Thursday, May 28, 2009

Staying In There

   Our Little League season has once again come to an end. My son's has anyway. Funny how we add ourselves to the possessive collective. "We" win or "we" lose. "We," the taco-boat eating, cola drinking bleacher contingent. We know our positions: second row of the bleachers, close enough to the batter to get into trouble with the plate umpire. We never actually stepped up to the plate or fielded any grounders. No hits, no runs, no errors. Our kids put their bodies and dreams on the field, but still it was our team too, collectively. And we lost the first two playoff games. Double elimination. Nothing left now but the pool party. That, and a little reflection on the season that was.

   This year, our son moved up to the Minor A division, which meant bigger kids, and faster, harder pitches. This was an adjustment that didn't come easily for our little leaguer. From the first practice game and then into the season, he developed the bad habit of stepping out of the batter's box on strike pitches. His eyes were telling him the pitch was in the danger zone, so as a matter of self preservation, he would back away from a potential bean ball only to hear the umpire growl "striiiiike!" Again and again.
   The coach talked with him, encouraging him to "stay in there." The coach talked to us. We talked to the coach. My son and I logged a lot of hours at the batting cages where he would confidently slug away at the machine pitched balls. We were given many suggestions. Stand a little further away from the plate. Wear a rib protection undershirt. One father suggested that I take him to the park and fire a bucket full of tennis balls right at him. Normally more of an offensive player, my son became increasingly less and less a fan of the plate, and instead enthusiastically developed his defensive skills, which was a positive side effect. 

   Eventually, when his batter's eye adjusted, the problem went away, but first there were a few weeks worth of games with the coach, my wife and I, and even some other parents, routinely encouraging my son through the chain link fence to "be a hitter" and to "stay in there." There were times when I wished that I could download the confidence I held for him into into his own young psyche, to help him to see that the monster he was wrestling with was not as terrible as it appeared. I knew that he was more than capable of staying in there, confronting the pitch and getting quality hits.

   Of course, we didn't speak much of the real possibility that he might indeed get tagged by a pitch. Every time that I encouraged him to "stay in there" I was acutely aware of the fact that it was his body on the line, not mine. Easier said than done. He never said it, but I wouldn't have called him on it. It's funny how we chant these mantras of affirmation with the hope that what we speak will become reality. Wouldn't it be nice if it was that easy? 

   How would it be for my kids to follow me around during my day, watching me take the field in my game? It would start with the 5 am cell phone alarm.

Son: Come on Dad. Hustle up. Be a provider, now.

Daughter A: Alright Daddy! Find those car keys.

It would continue during the commute.

Daughter B: Good merge Daddy! Take the fast lane! Take the fast lane!

   Throughout the day I would see them, the kids and the wife, just beyond my cubicle, sipping iced sodas, eating churros and hot dogs, watching my every move, my every play.

Wife: Let's go, honey! Get in the game! Don't be surfing the internet!

Daughter A: Hey Daddy, hey Daddy, hey Daddy - EARN!

   And of course, I would depend upon them to keep me focussed on the fundamentals. Difficult customer? Losing patience?

Son: That's OK Dad. God loves him. Offer it up.

   Maybe my department is going through a stressful period, or a co-worker is struggling with a physical or emotional burden.

Daughter B: Alright, Daddy! Let's hear some intercessorary chatter out there.

Son: Yeah, Dad, be aggressive!. Let's pray!

Daughter A: Go, Daddy! Be a pray-er!

   This scenario is actually not that far fetched when I consider that our unseen God and the community of saints and angels are ever present in even my most insignificant hour. I do have fans in the bleachers cheering me on. And the love and prayers of my wife and kids place them in those same virtual bleachers. I am not alone. None of us are. We only need eyes to see and ears to hear. Our God believes in us, and in every moment of temptation, doubt, or fear, our heavenly fan base is rooting for us, encouraging us to step up to the plate in the face of our largest trials, and to find the faith to "stay in there" swinging for the fences.