Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Strike Three (Baseball Part 1)

My nine-year old son takes winning seriously.

In games at home, he pushes the rules trying to eke out any advantage that he can. If he starts losing, he begins to mope, making the game less fun. We cautioned him about his attitude, telling him that he can’t win everything and he needs to learn to be a better sport. Though we think he’s improved, he still shows signs of disgust.

One of the places he does occasionally lose it is on the baseball field. I’ve seen him strike out with kids on base and he goes into the dugout and looks ready to cry. Else, he gets mad and slams his helmet. If his team should lose and one of his hits might have meant the difference, he pouts all the way home.

We’ve told him to cut it out.

We’ve explained to him that it’s a game. It’s okay to be competitive. But, when you cross the line between competitive and being a bad sport, that’s unacceptable behavior.

So it was with trepidation as we watched his at bat at a crucial juncture in a playoff game last week. His 7th seeded Reds were leading the 2nd seeded Rays 5-2 in the third inning. Bases were loaded and there was no one out. My wife and I were hoping he could get it through the infield. He’d singled up the middle in his previous time at the plate. He fouled off six pitches, including a long fly ball, before the ump rung him up looking. He turned, disgusted with himself, his face showing anger. If he could have squeezed a dent in the aluminum bat, he would have done so.

And then he walked back to the dugout and sat down. He was mad. But he didn’t let it get to him.

I walked over, high-fived it with him, and told it was a great at bat.

“Dad, that ball was outside,” he said.

“I know,” I told him. “Nothing you can do about it.”

The next two kids struck out to end the inning. No runs scored. The other team came back in the bottom of the third inning and took the lead 6-5. After the third inning, the game was called on account of time elapsed.

My son felt as if he let his team down.

I assured him he hadn’t.

Trailing 6-5 and with only one out, he took the mound. The previous pitcher had run out of pitches and his team needed two quick outs to hopefully get another inning. He gave up a hit to a close friend on his first pitch, before striking out the next two kids (which included another close friend). However, time had elapsed anyway. They didn’t get another shot.

After the game, my wife and I told him how proud we were of his attitude. We bought him his favorite, french fries, his treat for when he does well.

Because he had.

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