Baseball From the Lower End of the Lineup

A long time ago, I cheered for my adorable smiling preschooler as he hit the tee, and finally the ball after his fifth swing.  The following year, I asked Nikolas if he’d like to play T-ball again and he replied, “No, baseball is a waste of my life.”  A few years passed and Nikolas announced he’d like to give the sport another try.

Nikolas was no natural at baseball, and he observed many games in the shade of the dugout.  Nevertheless, over the years, Nikolas’ adoration of the game has only grown.  My sweet boy has an amazing attitude, listens intently to his coach, and even enjoys climbing on his bike with his baseball bag dangling from one shoulder, and heads to practice on a muggy mosquito-buzzing day with joy.

Nikolas’ love of the game is due to the best coach on the planet, Coach Mark Borene, a true gift to the sport!  The boys on Mark’s team look up to him and learn far more than the game of baseball.  Coach Mark serves as the finest example of integrity, honor, respect, appropriate sportsmanship, teamwork, how to win and more importantly, the graceful manner of losing.  Our team has been down by twenty points, and there’s Coach Mark on the side, cheering the discouraged pitcher on with a genuine smile, praising not only our team’s boys but consistently throwing out “Great pitch!” and “Nice swing!” to the other team.  Coach Mark constitutes the very heartbeat of baseball.

Coach Mark is inspiring boys to become what we all as parents ultimately hope for-strong, confident, and mentally healthy adults.  Furthermore, Mark is instilling values of leadership in the boys, alongside fond memories of baseball during their youth.

DSC_0269Additionally, yet not surprisingly, Coach Mark’s son is according to Nikolas, “the nicest kid on the team.”  I’m sure if I were reading this article I’d smirk and imagine the writer was full of it, trying her best to butter up the coach so he’ll play her son more, and not stick him in the outfield.  Sorry folks, Coach Mark plays every single kid in every position, regardless of the score, talent or lack of, so there are no ulterior motives taking place.  I cannot on one single finger write the same about any other coach my children have had, as it takes tremendous confidence and justice to play with this mindset during critical moments of the game.

My singular motive for gushing on about baseball’s best coach, is because Mark is responsible for making my mediocre-skilled kid have a lifelong love of the game, and particularly to believe in himself when his batting averages prove otherwise.

The wind carried in a sudden briskness, and I shivered just as soon as I’d plunked down on the stands with my warm box of artificial buttery popcorn.   The sky darkened and weather alerts popped up on cell phones, with warnings to find shelter.  My eyes watered by the dirt being swept up into the air.  With a sinking heart, I assumed Nikolas wouldn’t have the chance to bat before the game was cancelled, being that he was at the lower end of the lineup.

Strike-outs were swift, and the other team was up by three, but we were catching up. Meanwhile, I gobbled up my popcorn and felt rather melancholic.  I gazed over at Nikolas on the bench, his back curved, regardless of the countless reprimands I’ve dished out to sit up straight.  Nikolas has always been a quiet kid, never starts trouble with others besides his sister, Elizabeth.  I wondered how my twelve-year-old felt, alone in his thoughts.  What did it feel like to be the second to last in the batting order?  Would he even make the JV baseball team in High school a few years from now?  How does one who loves a sport such as Nikolas, while understanding that he’s only middle-of-the-road at best in skill?

The late evening sun made an appearance and awakened me from my reverie.  The storm subsided, and the game had gone into its final inning with our team up to bat. We were down by one point. Coach Mark called the last four batters of the lineup, their first time up to bat.

DSC_0251

“Strike three-you’re out!” the umpire called.  The next boy had a good swing with a strike, ball, cut it high, managed a foul, and finally he was walked.  Nikolas was warming up in the sideline, as the boy ahead of him struck out.  The kid on base had stolen to second, when Nikolas shuffled up to home plate.  You simply never know with Nikolas how he’s going to do at bat with some wacky fly swatter swings, or attempts at bunting, which are most ridiculous and even frustrating to observe, and far more strikes than hits.  However, one thing that will remain as consistent as concrete, I will be cheering for my little boy no matter what, and will never, ever give up on that sweet kid!

The game was tied.  Nikolas hunched in his typical stance at bat, The ball whizzed by Nikolas as he swung late.  I piped out, “C’mon Nikolas!  You can do it, bud!”  The pitcher threw the ball up to Mars and I was glad that Nikolas had the sense not to swing, because he has been known to do so on occasion!  “Good eye, Nikolas!” praised Coach Mark.  Meanwhile, the boy on second base had stolen to third.  Nikolas swung his second strike.  Two outs, two strikes in the last inning, when Nikolas tapped the bat and looked up, most likely praying-who knows?  Then came the perfect pitch, and the beautiful note of contact rang out, as the ball flew in-between first and second.  Nikolas, who is about the slowest runner on the team, made it to first base in the nick of time while his teammate landed at home, safe!  Nikolas won the game!

We only read about the stars of the team in the newspaper.  Only perfection seems to be celebrated and recognized, and most of us will perpetually skirt around its periphery in our lives.

The diamond at home plate is often covered with scattered dirt, as the umpire methodically sweeps it clean.  The old adage, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose…” is always appropriate, but sometimes, during those very rare moments in life, winning does matter.  My little guy had the opportunity to shine,like the newly swept home plate diamond, in his quiet and humble manner.   Nikolas will never boast about that July evening in Northfield, but hopefully, he will forever carry with him the memory of and realization that remarkability can occur any and everywhere; it’s where the heart lies.

Coach Mark ran up to Nikolas as we were heading to our car, smiling and proud.  The coach handed Nikolas the game ball and explained to him that he’d won the game.  Mark instructed Nikolas to place the dusty old ball on a high shelf, and remember the night he had won the game, way back when he was just a kid.

 

DSC_0272