Normally, I would prescribe more sympathy when dealing with a 9-year-old who’s just been hit in the face with a baseball.
Not a soft, kiddie baseball, mind you. A baseball.
But sympathy has never been my game. It wasn’t my strength 25 years ago when I made my little sister play baseball with me in the backyard. Basically we would have fun for about 15 minutes and then I would do something to make her angry and she would go inside and tell my mom. But you know what? When she was 11 and 12, she played on Little League softball teams that won the Little League World Series. I’m not taking all the credit for that, but I’m taking a little credit.
I don’t think Luke is going to play on a Little League World Series champion. I’m not sure he’ll even ever play organized baseball. But this summer, perhaps because of our mutual interest in the Texas Rangers, we’ve been playing catch quite a bit. (By the way, Luke’s dad is my lifelong friend Jeremy). So often times when Luke misses a catch or makes a poor throw, he makes the excuse that he’s really not that interested in baseball. He’s a football player and a darn good 9-year-old running back. But I counter his argument by saying that it’s important to learn concentrating and hand-eye coordination no matter what sport he’s playing. He buys that logic and keeps playing without anyone stomping angrily into the house.
But the other night we were playing and he missed a ball and the ball caromed off his glove and hit him about an inch below his left eye. He immediately bent over and put his glove over his face, but he didn’t cry.
He choked back tears as hard as he could, which was perhaps the most heroic thing I’ve seen this summer. I checked him out to make sure he wasn’t going to have a massive black eye. He looked alright. I’ve known Luke his whole life, so I’ve seen him with some nasty bumps on the head. His cheek swelled up a little, but just barely enough to notice.
So we went back to playing catch.
But pretty soon, he started asking to use one of the rubber baseballs or a tennis ball. And that’s when I uttered one of those sentences that I truly believe despite the fact that it makes me seem like a jerk.
“If you’re going to be scared of the ball, you might as well not even play,” I told him.
This was a tad hypocritical as I gave up baseball in favor of golf at 10. And that was partially because I was tired of playing with kids who were much older and a lot bigger and who couldn’t keep from throwing the ball at my head. Or you could say that Luke could take it from someone who knew from firsthand experience. If you’re going to be scared of the ball, you might as well not even play.
Now obviously, this is a statement with a high degree of metaphorical significance, which I hesitate to pedantically unpack.
Here’s the point, though. I believe in Luke as an athlete (and as a person, blah, blah, blah). So that’s why I’m tough on him when we’re playing catch. I believed in my sister too (still do now that she’s a mom and a wonderful person, blah, blah, blah). I have a bad habit of setting the bar extremely high for people whom I care about and believe can accomplish great things.
It sometimes makes me seem like a jerk. But you know what? Luke still wants to play catch.
The photo with this blog features Luke playing football on his Xtreme Flag team, the Falcons.