Category Archives: Parenting

What would life be like without baseball?

“What would life be like without baseball?”

On the eve of Truck Day, I don’t have to think too hard to answer this question… a description of what my life has been like the last couple of months will suffice.

Without baseball, the daily newspaper has no treat inside. No box scores? No interest.

Without baseball, the flat screen on the wall of the family room is a shiny gray ornament. The remote is stashed deep in the coffee table drawer.

Without baseball, I have to make up things to do at night after I put the kids to bed. Read a book. Clean the furnace room. Eat a big bowl of cereal. Write a blog article about life without baseball. Watch the Baylor-Oklahoma basketball game on ESPN. Strum on my guitar. Go to bed early.

Without baseball, there’s no temptation to manage my online fantasy baseball team when I need a mental break. Instead, I just trudge up and down the hill outside my office and think about calls I have to make.

Without baseball, I lose touch with my dad, my brothers, and my sister. The Red Sox are our family’s lifeblood.

Without baseball, talk radio is spirited noise.

Without baseball, lunch conversations with colleagues are hard to sustain for more than five minutes. There’s no game to talk about. No slumps to analyze. No standings to lament. No managerial moves to criticize. No rookies to compare to Dewey, Fisk, and Nomar.

Without baseball, my multiple Rawlings gloves lie in a bin in the cold garage. I sometimes put one of them on for a moment when I’m putting trash in the garbage cans.

Without baseball, the kids don’t beg me to play catch or wiffle ball with them when I get home from work. They don’t beg me to do anything. There are no little league teams to coach. No fungoes to hit.

Without baseball, there are no extra-inning, West Coast games to keep me up until the middle of the night. I am well rested. Yet restless.

Without baseball, the magnet that draws me to Fenway Park shuts down. No one calls with an extra ticket. I give away my Charlie Cards for the Green Line.

It’s February 11. Hot stove talk is dead. My backyard is a frozen tundra. There hasn’t been a major league baseball game in over three months.

But Truck Day is finally here. Spring training won’t start for another week, but just knowing that the Red Sox’s baseball equipment is en route to Fort Myers will improve the quality of fans’ lives in a measurable way.

Allelulia! Life without baseball is almost over! In about 50 days, they’ll be Shipping Up to Boston!

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Down twenty to nothing…

“I have a feeling,” I said, sitting in the bleachers with other parents of the Jazz, our 9 and 10 year-olds’ winless (0-5) basketball team, this past Sunday. “This is going to be the day they get their first win. This is our day.” But no one believed me. Not even I believed me. The other team, the Nets, looked bigger. And better. Just like every other opponent we’d faced. And within 30 seconds of the opening tip-off, the Jazz trailed the Nets, 4-0.

Then it was 6-0, 8-0, 10-0. “Come on guys, let’s score a basket!” cheered the Jazz’s coach from the bench. But the Nets stole the ball and hit an easy layup. 12-0. Then 14-0. “The Nets are shooting at 90%,” a Jazz parent observed. 16-0. 18-0. And with one second remaining in the first quarter, a Nets player took a shot from just inside the three-point line. Embarrassed by the gory slaughter that was taking place on the court, even the Nets’ coach hoped that the shot would miss its target. The buzzer sounded, and a moment later, the ball swished through the net.

20-0. That’s twenty to NOTHING after one quarter of play.

“A typical scoring total for an entire game at this level is 30 points per team,” said one parent. “And they have 20 in a single quarter.”

“At this rate, we’re going to lose 80 to nothing,” observed the mom sitting in front of me, with a smirk.

“Hi, honey,” I heard one dad sigh into his cell phone. “Well, they’re losing twenty-zip, so I’m not sure it’s worth the trip.”

Then my cell phone rang. It was my wife, calling to discuss the schedule for the rest of the day and transportation logistics for our five kids. “How’s the team doing?” she asked after we’d discussed the plans.

“Well, they’re losing 20 to nothing after one quarter,” I answered.

“Not again,” she replied. “Do you think they’ll win a single game?” Then, the Jazz hit a layup. Every parent in the gym cheered with relief.

“Now it’s 20-2,” I told her. “I have to go, it’s getting really exciting.” We chuckled.

