Crying is not allowed on the baseball field. You already knew that. But did you know that crying also isn’t allowed off the field, in the concession stand, on the bleachers or in the score box either? I learned the hard way last weekend.
This is Owen’s last year of Little League. Even typing those words seems impossible. How could Owen be too old for Little League? I still remember him at 9-years-old with baseball pants that were too big to grip his calves, the way the elastic on the traditional kind is supposed to do, and instead fell to the top of his cleats. Belts and drawstrings kept the waist on his hips, and if left untucked, the hem of his shirt grazed his knees.
I remember all these things, but I don’t remember when he grew up.
The thing about the Little League years is that the kids enter as little boys and leave as full-fledged adolescents. And when the boys stay with the same team for all four years, as they do in our neighborhood league, spectators watch these changes happen year and year. Boys go from the tiny one beside the plate who has never gotten a hit, to the oldest, strongest boy who hits it over the fence.
Well, in a perfect world—and in every boy’s imagination—that’s the way it happens. Things didn’t go as planned for Owen.
Owen’s first two years of Little League were shared on the same team as his older brother, Ford, and, in those days, wherever Ford was concerned, Owen was happy to let him win. If Ford got on base, Owen cheered. If Ford was hit with the ball, Owen cringed. He even forfeited rounds of Monopoly to keep Ford winning.
So Owen spent a lot of time in the out field during those early years. This never bothered him much. He was comfortable out there, where no one ever looked until a big kid hit it near the fence. Owen didn’t have aspirations for anything beyond just being on the team until his super-star (in his mind) brother aged out of Little League. Then, with Ford gone, Owen finally had the space and pluck to dream of something more. He wanted to pitch.
But that first year without Ford was plagued by a sudden growth spurt. Owen had grown 6 inches and gained 20 pounds in one year, and his coordination and muscles hadn’t caught up. He tripped over cracks in the sidewalk and his gait was awkward.
“I feel like I’m not in control of my own feet,” Owen said, and in one sentence, he had basically summed up male adolescence.
Two years ago, clumsiness wouldn’t have kept Owen awake at night. But now he had a goal—to pitch for his team during his last year of Little League—and he was panicked.
All through the winter, Owen worked out with a family friend, refining his pitching form and focusing on upper body strength and coordination. His body was more in proportion now, and he was feeling ready for the baseball season. The first time the coach put him at second base, however, he cracked under the pressure.
“He didn’t just crack,” says Ford, who was announcing the game from the score box. “He made two significant errors.”
I could see the disappointment on Owen’s face and how he hung his shoulders when he ran back to the dugout. Everything he had dreamed about through the winter was gone in one inning.
I skipped steps as I ran up to the score box to talk to Ford.
“I just can’t take it,” I said between breaths. “My heart can’t take it. My heart feels like it is breaking for him.”
Ford, who had the microphone next to his lips, ready to announce, suddenly lowered it and twisted up his face before he said, “Are you crying—in the score box?”
“It’s just so emotional,” I said.
“It’s not emotional,” Ford yelled. “It’s baseball!”
“But he wanted—”
“Look, Mom,” he said, “if you’re going to cry, you have to leave the score box.”
I watched the next few games from the stands. And then one day, the coach made Owen the starting pitcher. I almost forgot to breathe. This was his moment. I prayed all six innings, not necessarily for a win, but for Owen to feel good about himself.
Ford texted me throughout the game: “He’s doing well.” “He should be proud.” “He’s actually a really great pitcher.” “This is his position.” “He has great form.”
Owen pitched the full game and only let up 5 runs and walked 2 hitters. Their team won.
Ford texted me again—
Ford: “Guess you’re not crying now.”
Me: “No, I am.”
Me: “I’m just so emotional and proud.”
Ford: “What?!? It’s baseball!”
Someday, Ford will know: it was their childhood, too.