boy playing baseball

My thirteen-year-old son lives, breathes, and eats baseball. Needless to say, being offered a spot on a travel team last year sounded good – really good. I could give these old bones a rest from backyard baseball, and give him an opportunity to hone his skills in a sport he really loves. As it turned out, the Fall ball schedule was not all that time consuming. A few practices, a few chilly games, and the season came to a close. I was lured into a false sense of ease. He was invited back to play travel ball in the Spring, which included a season finale trip to Cooperstown, NY for a tournament with players from around the country, and even some international teams.

Since athletics are such an important part of my life, this was a big moment for me parenting-wise. Until recently, our son was never really interested in sports. He has always been a physically cautious kid – not even venturing down the playground slide by himself until he was about three. He tried soccer, but never went near the ball. He tried baseball early, but was incredibly bored. He tried basketball and ducked when the ball came towards him. Sports didn’t seem to be in the cards for him. I was not disappointed. My main parenting goal has always been to let him be himself, and to love and accept him for whoever he ends up being. I strive for unconditional acceptance.

Eventually, he tried baseball again on a recreation (“rec”) league, and did not have a great first season. Since he was a late bloomer, he was a couple of years behind the other boys skill-wise. He enjoyed playing, but the volunteer coaches must have missed the seminar on sportsmanship, because one of the coaches was horrendous. In the final game of the season, my son struck out and cost the team the game. Mind you, they were not a winning team to begin with. That coach swore within earshot of my son, blamed the loss on my 10-year-old, walked away in a huff, and refused to even say a final goodbye to the team. For the next hour, I had to console my sobbing son in the car as he said over, and over, and over again that he would never, ever play baseball again. This was heartbreaking, and anger inducing all at once.

After his wounds healed, he cautiously decided to join rec league again the following year. Thankfully, he was gifted with wonderful, talented coaches who possessed the correct balance of game rules, coaching techniques, discipline, accountability, and fun. He developed as a player, found his confidence, and realized he had a talent for baseball that matches his passion for it. That parlayed into the travel season mentioned earlier and then brought us to the spring baseball season.

As a requirement of our local travel teams, all players must also play on a rec team during the baseball season, so that there are enough players to still field rec teams. The spring was busy with travel baseball, rec baseball, and travel fundraising activities. I was beginning to see the level of commitment involved, and we were treading water in regards to that obligation. Part of the issue lies in the fact that both my ex and I work about an hour away from home, so we had to rely heavily on his grandparents to shuffle our son to games and practices on time. We also have complications in that my son’s dad and I are divorced, sharing custody 50/50. This meant a lot of cooperation about schedules and timing had to occur, and we regularly go through periods of time with strained communication. Still, we try to put our son first and got him where he needed to be at the correct times and days, even though it was not easy.

We had a few glitches in the spring travel season, however. Scheduling of travel games were made with short notice, so often we had other plans already made. When you only get two weekends a month with your kid, those weekends are precious and those plans are important. In my eyes, they trump the responsibility of travel baseball. He missed a Mother’s Day tournament because he said he would rather spend it with me, taking me out to breakfast, and hanging out on the beach. He missed the game on his birthday because we had a family party and beach plans already made. He missed a string of games because he was sick with a fever for four days, which was unfortunate, uncontrollable timing. Finally, he missed a string of tournaments and practices because he had a pre-planned vacation to Florida and the Bahamas with his grandparents.

Not unexpectedly, when my son returned from vacation, I received a call from his coach. He expressed that maybe he had not sat down with us at the beginning of the season to outline the level of commitment the travel team required. He said that no one was to blame, as we might not have been aware upfront of the time requirement, but that my son was lagging in his responsibilities to the team. Coach explained given that my son had missed a series of games and practices, it would not be fair to have him play the next game. He suggested that my son come to the game and sit it out. It was a very important game against a competitive team, so he felt putting him in the game without the practice foundation would not be fair to the other kids. If they happened to be winning by a large margin, he would put him in, otherwise he would sit it out. I agreed with him 100%. Having been on numerous teams in my life, I understood his line of thinking and was aligned with it. It made sense in a fair sportsmanship kind of way.

After hanging up the phone, I was suddenly emotional – chiding myself for not pushing my son to focus his full attention on the team and his commitment there. For a short moment, I felt I had let my son down, and by default his team. I started to feel like I had failed a bit as a parent. I had fallen off the parental travel baseball wagon. I was a failure as a baseball mom. How do working parents keep up this kind of schedule, and further, how do single, working parents keep up this schedule and still feel like they have enough quality time with their child?

Then a different train of thought entered my mind. I started to smile a little. I couldn’t help myself. I realized this perceived failure was actually a positive thing in my son’s life. I was happy my son had spent Mother’s Day with me. I was happy I kept him home from games when he was not feeling well. I was happy that he chose to spend his birthday with his family and keep his family commitments. I was content that he had the opportunity to go on a vacation to Florida and the Bahamas with his aging grandparents.

Life is all about balance. Anything all consuming, in my opinion, isn’t healthy. My son was 100% in for games and practices he attended, and 100% in for his family functions when he attended those. There was time and space enough for both baseball and family, even if that is not the popular view from a travel baseball family perspective. My son most likely won’t grow up to be a major league ball player, or who knows he just may. The world is wide open to him at this point. The more important thing is that someday he will have a family of his own, and regardless of outside commitments, there is always time for a life balanced with family and commitments.

Thinking back to my son’s first rec coach’s behavior during that final game only added to my conviction that nothing in life should be one-sided or all-consuming. A travel baseball lesson well-learned.

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Jeannine M DeHart Roberts

Jeannine M DeHart Roberts is an accountant by day and a writer by night. She is working diligently to finish her first book.

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