The most memorable comeback I ever saw in person was the Red Sox’ remarkable win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS at Fenway Park. Down 7-0 going into the bottom of the 7th inning – and facing elimination from the series – the Sox clawed their way to victory. I know “Game Five” is my most memorable comeback because it’s the first one that popped into my head yesterday as I watched the final three quarters of a youth basketball game that took my breath away and left me shaking my head and grinning the rest of the day.

The second and third quarters are a blur in my memory, so I’ll quote the text messages I sent to my wife.

“Was 20-0, now 22-8. R has 2 pts.”

“26-15 at the half.”

(It was during halftime I remember saying to a few other parents, “Can you imagine if they came back and won this game? For the rest of our lives, whenever we’d see each other in town, we’d say to each other, ‘We were there for the greatest comeback ever.'” We all laughed.)

“28-21, 5 min left in 3rd Q. R has 8 pts.”

“31-30. R’s team WINNING. 1 min left in 3rd Q. Amazing.

“Winning 38-36. R has 12, 2 min to go. Do you believe in miracles?”

“Wow,” my wife replied.

“Unreal,” I replied to her reply.

At this point, the referee – who reminded all of us of Gene Rayburn, the host of ’70s TV show, The Match Game — held the basketball, walked over to the bleachers where parents were sitting, and said to all of us with a big grin on his face, “Raise your hand if you’re nervous.” A few hands went up. “All of you who didn’t raise your hands are lying!” he said, smiling.

Knowing that I was (perhaps) witnessing one of the greatest comebacks in 4th and 5th grade sports history, I videotaped the final two minutes of the game on my iPhone. The Nets’ coach called three timeouts, the Jazz coach called one — and these are the only timeouts I’ve seen ANY coach take during the entire season so far. This was a run-of-the-mill, regular season youth basketball game between kids whose tank tops fell to their knees, but these two coaches (volunteer dads) suddenly realized that this game could be one that they and their players would remember for a very long time. And they wanted to win. Badly.

With the Jazz up by two, 38-36, with 30 seconds to go, the referee walked back over to the bleachers and yelled up to the parents and kids on the second level who had recently arrived and were waiting to use the court next. “Hey you guys up there!” he called, “I wanted to let you know, the white team had a thirty-six to nothing lead. So half the parents on the white team went home, because they thought the game was over. And we had to get them on cell phones, we texted them, we brought them all back!” He was clearly savoring this unique sports experience as much as anyone.

The Nets fouled. And fouled. Until they were finally over the limit and the Jazz went to the free-throw line for a one-and-one with 15 seconds remaining. And the 4 ft 8 in, 10 year-old Jazz player (#31 below, on the right) hit BOTH shots, banking them in off the backboard. (To put this feat in perspective, 9 and 10 year-olds shoot about 20% from the free throw line…and about 3% when they’re nervous. Maybe he was too naiive about what was happening to be nervous? Or maybe, just maybe, he had “ice in his veins” and was truly clutch.)

Game over. Jazz 40, Nets 36.

The kids went crazy on the court. My son jumped on the back of a smaller teammate who was caught by surprise, and they crumpled to the ground in a heap of joy. The Jazz coach suddenly produced a camera and started taking pictures of the boys’ celebration. The teams shook hands. Two Nets players wept as they found their parents in the bleachers and put on their coats to go home. Meanwhile, everyone wanted to take a picture of the Jazz players. They lined up and posed for about ten cameras. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Jazz parents didn’t know how to react. Is it OK to marvel at the outcome of a 9 and 10 year-olds’ basketball game? No one high-fived, though we wanted to. There were a few slaps on the back, and we all shook our heads and smiled. “That’s one of the greatest comebacks I have ever seen, at ANY level,” I said to the Jazz’s coach.

“Yes, well there was the Red Sox comeback against the Yankees in 2004,” he replied.

And just like that, this Jazz-Nets basketball game was “on the list” — along with Frank Reich’s Bills, Doug Flutie’s Eagles, Mookie Wilson’s Mets, and David Ortiz’s Red Sox.

I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it again: Some of the greatest sports moments of the day never make it onto ESPN’s Sports Center. Yet on backyard rinks, on dusty fields, and in tiny gyms across America, every day another sports drama unfolds that teaches its participants – and its other witnesses – that “you gotta play the game,” and “anything can happen.” I could tell my son a million times to never give up, to keep the faith, to grind until the end…. and now, thanks to this one game, that attitude will forever be in his blood.

