My fifteen year old is the sports guy of the family. His dad bought a t-ball set up when our boy was barely 16 months old. My father, who only lived to see his grandsons at ages 2 and 8 months (a sad thing, too, I know), lived long enough to be amazed at the strength and accuracy his oldest grandson could throw a baseball.
The boy’s daddy grew up loving sports, especially baseball, so theirs was a match made in heaven.
From the time the little boy could play organized baseball, he did just that–with his daddy alongside him as a team coach. They went everywhere together, the two practically joined at the hip. Practices, games, pitching, catching, and batting in our expansive 1/2 acre backyard—it was all so very good for many years.
Until his daddy died. AJ was 9, his little brother barely 8, in 2011. Baseball was suddenly very painful for us all. I’ll never forget that first drive to the Little League fields, where my nine year old was trying out for fall league–without his biggest fan beside him. With two different coaches wanting him on their respective teams, my kid prayed about it. He came to the conclusion that the coach most like his dad, belief-wise, was the right choice.
He continued to play ball. We even went to a World Series game in the fall of that year, because our beloved Texas Rangers were playing mine and Mark’s favorite childhood team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Stepping into that stadium without his dad was hard, too.
We adjust our sails to weather the “hards” we encounter. They simply became too numerous to keep track of.
And somewhere along the way, the boy begin to lose his love for America’s game. He began to love basketball and found out he’s pretty darn good at that, too.
Basketball became his primary focus. Baseball, a game he played in summer on a YMCA league team with friends just for fun.
Then high school happened.
The stakes are much different at this level.
He earned his rightful place in the starting five of the freshman basketball team. It was a fun season to witness.
Basketball season ended and he decided to try freshman baseball.
The first day after practice, I could tell he was frustrated. The team, shall we say, needed a lot of work. And for better or for worse, the kid got my gene for impatience.
He was ready to quit. “Mom, I just don’t have the love for the game anymore. Ever since Dad died, it’s been a struggle. I go out to play without him. I don’t watch it on television anymore, that’s something he and I did together. I don’t think it’s my game anymore.”
I take part of the blame for his falling away from the game. We don’t make the pilgrimage to Arlington to watch the Rangers play anymore. If there’s something else on TV, we don’t watch MLB.
But Howells aren’t quitters, I gently remind him. “I know it’s hard right now. Please give it a chance. You’ve committed to play, people are depending on you. Get through the season…who knows? Maybe you’ll find that love again.”
He begrudgingly agreed.
I won’t lie, the first game he played, the first at-bat he had, as a freshman? My heart was in my throat.
It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was darn ugly–the score? 18-0.
The one bright spot was his triple. When that dinger went long, my heart slipped down out of my throat and damn near beat out of my chest 🙂
He’s most always played first base, but was in center field. He complained of boredom, standing around in the outfield while our pitching struggled. I didn’t have any answers, just letting him vocalize his frustrations.
The next game was a bit better, they “only” lost by 7. A couple of base hits, including another triple, switching from playing center to short stop later in the game. His mood? A tad lighter.
Yesterday’s game was in a neighboring small town. I made the drive over, praying that he would use his abilities for the glory of God and have a little fun in the process.
At bat? A triple, base hit, a walk, a run scored and a RBI. Starting out in left field, he moved back to first base quickly. It looked like the boy was back at home. We lost 4-3, errors lost the game.
I hugged him after the game, then drove back to the high school, waiting for the bus to bring the team home.
He piled into the car, tired but with a twinkle in his eye.
“Mom, I’m beginning to remember how much I loved the game. I’m starting to enjoy myself. And Dad? He’s there with me, I can feel him.”
“Basketball’s still number one with me, but I think this is going to be okay.”
Says the boy who was asked by the head coach to move up to junior varsity just yesterday. He’ll play for both teams, which means Mama will be driving to the Metroplex quite a lot the next month and a half.
But it’s all good.
He’s rekindled his love for America’s game, and I am so very grateful.
They say “time heals”….that’s a crock. Time will never heal the void of two young men missing their extraordinary daddy.
Time softens. Time gives perspective. Time allows you to get used to a normal you never asked for.
And God alone heals.