July 20, 2024


May 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Joe Shrode is a father, and a 19-year youth baseball coach. He is the author of “Between the Lines: A Father, A Son, and America’s Pastime.” BTL goes beyond balls an strikes, hits and outs, and wins and losses. It’s about relationships. To see excerpts, visit www.btlfatherson.blogspot.com.

            There is no game tonight, so Sam and I drop Cathy off at her father’s house. Tomorrow, the two of them fly to Boston to attend our nephew’s wedding. We have a tournament this weekend, so Sam and I stay home. Only one block from grandpa’s house, Sam says, “I miss mom.”

            “Sure you do. She’s been gone nearly thirty seconds.” He must be joking.

            Now through what appear to be real tears, he says, “She’ll miss my last game.”

            “Sam, are you serious?”

            “Yes.” He’s sobbing. “Are there pictures of her at home?”

            “This is not our last tournament. Mom will still get to see many games.”

            “It’s not fair. I’ve never been on an airplane. I never should have played all-stars.”         

           Sam uses every trigger to release the emotion he experiences over his mother’s absence. Tomorrow, for the first time, Sam will know that his mom is not in the stands. She will not be there with all the other mothers to cheer for every accomplishment. She will not be there with the rest of them to feel the hurt and offer encouragement after the setbacks.

            On the field or behind the backstop, dads are allowed to pace back and forth to calm the nerves. It is expected. We can yell and scream – at umpires, other coaches, players, each other or no one in particular – to release the tension. 

            For the most part, moms sit quietly and watch the game. Even those who do not understand the nuances of baseball watch every out and every pitch. They are devastated with each error or strikeout; they celebrate every hit and catch. Moms feel the pain when their child gets hit by a pitch, just as if the ball had pegged them. If given the chance, they would gladly trade places and take a shot in the ribs in to avoid their child’s pain.

            That is the kind of empathy Tyler’s mom displayed one afternoon. Tyler’s team played the game before ours. No longer able to sit in the stands and watch him bat, she stood near the group of coaches behind the backstop. She informed me that he has been in a bad slump and was miserable. Tyler strolled to the plate. In keeping with his wishes, she suppressed her words of encouragement. He says it embarrasses him. I want you there, mom, but I don’t want you to yell anything. In a hushed voice and with a pained look on her face, she added that he feels like he is letting the team down.

            Her explanation was interrupted with each pitch, as she twisted and contorted along with her son. Her body English escalated into a full pirouette as Tyler swung and missed the final strike. She tried to hide the onrushing tears as she quietly watched Tyler walk back to the dugout with his head down.

            Moms smile and look on as the players and coaches hug and high five each other after a big victory. As they watch from a distance, they no doubt wonder what the coaches are telling their boys in the huddle after a tough defeat. As Sam instructed his mother when he was a three-year-old batboy for his cousin Mark’s team, “huddles are just for players and coaches.”

            Following each game, moms clean hang our uniforms, ready in case we have an early morning game. The mud has been knocked off Sam’s cleats and his equipment bag is unzipped in order to allow his sweaty equipment to dry out. Cathy hands us our hats as we wander around in circles, mumbling about where we left them. When we arrive at the field, there is always one cold bottle of Gatorade in Sam’s bag and one in my ball bucket.

            My mother arrives early to our game the next morning to assure that she gets a seat where she can see everything. She walks toward the bleachers dragging her oversized umbrella behind her. Not even the impending rain will keep her away. I help her up to the second row in the bleachers where she can see over the cross bar in the chain link fence.

            Halfway through a game we’ve trailed the entire way, the rain grows steady. Mom is still in the stands, in the same seat in the second row, her umbrella now overhead. The rain worsens; by the end of a miserable loss, mom is the only fan left in the stands. Everyone else has retreated to their warm, dry cars. Following the team huddle, I walk over to the bleachers where she still sits. “What’s the deal, are you planning to stay for the next game too?’

            “I can’t get down,” she explains.

            “So that’s why you stayed for the whole thing.”

         Her expression confirms that she would have stayed, no matter what.  

            “Why didn’t they cancel that game?” she asks, her voice choppy since her stroke.

            “Money.” An eighty-year-old mother of two boys needs no further explanation to understand that one-word reply.

            Before Sam and I arrive home from grandpa’s house, Sam regains his composure and seems able to continue on without his mother for a few days. We enter the house and Sam asks, “Dad, can I sleep with you in your bed?”

            “I don’t see why not.”

            He smiles. “And, dad…?” 

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Do I have to take a shower?”

            “Well, maybe we’ll skip it just this once.” 

            We may wear dirty uniforms before it is over, but a weekend alone with dad has some advantages.

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