Catching All The Action
For the first time in 15 years, I won't be helping to coach my children's baseball teams. One by one, my kids have made America's favorite pastime (and mine as well) part of their past. My youngest son, Anthony, decided to hang up his spikes and join his brothers and sisters in baseball retirement.
From the moment my eldest son, Michael, was able to walk, I rolled him grounders in the family room,a tradition I continued with his brothers and sisters.
I was sure Michael had the makings of a great shortstop. He looked like Ozzie Smith, with great range to either side; he set his feet and got rid of the ball so quickly.
The wooden Barry Bonds mini-bat was the perfect size for the family room. That's where I taught Michael the importance of finishing his swing; it's where I taught him how to bat lefty.
The Bonds bat was passed down the line and was even used for stickball in the street and at tailgate parties.
Michael taught himself to bat from the right side, and I will never forget the look on his face when he drilled a double off the first lefty he faced in a 12-year-old all-star game. Sweet satisfaction. Even though he was two heads shorter than most of his opponents, he tossed a one-hit shutout that same year.
My second-born son, Matthew, was more of a slugger – with a low stance, like Jeff Bagwell, exploding through the ball. A coach-pitch legend, Matthew once made a Ron Swoboda-like diving catch in right field, then popped up and fired a bullet to second base, doubling-up the stunned runner. Fireworks followed, putting an exclamation point on the game-saving, bases-loaded defensive gem.
For Danielle, the sheer joy, shock, and exhiliration of watching her smack a coach-pitched ball into the utfield is something I won't forget. The confidence that play brought—playing with the boys—is something I can't adequately put into words. Her experience in tee-ball helped her transition into gymnastics, soccer and lacrosse.
That brings us to Anthony, our youngest, who had to endure hundreds his older siblings' games. The kid who spent a small fortune at snack bars and was left (accidentally) at a ball field on at least two occasions. Neither one of us talked about it very much last season, but we both knew it would be our last dance on the diamond. After the season, I surprised Anthony with a trip to Wrigley Field to see his favorite player, Derrek Lee. On that incredible journey, we talked about how much we loved the game. I told him how much I have enjoyed seeing him and his siblings enjoy the game I embraced as a child.
I enjoyed every step: the practice grounders, the outfield fungos, batting practice meatballs, waving them around third. Dragging the infield, lining the base paths, going over strategy before games and sharing meals with the families afterward. Endless travel team seasons and postponed vacations. Arguing with umps. Encouraging struggling players and praising success. It was all so much fun.
The most important part of the past 15 years? Being there.
Here's my wish for you: enjoy your seasons with your children because the days and years fly by so quickly. Be there to catch all the action.