Winning’s the goal, but it isn’t the point

A couple of years ago, I had the chance to attend a pitching clinic that Jonathan Papelbon gave for kids. My eldest son, who was about 8 at the time, was one of his 40-or-so students that day. The night before the clinic, Pap had blown a save against the Yankees, so we were all a little worried about the mood that he would bring to the clinic. And he did look exhausted and beaten down, but he was tremendous with the kids, teaching them a lot of important pitching basics and spending some one-on-one time with all of them. And after the clinic, he stuck around to sign autographs for the kids and to answer all of their questions.

Pap said a lot of great things that day — things that a parent really wants his son to hear from an all-star major leaguer — but what I remember most was what he told the kids about winning. Someone asked him about how he bounces back after a painful loss to the Yankees, and he went off on a philosophical rampage. “Hey, I feel bad because I let my teammates down. But you young kids, you need to remember that playing baseball is supposed to be all about fun. Winning and losing — it really doesn’t matter when you’re young, as long as you’re having fun.” He went on to say, “Now, when you start getting paid to play, winning becomes the  main thing. But not until you get to the pros. And you all have a long way to go ’til then. So don’t get all caught up in winning and losing. Remember, baseball is all about having fun.” It was a message straight from his heart, almost like he wished he could go back to those days when fun was the main goal of pitching – not beating the Yankees, not making a living.

This past summer, my son played on a summer baseball team of very good 9/10 year-olds. I was one of the coaches. We had practices or games perhaps 4-5 nights per week, and we ended up going 20-2-1 and winning the league championship on the last day of the season. At the end of the championship game, we presented the kids with their championship trophies and they all felt really marvelous. All of us coaches high-fived and embraced – after all, we were champion coaches, and we had helped to give our children and their teammates the unique feeling of being champions (plus, we had successfully avoided the uncomfortable feeling of coming oh-so-close and then losing).

I received congratulations from many people for winning it all – parents of our players, other coaches in the town, and some close family and friends who had followed my son’s team’s season. Being the last team standing is just such a rare achievement, and it’s a fantastically simple, no-nonsense way to evaluate the success of a team’s season.

But the success of our season shouldn’t be defined only by our win-loss record or the fact that we won the league championship. Winning was the goal, but it was never the point, and the allure of winning makes this easy to forget.

The point was, as Papelbon said, having fun. The point was improving young baseball players’ physical skills. The point was teaching them how to think – before the game and in every game situation. The point was teaching kids the value of practicing in the right way. The point was teaching them to play as a team. The point was teaching them to never give up, and to bounce back from disappointing at-bats, plays, or games. The point was improving their resilience and focus. The point was developing leaders. The point was teaching kids to have the courage to dream about winning but to avoid becoming attached to that outcome. The point was teaching them to cheer for each other and keep each other “up” at all times. The point was teaching them to stay loose and to smile. The point was giving kids an experience, through a series of practices and games, that would not only give them joy today — for joy’s sake — but also help them to grow into happier, more self-confident people, better equipped to face challenges in the future.

We coached with these objectives in mind all summer, and this is why I’m proud of our team’s season. The goal of winning simply gave us a context for teaching all of these other vastly more important lessons.

Lots of coaches achieve these objectives with their youth athletic teams, but fail to win the championship or even to have a winning season. And, I fear, plenty of youth athletics coaches “win it all” and point to that accomplishment as justification for everything they did  — even though their coaching methods may have totally missed the point of youth athletics.

So I have my championship trophy, but its value isn’t its inherent symbolism of our team’s ability to score more runs than almost every other team. The value of the trophy — to me — is in the memories it holds of the players’ happy afternoons and evenings  playing the wonderful game of baseball, and in my son’s and his teammates’ evolution as competitors, as teammates, and as human beings.

There IS Crying In Baseball

Yes, with (almost) all of our pro sports teams winning and winning and winning, it’s a great time to be a young sports fan in Boston. Winning feels so darn good, doesn’t it? But losing is part of sports too, no matter how good our teams are, and its potentially painful effects are most transparent in the way kids respond to losses.

When he was six, my oldest son cried and cried and cried into my shoulder as we left Fenway Park following the last out of game three of the 2005 A.L. Division Series, a loss that gave the Chicago White Sox a sweep of the Red Sox. And when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl earlier this year, his whole 8 year-old body crumpled into a weeping blob in front of the TV. Losing was clearly a concept that he found difficult to grasp, let alone deal with.

