimes wonder if I am inadvertently narrowing my children’s social circles.
Little League has solved both of these problems. My children, my husband, and I are now friends with wonderful families in our neighborhood that we would not have otherwise met. We have spent a lot of time together cheering on one another’s children, sharing the ups and downs of our weeks, commiserating about parenting challenges, and laughing—there is always a lot of laughter.
2. The freedom. The five fields on which our neighborhood teams play—located one behind the other, with a single entry/exit gate—are about as free-range as you can get in Queens, NY. My younger son, together with other team members’ siblings, has spent many happy hours digging up worms, making mud puddles, pretending to be a ninja, and playing who-knows-what-else because all of this requires very little adult supervision. The freedom for kids to play outdoors without grownups on top of their every move is hard to come by, and has been an unexpected gift that this baseball season has given to my 6-year-old.
3. The food. Whether it is munchkins or mini-eggrolls, the parents on our team have been overly generous about bringing food for players, parents, and siblings, making the scramble between work and the field that much easier. And let’s not forget the ice cream truck that perfectly times its arrival with the end of each game. Nothing provides better consolation after a loss or celebration after a win than soft serve in a cone.
4. The father-son bonding. My husband is one of my son’s coaches, and I love watching what this does for their relationship. Before games their talk is about line-ups and fielding strategies; after it’s a play-by-play dissection of each inning. Their passion for the sport brings them closer together and gives them something that is uniquely theirs to share.
5. The sweet camaraderie of the boys. There is something special about an on-the-mound conference between a 9-year-old pitcher, a 7-year-old catcher, and an 8-year-old first baseman. I can only imagine what these boys are saying to each other, but these quick talks often end with an encouraging slap on the back and a bit more bounce in the players’ steps. It fills me with pride to see my son step up to help his teammates when they are feeling discouraged and to realize that he can rely on the same help from others.
So while I am blessed to have a summer calendar that is quickly filling with enriching and fun family activities, in the coming months, there will likely be a part of me that wishes I am back on the baseball field yelling things like “good eye” and “nice swing” with gusto, swigging Gatorade, and rooting for a terrific group of kids in purple uniforms.