“Batting 4th, #13!”
A simple comment which brought with it a flood of memories of games and escapades long gone. It was social media response from a high school teammate to birthday wishes I had sent him. I had used his nickname from when we played together. In the intervening years, I’ve neither spoken with him nor seen him, and if not for social media’s having made the world tremendously small, I doubt I would have had reason to think of him (I’m sure the reverse is true.) Yet 30 years later, we still remember each other by things ascribed to us on a ballfield.
When you stop playing the meaningful games, not the adult, beer can stuff, but games you believe are important at a time when the majority of your years are still ahead of you, no one tells you it is the last time you’ll truly be part of a team. It’s the last time you’ll ever being willing to go through a wall for another person simply because they wear the same jersey you do. I’m sure in some walks of life the team is the single most defining element, but for the majority of us, nothing will ever approximate the feeling of being a teammate. It hit me hard when I started my first job out of college. My colleagues and I worked hard together and had lots fun, but at the end of the day we went our separate ways. We didn’t share the same experiences and “live” in the back of a bus the way teammates do, so how could I have really thought it would be the same?
When I look back over my son’s travel seasons and my daughter’s just completed first softball season, I’ll always remember their accomplishments and feats, both the good and the not-so-good. But what seems to always come front and center are the moments they first started connecting with another kid as a teammate, those precious moments in which what any one player did didn’t matter, but what they did collectively surely meant the world. They probably don’t even recognize it yet because they are at the stage where the games are important to them and they have so many more moments ahead of them. But this is where it starts.
It’s the championship game of our summer league playoffs. It’s clear during my pregame spiel (I gave them the Herb Brooks’ “Not this game. Not tonight” speech) they are nervous. My son is nervous as he’s getting ready to hit. Sensing it, his teammate, a nine-year-old kid, pulls him over and says “You’ve been doing it for us all year long. You can do it.” It loosens my son up immediately and though neither of them know I’ve heard their exchange, I know coaching these boys has been worth every minute and all the effort.
Sports transcend the playing field. That’s a simple truth, and if you don’t know that you’ve never played. It’s a powerful feeling to belong to something bigger than you just as it’s a powerful lesson to figure out how to get along regardless of your feelings for the individual occupying the uniform. I don’t like every guy I ever played with, but I’d sit down and have a drink with any one of them any time. The bonds you make with your teammates are as eternal as they are strong.
I can’t think of a better reason for my kids to play team sports.