But those were losses of teams he was merely rooting for. Losing a big game in which HE had played a major role hadn’t happened to him yet…. until last week, when his 8 year-old summer travel team lost its first game of the summer (after starting with five wins).

What a scene, as our opponents piled up runs at the end of the game to complete their impressive comeback. Boys sobbing on the bench, boys sobbing into their gloves in the outfield. Deep down, each boy had believed in the possibility of an undefeated season, so to them, it felt like an elimination playoff game. As they saw their hopes slipping away, the tears flowed and their bodies shook uncontrollably. It was almost comical.

And what can a coach say to an entire team of 8 year-olds that’s bawling, down by five runs with its last at-bat coming up? Part of you wants to say, “There’s no crying in baseball! STOP IT!” Part of you wants to say, “Come on guys, focus on your next at-bat, we can still come back,” and part of you wants to just hug them all and say, “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s just a baseball game.” After the last out of the contest, the other team celebrated as though they had just won game 7 of the World Series, which made the loss even harder for our guys. Their distress was palpable.

I recently heard the famous, veteran Channel 4 sportscaster, Bob Lobel, say that that over the years, he learned a lot more from Boston’s biggest losses than he did from Boston’s biggest wins. I have no doubt that my son and his teammates learned a lot more from that loss than they did from any of their wins. And since it was my son who came in to “close” the game (after doing so successfully in two previous games) and ended up allowing the eventual winning runs, then striking out to make the final out of the game, I suppose he had the greatest learning opportunity!

I’d love to know the content of other parents’ conversations with their demoralized children on the long drive home from the game, but here’s how ours went:

Me: “Son, you should be proud, you did what we asked you to do – you threw strikes. That’s the only thing you could control. You did your job.”

My son: “All the coaches said the same thing. You did great, Crawford, because you threw strikes. But I know they really don’t mean it. What they really wanted was for me to get outs, not just throw strikes. I mean, it’s better if I throw balls out of the strike zone and the batters get out, than if I throw strikes and they get hits and score runs.”

Me: “But if you throw pitches out of the strike zone, you’ll walk batters and those always turn into runs. All you can do is throw strikes, and you did that.”

My son: “Daddy, the bottom line is that a pitcher is supposed to get people out. I mean, I don’t care if I strike out a kid or if he lines out to center field, an out’s an out. Just like it doesn’t matter if we win 20-0 or 2-1, a win is a win and the score doesn’t matter.”

Me: “Well, I won’t argue with that. But listen, it’s not your fault that the team lost. There were some errors behind you and the umpire made a questionable call. You had to pitch much longer than was necessary to get out of that inning. And give the other team some credit – they won the game by getting some key hits. It’s not your fault.”

My son: “You can say it’s not my fault, but the bottom line is that it IS my fault. I had control over how the game ended up. I could have made different pitches at different speeds and at different locations that would have made them not hit the ball or not hit it hard. And I also made the last out. If I had gotten a hit, maybe it would have started a five-run, two-out rally. So it IS my fault, Daddy, no matter what you say to try to make me feel better!”

Amazed at his mature sense of ownership and responsibility, I just told him, “Well, I’m proud of you – for how you played, and for having the guts to pitch in that situation.” We drove on in silence.

And as he drifted off to sleep in his booster seat, clutching his blankie, I said to myself, Losing a close game just stinks – whether you’re an 8 year-old in little league or a 28 year-old in the Major Leagues, and there’s nothing a mom or dad can do to help his/her child avoid losing, nor anything he/she can say to eliminate losing’s sting. A good night’s sleep and another game to play, it turns out, is the only remedy. Children, welcome to the wonderful world of competitive baseball, the most spectacular roller coaster ride ever invented…

To read a classic series of poignant articles chronicling a father’s observations of his 12 year-old son’s little league season (by Mark Kramer, featured in The Boston Globe), click here.

All-Stars Under the Stars

No, the Vice President of Red Sox Nation did not get a ticket to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Old friend Hank Steinbrenner never called. Neither did any of my other pals in New York. And as the day of the game approached, I dreaded the possibility of sitting on my couch and experiencing another baseball game on TV with the third grade-level commentary of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. (Why doesn’t Remy ever get these national gigs, like he should? And doesn’t it make you laugh the way Joe Buck looks at the camera and smiles in precise 6-second intervals when McCarver is speaking?)

