I know that athletics are good for kids. We were always encouraged to play sports growing up, and although I was more interested in the color and cut of my uniform than any of the actual plays, it can’t be denied that I learned a thing or two.
Harrison, 9, just finished his fourth year of baseball. Past history proves that he’s usually more invested in the post-game treat than the actual playing, but since he’s blossomed this year in other athletic areas, we decided to give him one more season to show his stuff.
My husband signed up as an assistant coach this year in an attempt to make playing the game more exciting. It’s Harry’s first year in a real player- pitching league, no more tee/coach/machine help. Truly, it’s a whole new ball game.
A few weeks ago I was doing dishes when the downstairs door slammed open and Harry came running up the stairs from his game in tears. He went straight to his room and shut the door, his stomping father not far behind him.
“Uh, what happened to you boys?” I asked.
Jason stood there, frustrating rolling off him in waves. “Our son won’t hit the ball.”
Really? That big of a deal? “Sweetie,” I said, “Give him some time. It’s a new season — ”
“You don’t understand,” he said, “We’ve been playing for three weeks and every time the player pitches, Harrison jumps out of the batters box. He won’t even stand there and let the pitches pass, let alone swing. It’s making me crazy! He’s a great hitter, he’s been playing for years, why now?”
And that was the beginning of Project Get Harrison to Take a Swing, sanctioned and supported by myself, the other coaches on the team, and the ghost of The Great Bambino.
For the next month Coach Dad came home and worked with Harrison. Apparently a pitch had once come alarmingly close to Harry and he was living in constant fear of getting hit by the ball. He also became a big believer in letting the pitcher walk him. Sometimes it worked, usually it didn’t.
Jason and our boy practiced almost nightly. They worked with whiffle balls, regular balls, beach balls — anything to get the kid to start swinging. But every team practice and every game Jason would come home and gnaw on his pillow in frustration.
The last week of baseball Jason called me on his way home from work before practice. As uncharacteristic as it might sound, I had done everything in my power to stay clear of the great baseball controversy.
“I don’t know what else to do,” he said. “I’ve tried everything I can think of, I’ve worked with him, I’ve begged him, I’ve threatened him...at this point it’s just embarrassing!”
Let’s face it, being the coach’s kid comes with certain expectations. Like you have to be willing to play the game.
“Well,” I said, “Why don’t you bribe him? Offer him something great if he gets a hit. I don’t know, take him to Chilie’s for ribs.”
Come on, parents have been bribing their kids for thousands of years, it’s kind of a proven tactic.
“Please,” he said with an over the phone eye roll, “Like that will work.” (And yes, living in the middle of Germany with amazing ethnic cuisine on every corner, our children still pick Chilie’s on base every single time.)
That night Jason called me on the way home from practice. “So,” he said, “It looks like we’re going to be pretty late tonight.”
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I took your advice. Harrison hit the ball twice and I kind of have to take him to Chilie’s now.”
I had to smile. My kid is so predictable.
And that last game? Harry hit the ball five times, two playable and three foul balls. No thanks to Dad’s over-the-top generosity my son now intends to spend the first week of summer playing his new Wii games. Such a cute little mercenary in the making.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or vist her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com