One of the things that I like to do in my spare time is to coach baseball. I started in the spring of 2006 when my youngest son was just turning 4 years old in March. Needless to say I was hesitant taking on such a responsibility at first. Even though I played baseball all my life from the time I was about 6 years old, I had no idea how I was going to coach a T-Ball team consisting of 4 and 5 year olds. The first day of practice was nerve racking for me. I was a total wreck most of the day and nothing I did seemed to prepare me for what I was about to experience. I had no idea what to expect, how to act, what to say. I mean, teaching your own child to play a sport is one thing. But being responsible for teaching baseball to a group of kids that are not even your own. Most people don’t stop to think about that.Now Im going to be honest, I already had it built up in my mind that this first season was going to be a disaster. Seriously, I wasn’t being fair to these kids. I just knew in my mind that a group of 4 and 5 year old kids would never be able to grasp much less execute the fundamentals of baseball.
Well, Im not going to draw out this post any more with that story because thats not what this is about. But let me just say that those kids, the seven of them that played on my team, were a part of one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did they prove to me that they could play baseball, they went the entire season without one loss! Not a single defeat. We tied 3 games that season but they won every other game we played! I couldn’t have been a prouder coach! I am still to this day bragging about those kids on that team.
Fortunately for me, I get the pleasure of coaching several of them again this season for fall ball. And let me say, its great to be back on the ball field!
Earlier today a friend of mine, and one of the coaches on our team, sent me an email. Not the usual type I would expect to see from him. No this wasn’t the typical forwarded joke email or the funny picture email. It was much more. It is a great testament to what all of us that are coaching kids in sports are trying to accomplish. Sure we are extremely competitive people and we want to win. But this email he sent me reminded me of the true purpose behind what we are trying to accomplish.
So on a day that we are remembering the fallen heroes and all of those that lost their lives on September 11th, Im posting the contents of his email here for any of you that might like to read it.
At a fund raising dinner for a school that serves learning-disabled children, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question: “When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?”
The audience was stilled by the query.
The father continued. “I believe that when a child like Shay, physically and mentally handicapped comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.”
Then he told the following story:
Shay and his father had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, “Do you think they’ll let me play?” Shay’s father knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but the father also understood that if his son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.
Shay’s father approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, ” We’re losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.”
Shay struggled over to the team’s bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. His Father watched with a small tear in his eye and warmth in his heart. The boys saw the father’s joy at his son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as his father waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay’s team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.
At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat.Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.
However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay’s life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.
The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.
Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman’s head, out of reach of all team mates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, “Shay, run to first! Run to first!” Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.
Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second!” Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball … the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher’s intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman’s head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.
All were screaming, “Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay”
Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, “Run to third! Shay, run to third!”
As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, “Shay, run home! Run home!” Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.
“That day”, said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world”.
Shay didn’t make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making his father so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!