But my prospects brightened when I received an email from my son’s summer day camp: “Come watch the All-Star Game on an eight-foot screen under the stars — 7:00pm Kids’ Candy Ball, 7:30pm Kids’ Home Run Derby, 8:30pm Game Time. Popcorn, hot dogs, watermelon, and lemonade will be served. $5 per person.” Frankly, this sounded even better than a long trip to and from New York. And with all due respect to The House That Ruth Built, I’d have paid more for this “camp” baseball experience than for a front row ticket to Yankee Stadium from a scalper.

When I arrived at the All-Star event with my nine and six year-old sons, about 40 kids had gathered on the field for a game of “Candy Ball” — a game I had never heard of until then, which is odd because it’s just about the most enticing game for kids that’s ever been invented. The way this works is, one adult holds a tennis racket and whacks a tennis ball high into the air above a crowd of kids. All the kids gather under the ball as it dives towards Earth, smiles on their faces, then they all leap at the same moment to try to catch the ball. The player who DOES catch the ball (before it bounces) runs in and digs a piece of candy out of a big white bucket. (It’s a fabulous game for tall kids, and a really demoralizing one for short ones.)

Then came the Home Run Derby. With visions of Josh Hamilton in their heads, all kids got to take seven swings at slow lobs, and while most didn’t come close to hitting a baseball over the stone wall (perhaps 100 feet to the left and right field poles, and 150 feet to center), a few hit one to two dingers. My favorite moment was when my six year-old son took his whacks. He was (by far) the youngest kid there, but he stood up there and swung a heavy aluminum bat with all his might, and on his fifth swing he hit a line drive right back at the pitcher’s head (see photo). Pride and dignity swept over his face after that frozen rope.

The All-Star Game itself, the main event, was pretty cool. The kids and their parents gathered on a small grassy hill that looked down on a soccer goal, onto which a huge white sheet had been duct taped. A small silver box projected the game onto the sheet, and as the sky got darker and darker, the image on the sheet became sharper and sharper. A crowd of kids gathered at the very front and cheered loudly when Sox players were introduced. Of course, Yankees players were booed vociferously.

Three moments from the player introductions stand out. After the boos for Derek Jeter died down, I overheard one child wearing an Ortiz t-shirt say to the kid sitting next to him, “He’s my favorite Yankee, and I still hate him.” And when Kevin Youkilis was introduced, the whole crowd on the hill howled “YOOOOOOOOUK!” (What a stroke of luck for a player when he has a name that rhymes with “boo.” Remember the way we cheered for Lou Merloni? And when the fans ARE booing you, you can remain happily ignorant.) The most surprising moment during the team introductions was when Terry Francona trotted out of the Yankee Stadium dugout. He got the loudest cheers from the kids and adults assembled there — louder than Manny’s, louder than Youk’s, louder than Pedroia’s. The man is a true rock star.

Yeah, it would have been amazing to be in Yankee Stadium for all the farewell fanfare, to cheer for our hometown guys, and to see a great all-star game in person. But I was even happier being right where I should have been — with my kids, along with a herd of young Sox fans and their parents, sitting on a blanket about two miles from Fenway Park, under the full moon, watching the game on a bedsheet while munching on popcorn and watermelon, after a game of Candy Ball and a Home Run Derby.

“Is this Heaven?” Kevin Costner’s character asks his father in Field of Dreams. “No…. it’s Red Sox Nation. The heart of Red Sox Nation.”

Why Kids Love Josh Hamilton

All of us have read or heard about Josh Hamilton’s incredible story, and last night, many of us were lucky enough to witness on TV his stunning home run exhibition in the first round of the Home Run Derby (in which he hit an amazing 28 home runs, a record).

Personally, I’m deeply inspired by Josh Hamilton’s comeback from drug and alcohol addiction (as is Peter Gammons, who writes so eloquently about the meaning of Hamilton in his blog) and I’m rooting hard for his continued success. I only wish he were on the Red Sox, so I could watch him play and cheer for him every day.

