Tag Archives: losing

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.

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The Meaning of the 2007 Patriots

bruschi-and-vrabel.jpgI don’t buy it.

Everyone says the Patriots’ season became meaningless when they lost the Super Bowl to the Giants. All the wins, all the records, all the great feats of 2007 — up in smoke with one pass to Plaxico Burress.

But you know what? I don’t buy into that. And you don’t have to, either. We live in a society that has decided to shower the “winners” with a ridiculously disproportionate level of praise and credit and to strip all value from every other competitor or team that didn’t reach the mountaintop (where there’s only room for one). I don’t really know why we’ve decided to see things that way, but I, for one, particularly in this specific case, do not buy it.

Yes, the Giants won the Super Bowl. They are the Super Bowl Champions. They are to be commended. They earned it. They deserve it. They and their fans should feel awesome. The Patriots did not win the Super Bowl. But the Patriots of 2007 are still one of the greatest NFL teams of all time. And the 2007 Giants are not.

Now I hear you saying: “You can’t consider a team to be the best ever if they didn’t win the championship – you fool!” But that’s only true if we buy into what pop culture has drilled into us since we were tiny tots crawling on the floor in front of Sunday afternoon football games on TV. We have been taught since we were born that only the winner can feel proud, and that every team or competitor that doesn’t win failed. And by God, if you don’t win the big game, well, you’re just a footnote and nothing more. LOSER!

But do you really believe that about the 2007 Patriots? Isn’t part of thetom-brady.jpg reason that it’s so hard for us to make sense of their Super Bowl loss that there’s a deeper part of us that KNOWS they had a truly remarkable season and that they were still — by far — the best football team in the league this year — and THIS DECADE? And this deeper part of us (I’m talking to you, Pats fans) knows they still deserve a parade in Boston. And this deeper part of us ACHES to go to that parade and to cheer for them for playing so incredibly well this year, for giving us a feeling we’ve literally never had before with any team in Boston — a complete, unassailable belief that we are invincible.

OK, so that feeling of invincibility ended up vanishing with less than a minute left in the Super Bowl, but that feeling was still quite a thrill, quite a gift to all of us in Patriots (and Red Sox) Nation. And even in losing to the Giants, the Patriots played with a level of effort that deserves our admiration. So they lost. Does that mean we abandon them? Is the only reason we loved them that they kept ending up with more points than the other team when the game was over? Was that really the only stinking reason?

No. For me, it was more than that. And maybe I didn’t realize that fact until they lost to the Giants. Their wins were a reflection of their beautiful excellence. And I loved them because of their beautiful excellence. Before this season, I always thought of thewes-welker.jpg 1986 Chicago Bears as the greatest NFL team ever. (They were 18-1 too. But their loss came during the regular season, so we don’t hold it against them.) But if I could pick one team in history to win one game against ANY team, I would pick the 2007 Patriots (with a healthy Tom Brady). And you know all the TV sportscasters WANT to say the same thing (because deep down, they know it’s true), but they are afraid to because they know they’ll get ridiculed (as I will) for praising a team that “lost the big one.” They’ll get ridiculed (as I will) for going against the code of our society that says, “Only the winners of the Super Bowl can hold their heads high.” That’s just hogwash. And declaring it so helps me deal with their loss. It relieves some of the pain. It sustains my appreciation of the Patriots, and that feels good. (Try it!)

So, what’s the meaning of the 2007 Patriots? That you can still be considered one of the greatest teams of all time and LOSE the big game. That no team, no competitor is invincible. (When I yelled at the TV, “Why did you miss that??” as Samuel dropped that potential interception on Manning’s final drive, my 8 year-old son said to me, “Because he’s human, Daddy.”) That you can still be considered a “winner” by fans and by commentators even if you come in second. And that, if you choose to buy in to the “rule” that only one team and one set of fans has the right to feel good at the end of the season — well, that’s a rule that’s going to give you a lot of pain in your life.

randy-moss.jpgYeah, I’m incredibly disappointed that the Patriots lost. Still stunned. A little numb. No doubt, winning is better than losing. But I won’t line up behind the people that want to just forget about them. The 2007 New England Patriots were awesome. And one play with 0:35 seconds left doesn’t eradicate an entire season of jaw-dropping performance. Unless you decide that it does. But I just don’t buy it.