“This field, this game: it's a part of our past ... It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.” – James Earl Jones in “Field of Dreams”
“Field of Dreams” got it right, because if there is anything closer to heaven than a baseball field, I don’t know what it is.
The bright blue sky. The warmth of the sun. The smell of freshly mown grass and old leather. Crisp, white uniforms just aching to get covered in dirt. And two dozen little children dreaming of being the next Buster Posey or Albert Pujols.
A better place doesn’t exist for dreamers than a ball field.
But it’s a fragile environment, one that can be ruined quickly. And we all know it’s not the kids who ruin it.
I’m a parent, so I understand wanting your child to be the best. The disappointment in a favorite pro team’s failure doesn’t even compare to the crushing pain you feel when your kid’s team comes up short.
But what I don’t understand is the need to vent that frustration in the form of venom aimed at children.
You know who you are. You yell too much. You turn red in the face. You scream obscenities and pound on fences or bleachers. A millionaire flubs a play and you might boo and cuss a little, but a 10-year-old does the same thing and you’ll pitch a tantrum so vicious that the people near you start to wonder if a blood vessel will pop in your head.
My first encounter with one of you was in the early 1980s.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but I was once a pretty good shortstop. One sunny Saturday afternoon, our catcher’s throw made it to me at second before a would-be base stealer, who was called out.
Some of the parents weren’t so sure. They let the umpire know they thought I’d missed the tag. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that kind of complaining. Yelling at the ump is part of the game.
But then I heard this one voice – a woman’s – above all the others.
“Break his leg next time!”
I think I was 11 years old. And another kid’s mom had just told her son to break my leg if he got the chance. All because he was too slow and got tagged out.
When you’re a kid, adults sometimes let you down. But when they move into enemy territory, advocating violence against you, well, that’s a tough thing to wrap your head around when you’re 11. Up until then, I’d heard a lot of cheers and some boos. But I’d never heard a grown-up – one of those people who was supposed to protect me – tell someone else to send me to the hospital.
As you can see, it’s a moment that stuck with me. I wasn’t accustomed to such ruthlessness from a mom.
I grew up before this sorry age of not keeping score and everyone getting a trophy. I learned to deal with failure along with success. So I won’t tell other parents and coaches not to teach the same lessons I learned if they’re willing to do so.
But as another Little League season gets underway, let’s see if we can keep those venomous moments to a minimum. I won’t say it’s just a game because it’s much more than that. But it’s not a war.
We all eventually discover that the carefree days of childhood end quickly, the responsibility of adulthood drags on forever and opportunities to deal with angry, screaming people are endless.
There will be plenty of time for your kids to learn to deal with crazy.
For now, just let them have their fun.