I have been traveling a lot lately, too much, really. Over the course of the last ten days, I’ve gone from Colorado to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, back up to New York City, Texas and all the way across the country to California. It was productive and exhilarating, and I had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of great friends, both new and old.
But the trip was missing a favorite thing – my family! How I hate being away from Jean and the boys.
Can you relate?
Whenever I come back from a trip, I’m always eager to reconnect and spend some concentrated time with them, and this weekend was no different. In fact, as an extra special treat, I took the boys up to see a Rockies/Dodgers game in Denver this past Monday night. Even though there was school the next day, we made an exception and allowed the boys to stay up way past their bedtime, and am I ever glad we did.
Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and deviate from the normal routine! Spontaneity can often be that spark that keeps the home fires burning warm and bright.
Thanks to the generosity of a great friend, the tickets were provided and we spent an unusually warm early fall evening watching our boys of summer make a final (albeit unsuccessful) last push for the playoffs.
It’s fun to share the game I loved as a boy, and now as a man, with Trent and Troy. For me, baseball was a stabilizing influence during my chaotic childhood. For my sons, it’s a game to enjoy with their dad, the same game, in fact, that boys have been watching with their own fathers for over one-hundred years.
There is a beautiful paradox found in sports, something, I think, which makes it the perfect outing for bridging the generations.
As a fan, you watch and care deeply about your team. During any given contest, the pulse may quicken and the nerves might even wear thin. But in the end, it’s just a game. Regardless of how “your” team fares, the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west.
In fact, I think it’s therapeutic to lose yourself, for a few hours, in something that doesn’t really matter – especially if you’re doing it with your children!
On another level, I’ve always seen baseball as a great metaphor for life and even parenting.
The season starts in the spring, a time of new life and seemingly limitless opportunity. It’s a long time between opening day and the first Sunday in October (162 games!), and even the best team will lose a couple of games per week. It takes weeks and even months for most squads to find their groove. By the Fourth of July, as tradition goes, whatever teams are in first will likely stay there, but that’s not necessarily the case. Teams and individual players run hot and cold, and one stray ball can end a season and tank a team’s momentum.
This pattern might sound familiar to parents, who naturally dream and hold out the highest of hopes for their sons and daughters. Like baseball, life is a game of inches, and even the best families don’t “win” every day. The parenting season is long, often slow and sometimes very routine, but often unpredictable, too. You win some, you lose some. Sometimes you get rained out, and plans don’t quite come together as planned. Sometimes you blow it, other times the umpire does. And every now and again, when you least expect it, something happens and the pace quickens and it’s the bottom of the ninth and everything is on the line.
Some of you might be watching Ken Burns’ latest installment of his award-winning documentary on baseball. Part one was on Tuesday night and part two aired on Wednesday. Titled the Tenth Inning, it examined the high and low points of the sport between 1995 and 2010. If you’re a fan, you’d likely enjoy it.
At one point in the program the Boston sportswriter and Red Sox fan, Mike Barnicle, tells a great story of watching the last game of the American League Championship series years ago with his two sons. It was game seven and their team, the Red Sox, had just lost a heartbreaker to the Yankees in New York.
As Mr. Barnicle tells the story, his twenty-year-old son, Colin, turned to him and said very gently and softly, “Dad, you better take care of Tim.” Barnicle looked down at his 11-year-old boy and noticed that he was crying tears the size of hubcaps.
“In my heart of hearts,” Mike Barnicle reflected, “I thought, what have I done?”
What Mike Barnicle did was pass on his love of the game to his son, who now internalized and lived and breathed the magnificent game, inclusive of its highs and lows, just like he did as a boy and still does as a grown man.
This is the beauty and magic of sports, and what a grand thing it is to share something you love with the people you love most of all.
There is an additional and related benefit, I think, to cheering on your favorite team together, father and son or father and daughter. It’s not so much who wins, but how we react to the outcome. Our children are watching us. As a father, it’s OK for me to express jubilation when my team wins and frustration when they lose. Little Tim shed those tears, but in looking up at his dad, he saw a man who, though disappointed, was ready to move on.
Do you know what Mike Barnicle told his boys after quickly absorbing the loss of the big game?
“It’s time to put the storm windows on,” he said, an acknowledgement that both the season of baseball and the fading fall were both nearly over.
We can root and cheer and laugh and even cry, but then it’s time to get back to the work at hand. For Mike Barnicle, it’s nearly time to again change out the screens for the storm windows.
That’s because like boyhood and baseball, and life itself, for everything there is a season.