I’ve kept a shameful secret for more than 30 years. And I fear my son will have his own version of it sooner than later.
Like most pre-teens I worshiped baseball. I threw the hardball back and forth with my brother about a million times in our backyard. I watched every Yankees game I could. And, when I was old enough, I signed up to play Little League baseball.
The uniforms (blowsy but magnificent). The camaraderie. The crack of the bat when you know you’ve hit a double (at least). The grass stains that doubled as badges of honor.
I loved it all. That was in year one. My second year of Little League proved to be my last. Why? Those fastballs were just too … fast. I felt increasingly uncomfortable at the plate, leaning away from pitches I should have murdered. My offensive numbers drooped. And then I quit, without telling anyone the reason why. I told my parents I just didn’t wanna play anymore, and they didn’t press the issue.
I kept the real reason secret until just a few months ago.
Now, I watch my seven year old son flinch at an incoming baseball and I see the pattern all over again. My oldest plays basketball, football and baseball. He’s often the worst on his team in every sport. He’s having a blast, but he’s also kidding himself.
“We won again! We’re the best,” he told me after a recent basketball game. Only everyone else on the team scrambled for loose balls, took shots and otherwise tried their darndest. My son ran a bit but always made sure to stay away from the scrum.
Why? He’s just like his old man. Wimpy.
That’s fine for now. The stakes are low. His teammates aren’t picking on him for his lack of gusto. That won’t last. The bodies will soon be bigger, stronger. The insults will start. And, most likely, he’ll quit just like I did when the fear became too much to stand.
And his self-confidence will take a beating. I know the feeling.
As a parent I’ve learned that some things are just etched in stone. My seven year old is just like me. Loves movies. Gets crazy passionate about the things that matter most to him at a given moment (“Minecraft”). Meanwhile, our younger son isn’t even five and he’d run through a brick wall if I suggested it. Or even if I didn’t.
They couldn’t be more different. And that’s wonderful. But this dad wants to protect his oldest from what comes next all the same.
He doesn’t have to be a superstar. Heck, if he’s the fifth worst player on the team I’d be happy as the proverbial clam. I just don’t want him quitting something he loves for all the wrong reasons.
I spoke to a fellow dad about this recently. He recalled his own baseball days, and how a friend once offered to help him improve his game. My friend wasn’t a budding Pete Rose. Yet he turned down that offer. And he’s regretted it ever since. And he’s in his 40s just like me.
I won’t force my son to lean in to a fastball just to be tough. Nor will I insist he plays games he’d rather not play. All I can do is shower him with “atta boys” when he displays grit on the playground. And, should he open up about his fears much earlier than his dad, I’ll tell him I’ve never been more proud of him.
Christian Toto is a freelance writer and editor of HollywoodInToto.com.