But what I want to write about tonight is the impact that Hamilton has had on my 9 year-old son. This kid is a fiercely loyal Red Sox fan, and in his four years as an “aware” fan of the game, Josh Hamilton is only the third non-Red Sox player he has rooted for with passion (the others are Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra). Why does he like Josh Hamilton so much? Two reasons:

1. On Patriots Day, April 22, I took my two sons and a friend of theirs to the Red Sox-Rangers game. Afterwards, they spotted a Rangers player signing autographs near the Rangers dugout. “Daddy, can we run over there and get his autograph?” Sure, you can try, I replied. I hadn’t seen a player sign autographs after a game at Fenway Park since I was a kid, in the late ’70s or early ’80s, and I could feel their excitement about scoring a major leaguer’s autograph. They were at the back of a large line of people, but the unknown Rangers player signed and signed and posed for photos with anyone who was interested. By the time my oldest son and his friend reached the front of the line, the player had been signing for perhaps ten minutes, and he seemed to be in no hurry to go take a shower.

He signed my son’s hat, then politely and calmly posed for a photo with my son and his friend. What do you say, I whispered. “Thank you,” my son said. You’re welcome, buddy, the player replied. As we walked away, the player continued to sign autographs and pose for photos. “Who was that?” I asked my son. “Josh Hamilton, see?” he replied, showing me the autograph on the white brim of his Red Sox cap. The kids glowed all the way home, their Fenway experience having ended in a magical way.

2. Last night, Hamilton won our hearts forever with monumental shot after monumental shot, his 71 year-old former high school baseball coach pitching to him, and his proclamation to FOX sportscaster Erin Andrews that he had dreamed the exact scene, including being interviewed by her. “Mommy, come in here if you want to see history being made!” my son yelled after HR number 25. He was mesmerized. So was I. (Weren’t you??)

Today at my son’s day camp, the kids were given t-shirts and invited to decorate them with markers. When I picked him up in the late afternoon, he was wearing a homemade all-star team replica shirt with the word “American” scrawled across the front and the name “Hamilton” written in block letters across the top of the back of the shirt. (Oops, Hamilton isn’t #21, he’s #32…. details…) He wore the t-shirt the rest of the day, even while we watched seven Red Sox players compete in the All-Star Game.

Hamilton’s improbable transformation makes him a fascinating figure to the media and all of us adult fans, but that side of the player means almost nothing to young baseball fans out there. They love the guy for simple reasons — he’s a phenomenal, graceful, exciting ballplayer, and he takes time to talk with them, sign an autograph, and pose for a photo. With 750 major leaguers, it’s remarkable that so few comprehend the profound influence they can have on young people in this way.

Youth Baseball in Red Sox Nation: The Tryouts

“Tonight, you need to take your son to his summer league baseball tryouts, OK?” my wife said to me on a recent Sunday morning. No problem, I replied. I assumed that every child would be placed on a team appropriate for his level of skill, and that my baseball-loving son would simply be auditioning to show coaches which team he belonged on. What is it that they say about assumptions?

56 kids showed up for the tryout at a field with four diamonds. Each checked in at a table and received two stickers with a number — one for the front of the shirt, one for the back of the shirt. Then, they all found a partner and started warming up. What a sight: 28 pairs of 8 year-olds playing catch, each with visions in their heads of making a summer travel team, hitting .400, and eventually playing for the Boston Red Sox. Even the ones who can’t catch or throw very well.

Parents toting thermoses set up their lawn chairs at one end of the field to watch. I struck up a conversation with a friendly looking dad, and it was then that I learned that only 26 of these children would make a team — that there would be an “American” team and a “National” team (each consisting of 13 players) and that 30 kids would be cut. Those 30 kids would have NO team to play on this summer. (“The spring league is for participation,” the other dad told me. “The summer league is for development and competition.”)

I was stunned. In my own baseball experience, I didn’t face do-or-die tryouts until sophomore year in high school (I still remember Coach Cohen reading my name at the end of that tryout, indicating I had barely made Brookline High’s JV team. In fact, the stick I picked up off the ground and held in my hands as he read my name sits on my dresser, the only good luck charm I’ve ever had.) Thinking from the point of view of an 8 year-old ballplayer, I was stunned at the harshness of it. And I was bewildered by the idea of 30 moms and dads consoling their third graders about not having a team to play on this summer. What would I say to my son if he were cut? Honestly, I couldn’t even begin to imagine that conversation. The kid lives for baseball. It would be devastating. I decided to cross that bridge if I came to it, and hope for the best.

