Giving the gift of baseball

In what feels like another lifetime, I was once a high school social studies teacher. I did it for four years, which was just enough time to learn that I couldn’t do it for my long-term career. I knew the subject matter, and could recite all the eduspeak buzzwords that anyone wanted to hear, but at the end of it all I didn’t have the two things that every good teacher needs: patience and organizational skills. I got horribly frustrated as a result, and now I haven’t been inside a classroom (as a teacher) in over 10 years.

But having said that, I do have some good memories of this time in my life. And the best memory was the year that I served as the baseball coach at my school. I had to literally build our program from scratch, and it was always a struggle to find enough players to field a team, and to find enough bats, balls, helmets, gloves and cleats for them to use. I even had to enlist a seventh grader from a nearby middle school to be the ninth player in our very last game. I never saw that kid again, but he was a pretty good shortstop, as I recall.

Some of the kids on the team really enjoyed playing, and they would talk to me as a coach in a way that they wouldn’t to their other teachers. We had a bond that had been forged by our interest in baseball. It was very humbling to see the enjoyment these kids derived from playing the game.

I wish I had at least nine guys like that at our small little school on the South Side of Chicago. But in reality, I had maybe five. The others were a rotating band of guys who showed interest one day, but couldn’t be bothered the next. Or guys who thought that baseball teams scored “points.” These guys had never played baseball before, and weren’t quite sure that they enjoyed it very much. Benching a player on the team was never really a deterrent, because otherwise we would have to forfeit.

When my first daughter was born after the season ended, I knew that I wouldn’t have the time to coach anymore. The team soldiered on for another season after I left, but then it faded away as the guys got older, and nobody came in to take their place or mine. But all of the running around to whatever batting cages we could find, or trying to hold indoor practices in a tiny little gym, or waiting another day for the field to dry out after a big rain had fallen, all seemed like it was worth it somehow.

On a handful of days in the springtime, these guys were afforded an hour or two to enjoy being kids and competitors. And there’s nothing I could have done for them as a teacher to compare with that.  These games were a gift to them, and getting to witness them firsthand was a gift for me, too.

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