For the better part of a decade, my weekends and summers have been spent at a baseball field.
I’ll admit I’ve done more than my share of complaining about it. "Family vacations" centered on tournaments, too much money spent on travel teams, endless hours outdoors in less than ideal weather, concession stand meals, sunburns, gnats …
But, honestly, I would not have traded being a baseball mom for anything. With my youngest child having just finished his final season as a Richmond Hill High School Wildcat, I’m feeling a bit sentimental this Mother’s Day weekend as I realize the rec, travel and school ball that have consumed such a huge part of my life are coming to ends.
Since my boy was 4 years old and whacked his first ball off a plastic tee in a dusty, red-clay rec park in North Carolina, I’ve parked myself on those unbearably hard bleachers to cheer him on at every game. I’ve yelled the "Atta boy" when he made the catch and the "It’s OK" when he struck out, and I’ve felt the knot in my stomach during the occasional injury.
It takes dedication to be a baseball mom — and a baseball dad, for that matter. Three of the past four years we’ve been involved with Richmond Hill baseball, my husband and I have spent our anniversary either at Wildcat Field or South Effingham High (yes, it seems to always fall on that matchup). We would share a celebratory dinner (he got a burger; I got a hot dog), we would whisper a not-so-romantic "Happy anniversary" to one another between innings and then continue to cheer on our Wildcats.
Over the years, I’ve been able to perfect the art of being a Baseball Mom with my giant tote of ballpark essentials. These include bug spray, sunscreen in varying SPFs, extra sunglasses, incense and matches (Plan B when the bug spray fails), snacks, drinks, cash, camera, first-aid supplies, seat cushion or chair and rain gear. For the early spring games, I’ve got mittens, hand-warmers and blankets; for the sweltering summer games, I’ve got those awesome Chilly Pad towels and a portable fan that requires a whopping eight D batteries to power it. (Yes, the batteries cost more than the fan.)
Despite the fact that I consider myself the ultimate fan, no one would ever call me baseball savvy. The men in my household have threatened more than once to buy me a copy of "Baseball for Dummies." After all these years, I still don’t get the infield fly rule, nor can I distinguish a curve ball from a changeup, and my son cringes when I call the foul lines "base lines."
But I do know all I need to about the game of baseball. I know that it has helped mold my boy into the strong, confident young man he is today. I know it has taught him invaluable life lessons. He has learned from playing the sport that you play your hardest and do your absolute best, not just for yourself but because your teammates are depending on you. When faced with defeat or disappointment, you learn from it, rebound and turn it into a positive. And some of the clichés that parents and coaches love to preach — "There’s no ‘I’ in the word ‘team,’" "Hard work pays off," "Practice makes perfect" — ring true in baseball.
I’ve learned some things myself during those countless hours of practices and games. I’ve developed a lot more patience because, yes, a baseball game sure can drag on. I’ve learned humility (just because I think my kid’s the greatest thing since Chipper Jones doesn’t mean the other parents, or his coaches, think so). I’ve discovered that baseball parents make delightful friends. There’s something about being miserable together in less-than-ideal weather conditions while watching your boys play the game they love that creates lifelong bonds. We baseball parents truly are a family.
Even though my son’s beginning a new phase of his life as he moves on to college, I will remember these many years of youth and school baseball as some of our happiest. America’s national pastime truly has been a cherished family pastime for me. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Dianne Strahan is a freelance writer living in Richmond Hill. Her so, Brian, is a pitcher for the Richmond Hill High School Wildcats. Dianne’s looking forward to a new phase as a baseball mom next year as Brian continues his baseball career with the Piedmont College Lions.