Sometimes you’re aware of the milestone moments in your life, sometimes you only recognize their importance upon reflection. We might try and document these on video or in a photograph, but while those media might trigger a memory, they don’t capture the full sensory experience, the pit in the stomach, the welling up, the excitement. There’s part of me that wishes that I had captured last night’s game on video, but I know that it would end up in either a physical or virtual box, and that it wouldn’t have the power or impact that it continues to have on me today. Last night at a small baseball field in Dedham, Massachusetts I was taught the value of words and witnessed the emotional growth of my twelve year old son.
Jax had been put in to pitch in the third inning. He has an arm, but struggles with control. Like his father, when he’s nervous or anxious, he speeds up in hopes that he can keep pace with the expectations that he’s placed on himself, speeding up then results in a loss of control, and through a combination of flexible little league strike zones (a father’s pride sneaks in), pressure and self doubt, seven runs are scored and the inning is called.
He walks off defeated, I start to walk to him, to console him, to let him know that this is an incredibly painful, but powerful part of learning, but he’s not looking at me and quickly his teammates and his coaches gather round to offer encouragement, kindness and empathy. He acknowledges these things, but still avoids our gaze and stoically sits on the bench staring out at the field. After a couple minutes he takes off his glove and walks to Jessica and I, first there is the anger about the strike zone, an insistence that the fix was in before he took the mound. Quickly, however, the frustration and disappointment turn inward and the floodgates open. We tell him that we love him, we tell him that we know that this is hard, but that we are proud, and I am, not just fatherly pride, but proud that he stood on the mound while the wheels were coming off and that he kept pitching.
He gathers his composure and sits back down on the bench. Moment’s later, he’s up. A year ago, he had a similar inning where 7 runs were let in and I spent the better part of an inning and a half walking and talking with him, wrestling with his frustration and anger. The rest of that game and the ride home were tough, but he lived to play another game. Today, fresh from the same sting, I have that same anxiety. I want him to put a ball in play, just to inch that self confidence up. One strike, two balls, two strikes, two balls. And whether or not its true, I feel that the coaches, his team mates and every parent whether for our team or the other is holding their breath in the hopes that he’ll find redemption at the plate. Sure enough, with the next pitch he lines a double through the short stop. A cathartic sigh. He’s stranded on second, but quickly runs out to play short.
Over the next two innings, Jax fields five of the six outs, grabbing shallow infield pop flies, picking up tough grounders and preventing runners from making it to second and first. He is all business as his coaches and team mates congratulate him, there is still the sting of the third, but he lets out a small smile to Jess and I as he walks off the field at the end of each inning.
The Dodgers were down 9-3 as they entered the final inning, but very quickly the opposing team had let them crawl back in, and with two kids on and the score 9-6, Jax is back up at the plate. I honestly don’t remember how many outs there were at that point, but once again I’m holding my breath. The opposing team pulls their pitcher, who had been struggling and brings in a reliever to face Jackson. The first pitch Jackson swings at, but the next three are balls, then connection. Down the third base line, the two men on score and Jackson has a standing double! The score is 9-8, and Jackson steals third. Two pitches later, and his team is rushing out to meet him as he steals home. They are elated, not only has Jackson pulled himself out of his hole, but the Dodgers have as well. The game is tied
The Dodgers lost it in the bottom of the sixth, final score 10-9, but the kids, coaches and parents couldn’t be happier. The coaches for the other team upon winning quickly calm their team down, and I’m grateful. At the post game huddle, the coach tells him how proud he is and hands Jackson the game ball. Earlier in the inning during his fielding fireworks I had heard a couple of his team mates remark that Jackson should get the game ball.
We sit in the car, Jackson and I, getting ready to drive home, and he is humbled and proud. “Dad, I’ve never gotten a game ball before.” “You deserve it Jackson, I’m so proud of you.” “But you should get a game ball too dad.” “Jackson, you’re the one who played out there.” “But Dad, you inspired me when you told me that you were proud of me.”
I am proud of you Jackson, in so many ways.