By Ian Anderson
As a child and a young man, I spent countless hours playing and thinking about baseball. The months that made up the spring and summer were filled with games, and still June, July, and August mean baseball to me. Somehow, the smell of clay and grass and sunflower seeds, the pop of the ball into the glove, and the drop of my stomach as I stepped into the batter’s box are sensations I can’t escape.
I remember with vivid clarity the first double play I turned. With a runner on first base, my thought process was simple as I stood waiting for the ball at my second base position: if the ball came to me, I planned to tag the runner and throw to first. A moment later it happened. Yet the im- age that sticks in my mind isn’t the actual play but my jump- ing father who was in the dugout. He extended his arms into the air and leapt from the bench, his face beaming.
This summer I make the full transition from player to coach; I’ve hung up even my softball cleats in favor of that spot in the dugout where I’ll spur on my own son. Of course, we’ve already played enough baseball in the house and backyard to fill whole seasons, and the coaching began long ago. Yet, my gut turns at the thought of stepping on the field with my son and his little teammates; I can see their eyes as I type these words, and they’re waiting for me to help them, show them how to play the game. More than that, they’re waiting for things they don’t know they need — a coach to tell them that winning is only frosting on the cake, and that giving up is not an option, and that their per- formance is measured by whether they gave their best.
I heard those words long ago, and they first took hold on the baseball field. A seemingly trivial sport played by a group of children is more than a game, and that’s why the images and the words are rushing back at me as I prepare for my first practice as my son’s coach. What will I show them? In twenty years they’ll either look back on their first days playing baseball with joy or disdain, happiness or frustration.
I want to cast the images in my son’s mind carefully, I want to speak my words thoughtfully — I want to leap from the dugout bench and I want him to see me do it.
Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.