The children were split into four groups of 14, and they cycled through four stations (hitting, ground balls, fly balls, and live infield situations) where they were evaluated by two to three coaches, each scribbling away on his clipboard after every play. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the skills my son had developed during those endless hours of wiffle ball in our backyard, and the thousands of ground balls and fly balls we had practiced in our front yard, and the two seasons of coach-pitch little league were being evaluated right now. It occurred to me that if I’d known the cut-throat nature of our town’s summer league tryouts, I’d have practiced a lot more with my son over the last year. Then it occurred to me that it was probably good that I didn’t know this, since it might have brought out the the “crazy over-coaching dad” that’s probably inside of me somewhere, which definitely would have killed my son’s passion for the game. His wiffle ball experience will have to carry him, I reasoned.

My heart sank every time he swung and missed. I wanted to bellow some encouragement to him, but with all the other parents silently rooting against my son, it didn’t feel right. Then he connected. I was surprised at my pride. Then a line drive, and another one. A couple of foul balls, a miss, then a weak grounder to third. “NEXT!” yelled the evaluator, and he was back in the field. Was that good enough? I asked myself.

He looked solid on the grounders – got in front of every ball, kept his butt down, used two hands, made some crisp throws to first base. For a moment, I deluded myself into believing I’d taught him his technique — the truth is, he was simply imitating his favorite player, Nomar Garciaparra.

At the end of the tryout, the coaches called the kids in and had them get down on one knee at home plate. Then one of the coaches brought out a gigantic trophy and explained to the youngsters that last year’s 8 year-old team from our town had gone undefeated and had won that trophy, and that the tryout group couldn’t touch it until they had won the right to have their own team’s name engraved on it. Nice. 30 of these kids are going to get bad news in a few days, and now that news will be even more painful to receive. I assure you, none of those 56 kids was in a state of mind to be inspired by the trophy – they just wanted to earn the chance to wear a town uniform!

Part II of the tryout continued one week later. The kids were obviously grouped by ability this time, and I was relieved to see that my son was in a group of somewhat capable players. I just wanted him to make a team — any team! I hadn’t begun to compose my “Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school JV team” speech, and I really didn’t want to. 30 of us parents were going to have to come up with something to ease their pain, though. I dreaded that, for all of us.

In the final twenty minutes, the coaches had the players line up at home plate and they timed them running from home to first, then again from home to second. As the kids crossed the base, the timer yelled out the results for all to hear, and another guy with a clipboard wrote down the times. I felt like I was at the NFL pre-draft combine. Then, the five fastest kids raced, then they narrowed it to two, and those two raced…. and we have a WINNER! And everyone cheered for the fastest boy. (The point of this, other than pure enjoyment for the adults running the tryout, completely eludes me.)

On the way home, my son spoke with total self-confidence. He was sure he had made one of the teams. I suspected all 56 of the young men felt the same way. “If you do make a team, do you care which team you’re on?” I asked. Nah, he said, I just want to play. I was about 43 times more nervous for him than he was for himself. So, this is what it’s like being the parent of an aspiring athlete, I thought. (Butterflies, and a total lack of control over the outcome.)

Then came the wait. 3 days, 4 days, 5 days, and no word from the league. “Did you get an email?” was the first thing my wife and I said to each other when we talked on the phone from work, or when we arrived home in the evening. “Nope, nothing.” Finally, an email came late one night. Based on the recommendation of our evaluators, we are pleased to offer your child a position on our Summer Eight Year Old National Team.

I woke up my wife to tell her. We both felt the relief sweep over us, like we had just dodged a cannonball. And our son? When we told him the next morning, he was actually a little bit disappointed. Turns out he had his heart set on the American team, which he perceived to be the more prestigious of the two. Did I mention he’s got a lot of self- confidence?

I couldn’t help but wonder about the other 30 kids who’d been cut, all of whom wanted to play baseball this summer. And what about their parents? At the same moment my wife and I were feeling a rush of relief, they were all preparing their consolation speeches. What could they say? “Michael Jordan was cut from his high school JV basketball team” is a good start, but then what? Perhaps towns should give all parents a Handbook on Talking With Your Child About Tryouts when they arrive on that first day. I know I could have used something like this had my son not been so fortunate….

POSTSCRIPT: My son read this article and said to me, “Daddy, half of the article is about what you would say to me if I didn’t make the team. But Daddy, there was no chance I wouldn’t make one of the teams.” Son, did you think about the other 30 kids who wanted to play summer baseball too, but got cut? “Daddy, they didn’t believe as much as I did.”