All across America, you can tell it is Spring by the burgeoning population at the local ball fields. It seems everywhere you turn, athletic fields are filled on evenings and weekends with children of all ages learning to pitch, hit, catch and throw. Proud parents and grandparents have come to watch, cheer and encourage their budding athletes as they develop their skills fill the parking lots of overflowing. Spring has sprung, indeed!
I am the daughter of a dedicated athlete. My father played just about any sport – and very well – that you could challenge him with. From the time he was a young man, if he wasn’t playing, he was coaching; when he wasn’t coaching, he worked tirelessly to ensure the youth of my rural community would have access to ballfields and sporting programs that continue today. That was his legacy, to leave behind the opportunity for others to play, learn and grow as young men and women on the ballfield. He helped build a softball complex and seed the youth football program that ultimately became the high school football program of my hometown. He loved sports and said that the character one developed on the field, they would take with them for the rest of their life.
I spent many a night digging in a dirt pile while my Dad helped erect fencing or construct dugouts and concession stands at the local field. Riding on a tractor, dragging an old metal bedspring as a way to groom the outfield to prepare it for seeding and listening to Dad share his vision for what he and his fellow Jaycees could build is a memory forever etched in my mind. Those men knew the value of sports, fellowship and community and they left no stone unturned until they built it for their friends and neighbors. That early facility, primitive as it was in today’s standards, was an important outdoor classroom for many youth.
Sporting programs today shouldn’t need signs like the community of Lee have had to place on their ballfield. It is a shame that so many have forgotten that leading and guiding the young men and women of tomorrow comes in many forms: part skill development and part behavior. The drills, plays and practices are no less important than the respect, language and teamwork behaviors that are honed both on and off the field. How parents and fans interact with the players and the umpires set examples these young men and women will pattern themselves after for the rest of the lives. How coaches motivate and discipline these young minds will set in place future character traits of business leaders, parents and the coaches of tomorrow. How players treat each other: encouraging, assisting, sharing their talents, lifting up those less skilled, etc., all become life lessons of how society will behave in the not-too-distant future.
Few young men and women will leave the ballfields of this season and go on to play in Little League World Series, earn college scholarships or make it to the professional level. But all will leave to go on to lead everyday lives as a part of humankind. Their lives will require them to take risks and go deep in the outfield for the big play; not always coming up with the ball. They will sometimes hit home runs on the way to their destiny but will strike out equally often, if not more. Life will deliver lots of bad calls, foul balls and opponents who grease their bat and cheat to win. How are they being prepped today for those situations?
Make sure the education they are getting on the ballfield prepares them for how to handle life graciously. Ensure they are learning now how to stand up to their fears and be ready for the big play. Give them the passion and hunger for life to ensure that they always have their equipment in good condition and at the ready, so that at any moment they can take the call get in the game to win! Ensure that they don’t encounter every rotten situation with the flailing of arms and the screaming of obscenities; that there are better ways to handle disappointment and the inconsistencies of life that will come.
I love baseball and the opportunities that play brings both on and off the field. Dad always said you could tell the character of a man by how he carried himself on the field. My Dad, he was one heck of a good judge of character!