Little League baseball involves one of those questions I've wondered about from time to time. As a child I never had the opportunity to play, so I was excited when my 5-year-old, Christopher, decided to play T-ball. I was just as thrilled when my 9-year-old daughter declared that she wanted to play Little League.
It was a YMCA league, so we knew the games would be more for fun than hard-core competition. Coeducational teams seemed just the ticket for our tomboyish Jennifer. When we signed up we were told that no playing experience was required.
The day of the first practice I took Jen to a second-hand store, where she carefully selected a glove from the pile of well-worn mitts. The entire family was excited as we accompanied her and Chris to their first practice.
About five minutes after I arrived, I began to have a terrible feeling we had made a mistake. Around the diamond was a group of 9- and 10-year-old boys fielding and throwing balls like old pros. Their appearance, the well-worn cap, the cocky way they yelled at the batter, the easy motion of throwing, showed that most weren't novices. To top it off, Jennifer was the only girl.
There she stood, away from the other players, her just-bought used glove dangling from her hand. The coach arrived and began working with the team, testing how each player hit and fielded. Every time Jen swung the bat and missed, her face grimaced with the fear that she wasn't measuring up to the others. The boys were polite. Too polite.
On the way home Jen announced that she was going to quit. She knew what Dad would say and listened patiently while I gave her my lecture about never giving up and once you've started something you must see it through. She pursed her lips but didn't argue. Even to me the words seemed a bit shallow.
At the next practice the coach put her on third base. I cringed as I remembered playing that position in a physical-education class in college and the pounding I took. Soon it happened-a hard ground ball toward third. She placed her body in front of the ball like I had told her. The ball took a bad bounce and hit her hard in the chest.
Undaunted, she scooped up the ball and threw it toward first base, where it landed about six feet in front of the first-baseman. She hung her head and clenched her fist like she does when she's embarrassed.
I was developing a new respect for the determined little girl out there playing ball. She had taken the best shot anyone could give her. She took it head on and shook off the pain and followed through with her throw.
There were no tears, no excuses, only a resolve to do better, to get it to the first-baseman next time.
One day she asked why the shortstop kept cutting off line drives that were obviously hers to field. She knew that he was a better fielder, but it was only fair that she get her chance to make the play. I explained to her the facts of life about baseball. The boys might tolerate her, but, on the baseball diamond as in life, respect was something you earned.
She struggled through each practice and weekly game. Each week she improved. In one of the first games she hit a single and threw off her batting helmet because she felt it slowed her down. The next batter hit the ball, and she raced for second base just in time for the line drive to smack her in the head. She barely broke stride and was safe.
I was angry at her for not wearing the helmet, but secretly I admired her tight-jawed determination.
About halfway through the season I noticed a subtle acceptance beginning to take place. She had earned her place on the team. At one game I made the mistake of showing up with my camera and taking pictures. Her eyes flashed as she informed me that she didn't want to be singled out from the rest of the team in any manner.
By the end of the season Jen's batting average was about in the middle of the pack. She still had a hard time fielding pop flies, and her throws to first tended to land a little short. She tenaciously stopped line drives the hard way. All the parents would sit around in lawn chairs and on blankets and cheer the kids. Whenever Jen got up to bat, her jaw set, some stranger from the crowd would shout, "Come on, Jennifer!"
Teaching right values
Christians worry about how the deterioration of values in our society affects our children. God wants us to counteract the many wrong influences impacting our children by instructing them in proper values, His values. God tells us in Deuteronomy 6:5-7: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (emphasis added).
Teaching our children the values of hard work, honesty, integrity, perseverance, respect toward others and love of God doesn't come just by lecturing information into their brains. These values are learned by living them. All the talk of Christian values is meaningless unless we daily share the actions of these values in the lives of our families.
In the process of living them-in the house, by the way, when we lie down and when we rise up-we parents may find that we learn as much as our children do.
I can't tell you how many games Jen's team won that year. Sometimes we would get home and realize that none of us even knew the score. But I'll never forget that after the first game-when I went to a scared, embarrassed 9-year-old and told her that, since she had completed one game, if she wanted to quit I would understand-she was determined to finish the season.
And what a season it was! GN