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Lessons from the ballpark

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“Every strike brings me closer to the next homerun.” -Babe Ruth

‘Tis the season of home run derbies, batting averages, and a good ‘ole Red Sox-Yankee rivalry that divides friends and families throughout the Northeast. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, please, because like much of America, I freaking love a live baseball game. Nothing beats a warm day at the ballpark, where time stands still, sunflower seeds adorn the dirt in front of the dugouts, and anything, I mean anything is possible. Baseball is America’s sport and I am starting to understand why.

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My son plays double A baseball. He loves the sport and plays right field, second base, catcher- wherever the coach puts him- as if he himself is Babe Ruth. Every pitch, every out, and every run are important to him. At a recent game, I noticed him walking out to the infield with a bit of a frown on his face. When he saw me behind the fence he ran over and said, “Mom, I really wanted to win this game. It has only been half an inning and we are already losing by 5.” And let me tell you, he hates to lose! Had this been a soccer or basketball game, I would have offered him a sympathetic glance and some encouraging words like give it your all anyways or you’ll get ‘em next time. But this was a baseball game, people. A youth baseball (with live pitching-need I say more?) game at that, so I knew, with 100% confidence, that anything was possible. With 5.5 innings of youth baseball left, I knew that my son and his little league Tampa Bay Rays could pull off the win. And so, I told him, what years of coaching and playing softball had taught me: “That’s the beauty of the game of baseball, Emmet: Anything, I mean anything is possible. Go out there and play hard, have fun, and believe in yourself and your team! You can most definitely win this game. There is a lot of baseball left to be played!”

Anything is possible. Hope. Freedom. Faith. Yea, I guess that is all very American. It is also pretty much how I want to live my life (and how I want my kids to live theirs). My son won his game that day and thank God for that because it really hit my intended lesson out of the ballpark. My love for the game grew that day. And I must say, it grows with every live game I watch, play or coach.

And so, I try to make it to a few live games each year, with my kids in tow. Yes, we go for love of the game, but we also go for the lessons of the game. There are many. At a recent trip to support our local minor league team, The Hartford Yardgoats, we were, as usual, bombarded with some of the most unexpected lessons:

Embrace Change

I love and embrace tradition and so I love having a big bag of $7 peanuts thrown at me by the usher during a Red Sox game. I also love cracking the shells of said peanuts open and throwing them on the ground. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Hartford Yardgoats had gone completely nut-free! How could they- was my first thought? That is so anti-baseball! I couldn’t help but pout just a little at the thought of watching the game sans peanuts. Even my 9-year-old son told me I was being ridiculous as he encouraged me to think of all the kids with peanut allergies who can now enjoy the game allergy (and anxiety) free. He had a point, too. I am one of the lucky ones- a mom to 3 kids who have no allergies at all and I most definitely take that for granted on a daily basis. As it turns out, Dunkin' Donuts Park offers sunflower seeds in lieu of peanuts and I was thrilled! I mean, can it get anymore baseball than throwing a fist full of seeds in your mouth as you spit the shells on your neighbor’s feet? The seeds were cheaper than the peanuts and they lasted the 4 of us the entire game. I was served a slice of humble pie as I admitted that the decision to go nut-free was a great, thoughtful and inclusive one. Good job, Yardgoats and thank you to my wise son for calling me on my own bullsh&^!

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Slow Down

When we stepped into the ballpark to watch our team play, we had no idea how long the game would last. We knew what time the first pitch would be thrown, but the rest of the day was a mystery. There is no timer in the sport of baseball. Even going into the 9th inning, we were not sure if the game would end or potentially go into extra innings and guess what happened? We slowed down. We enjoyed the moment and we were not at all focused on anything other than the here and now. We need more of that- more just being, more enjoying the moment and not fast-forwarding life by asking what’s next? Baseball has a way of making time, life and thoughts slow down; and it sure is beautiful.

Failure is a Stepping Stone

Every professional baseball player knows that striking out is not necessarily a failure, but to a young, aspiring baseball player, it sure does feel like one. As my son watched Yardgoat after Yardgoat strike out, I couldn’t help but talk to him about it- “See, Emmet, even the professionals strike out; and they do it often!” But they don’t quit. They don’t throw their bats and they don’t even lose their jobs! It is all part of the game and a strike out or 3 doesn’t define you.” My son watched his favorite player, #4 Bret Boswell, hit a home run early in the game and with every subsequent at-bat, my son expected Boswell to hit another homerun! But it just didn’t happen because that is not the way baseball (or life) works. The road to success is paved with strike-outs, but as Babe Ruth said, they bring us closer to the next home run.

Music is a Gift

We watched the grounds crew dance to YMCA as they raked the dirt and let me tell you these guys had the moves like Jagger. I found myself wondering how much money they make because I think that may be my dream job! We couldn’t help but dance along because music really does soothe the soul.

Always Be Grateful

It just so happens that it was cancer survivor day at the ballpark the day we visited. We were sitting in a pool of purple-t-shirt-wearing cancer survivors and what is more powerful than that- men, women, and children who beat cancer and wore purple to stand in solidarity and show it can be done. A reminder to take nothing for granted and to practice gratitude daily- for the little things like great seats at a ball game and the big things- like our health.

What I learned that day at Dunkin' Donuts park was that baseball is America’s sport because it is life’s sport. The game shows us that anything is possible; that every failure brings us one step closer to the goal; and that lessons surround us, waiting to be learned as we play.

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