“Mommy, can I get an Icee?”
While my 10-year-old’s request wasn’t unusual, the timing of his question was.
I couldn’t wait for my kid to turn 5, not just because this signified he was ready for kindergarten. Sure, the thought of his starting school — making friends, learning the alphabet, and being with someone else for six hours without costing me a penny — was exciting. But even more exciting was the fact that he was now eligible to play pee wee baseball.
Having very little athletic ability, I never played a team sport, so I know what it’s like to be on the sideline, wishing to be part of a common goal. I wanted my child to have the experience of camaraderie and teamwork that sports offer. Successful people play team sports, I told myself. Since I’m a rapt New York Yankees fan from April to (hopefully) October/November, baseball was the sport I’d pre-selected for my kid.
When my son first started playing baseball, athletic ability didn’t matter, because it didn’t exist at that age. Imagine figurine baseball players running around the bases counterclockwise, chasing the ball, and outfielders leaving the field in the middle of the inning to go to the bathroom. That’s pee wee baseball. Perfect attendance made you the MVP, and we were very good at that, even for 8 a.m. games.
From ages 5–8, the coach pitched to his own team. Most of the time the batter either struck out (which was probably hardest on the coach) or got a home run. My kid kept up, got a few hits, and struck out a lot. In the field, while he was there physically, mentally, he was watching television, playing with Legos, or planning his next ask for a gift. Once, a ball rolled to him, and when he picked it up, he happened to be stepping on first base, surprising the runner and the spectators. I enjoyed watching him play so much that I wrote about it.
As the seasons progressed, attendance and skill became the cost of admission. Kids now pitched, and after a lot of practice, the young baseball players threw hard and close to the batter. My guy, who could hit a home run off a coach, was not particularly happy with balls coming at him at what seemed like 98 miles per hour. He could not get a hit. He froze at the plate. We tried practice, practice, practice and got him a deluxe helmet and batting gloves. While he was not the best player, he had the most expensive and unnecessary equipment.
It became harder to get him to go to practice. A bribe here and there and soon we were at the game. Once there, he warmed up, ready to play. We lived through another day of baseball. Hallelujah.
When I noticed the coach kept moving him down the batting order and putting him in either left or right field, I cornered the volunteer coach parent, the mom I swore I would never be, and argued with him to put my son in the field. Maybe he’s not enjoying baseball because he’s not getting a chance to play, I thought.
I couldn’t kid myself anymore when my kid was on deck with the score tied in the last inning. A nail-biter. He called me over. What was he going to ask me: Where should he hit? I was so excited to hear the question. Instead, he asked if he could get an Icee — he had just seen the roaming cart nearby.
At that moment I knew: My kid just is not that into baseball. Derek Jeter never came to the plate holding a popsicle.
That was our final season. He was so happy to hang his cap up for the last time. I know I’m not the worst mother for forcing my kid to play America’s pastime, but I did miss some obvious clues. For example, my little guy seemed to get most excited when the weather forecast was for heavy rain on game day. He was motivated by snacks, not victories. And now that I’m thinking more clearly, he actually said he didn’t like playing. But I wanted him to play so badly, I didn’t hear him or synthesize the information. I deluded myself, thinking this was a teaching moment about not being a quitter.
My son really likes computers, and when I found an online coding class, he lit up. And recently he became interested in tennis (I love tennis! What a great sport! It can help you be successful in business!). But this time, he uses a hand-me-down racket from a friend. And if he wants to quit, that’s fine by me.