I’m coaching a 10U baseball tournament in Maryland. My team is 1-1, with one game left to determine if we go on to the playoffs. This game is tied 5-5 in the 5th inning (6 inning game), with the opponent batting with a runner on third base, two outs, and a full-count on the batter. The twist is that this game was actually our first game, delayed, frozen in time for two days, due to a lightning warning and inclement weather. We have one single inning to play. If we win, we have a chance to make the playoffs. If we lose, we’re eliminated.
It’s always odd when baseball shows you something you’ve never seen before. I’ve never played a single inning on its own. It feels less like a baseball game, and more like a play at a theater about a baseball game. Act II, Scene III – take your places! Runner at third! Full count! And… action!
We walk the first batter, who advances to second on a wild pitch. The next batter, on a 1-2 count, hits a groundball to third base. I called for a change-up, so the batter is out in front and hits the ball very hard. Our third baseman, one of the best players on the team and one of our best defensive players, knocks it down with his chest. He picks it up and throws wide of first base. Two runs score. We get out of the inning down 7-5. We come up to hit, but make three quick outs, and the game ends.
The 10-year old who made the error in the 5th inning is a great human being. He cares deeply about others. Watching him and listening to him talk lovingly about friends, family, and animals is a reminder of the level of compassion and kindness that the world desperately needs.
When you are full of such honest care for others, the sense that you’ve let someone down is devastating. After the game, the 10-year old is crying, feeling the weight of the world collapsing on his shoulders. I take him aside and we sit on a grassy hill. My instinct is to wish I could undo this moment for him, to take it away. I feel the weight of all the worlds that I have been unable to carry. I know this moment. I know this feeling. I accept it all with him, holding space for what is, and we cry together. As coaches and teachers, we have to discern how to share our compassion and empathy, knowing our players and students and gauging what is most helpful for them. I felt it was best in this cirucmstance to just be with this child as two human beings, feeling our emotions and expressing them.
I tell him that it’s okay to feel sadness. It’s okay to feel pain. That those feelings mean you care and exposed your heart. That feelings will fade. They will not last forever. And that they will make you stronger. It takes a special person to care so much about the team, about teammates, about things beyond one’s control. I tell the 10-year old that it’s worth it to feel these challenging feelings because they will help him grow into the leader that he will become. That this one game is not his fault, the entire team is not his responsibility. That the game does not take place in one isolated inning, on one isolated play. But it’s okay if that’s not what it feels like at this moment.
I share with the 10-year old that this is the ultimate challenge of baseball, to feel the lowest of the lows, and to still want to play the game. While we sit on the hill, a father and son are having a catch and a baseball from their errant throws keeps making its way towards us. Their baseball slowly rolls up to the 10-year old as if to say hey, I’m here – come back when you’re ready. Everything is okay. The 10-year old tosses the ball back to the father and son and asks me if he can go back to his teammates. I say of course, and he jogs off to get ready to play again.