It’s a lazy Saturday here in Paradise, um, San Diego. The last week or so I’ve been running into more than my share of people from my local baseball past, bringing a flood of fond memories in each instance. In Vons last week I ran into a kid I both coached (for and against) and umpired countless times. Yesterday in another local store there was a parent ahead of me at the cash register. “Jeff!! It’s Cheryl, how ya doin’?” “Super, Cheryl — How’s little Stevie?” “He’s a CPA now, living at the beach.”
Wow — Little Stevie’s a CPA? How the hell old am I anyway? Over the years I’ve had so much fun on the field, enjoying the heat of battle, both in the dugout and as an umpire. From the time my own son was eight, till he was a sophomore in high school, I was in the dugout. That includes post season tournaments, and all-stars at every age group.
Guess how many many millions of dollars I’d trade for those years.
The on-the-field stories I have, interesting, funny, and sometimes deeply poignant, go from 1988 through 2000, my last year umpiring NCAA ball. I saw my son’s first homer. Was in the dugout for his no-hitter. Same for the day he stood on the mound so triumphantly, having won the local city-wide major league championship in front of his old buds and their parents. Who, for the record, were cheering wildly for him, while lookin’ up at the announcer’s booth at the black hat who’d chased us out the year before to another league.
How sweet was that? In that moment, how much was the look on his face worth? Or seeing another league’s folks standing up and cheering for their involuntary prodigal son? Or, having the memory of that look and those cheers till I die?
I’ve umpired college kids I’d seen play since they were fifth graders for Heaven’s sake. Some of the stories are fall down funny. Some are pure baseball, and most are made up of success, failure, and the value of endless hard work producing results. For a very few, those results included playing Major League baseball. Still have a couple left playin’.
Ask those kids the value of learning the lesson of hard, almost anonymous work turning into positive results. They’ll have those catskins on their walls for life.
It’s Dad though, who so often make the pivotal difference merely by their consistent presence. Experience shows far less than 5% of Little Leaguers even make it to third string bench warming status in high school. Fewer still ever get as far as casting a shadow on a college diamond while wearing a uniform.
But when asked, virtually all the ones with fond memories can tell you stories with Dad playin’ a critical role. Can every guy be a coach in their boy’s sport(s) of choice? Fact is, most can’t. They either don’t have the skill sets or are simply too busy puttin’ food on the table. But they break their butts to be there for the games, to show their kids it’s important.
Wanna know the saddest thing in youth sports? It’s the kid who doubles in a run, then, after sliding safely into second base like their favorite Major Leaguer, the crowd cheering wildly, they casually (no really) cast their eyes in the direction of the bleachers, searching for Dad, who’s not there — again.
Lord knows none of us are perfect parents, but Grandma was right. On the first visit to show off our newborn son, she said 95% of successful parenting was being there. As usual, I learned she’d been right.
Allow me one umpiring story
I’d made the decision to retire from NCAA umpiring. Not cuz I was tired of it, perish the thought. I simply couldn’t afford the time away from the office.
Anywho, I’d chosen a pretty much meaningless game to be my last. It wasn’t even between four year schools, but junior college. The catcher for one of the teams was a kid I’d coached/umpired since he was in sixth grade. His nickname was Butt. My son had played with and against him, mostly against since he was 11. In the ninth inning, when his team was on defense, I told Mike this was my last game, I was hangin’ ‘em up. I’ll never forget his response.
He stood up, makin’ his pitcher pause on the mound, and said, “Thanks for tellin’ me Jeff. I’m glad I was the catcher.”
Tell me how much that memory is worth.
I’ve gotta million stories, ok, dozens, about single parents workin’ 2-3 jobs, still figurin’ out how to at least catch half a game when their kid was playin’. Though I’d never claim the highest value isn’t the affect, the impact your presence will have on your son, the memories you’ll get in return will make it the bargain of a lifetime.
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