Thirty-seven years later, I finally get it.
I’ve spent my life around sports.
For as long as I can remember — probably since the age of 6 — when there was a chance to play a sport, whether it be in a neighborhood pick-up game, rec leagues or in high school, I was a part of them. Until last year, I played adult rec league softball to feed my competitive nature. Throw in 15 years as a prep sports writer and there have not been many days where sports have not been in the forefront of my life.
I’ve experienced some great moments — personal memories that will last until I’m old and gray — and witnessed some amazing ones, as well. But what I was able to be a part of last Thursday night will forever trump them all.
Standing in the third base coach’s box, I watched my 3-year-old son Cooper step up to the plate for the very first time.
Pressure. He knew none.
Nor did he know the excitement and anxiety his mom, grandparents, Aunt Tessa and I shared at that very moment. He was just a little boy playing his first game of T-ball, without a care in the world.
As the coach readied the pitch — there was no tee needed for this moment, just the ball — I held my breathe in hopes that all would go well. “Just let him make contact,” I thought to myself.
Now, this is where I know as a parent, I tell you how he turned on the pitch with his sweet Ken Griffey Jr.-like lefty swing and launched a shot to right-center that one hopped the fence, clearing the bases as he plunged into the dirt at third with a patented Pete Rose head-first slide. Believe me, there is a place in my head where that’s exactly how it happened.
But that was not the case.
Instead, he slapped that first pitch on the ground, back up the middle; dropped the bat and ran his little heart out to first. No error was made on the play. Five kids did not collide going after the ball. It was a legit single — and a beautiful one at that.
Looking back at it, being the third-base coach, I’m pretty sure I told the runner on third to run home and the runner on second to come to third. But, you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t promise I remembered to do all that. Because, for those first 10 seconds or so after that pitch, nothing else in the world mattered.
Coop stood on first beaming with joy — later pointing out in a photo his mom took how the little boy playing first would not get off the bag and was in his way — and it took every ounce of constraint in my body not to run across the field to celebrate with him as if he had just won the World Series. Instead, we exchanged thumbs up, until he could work his way around the bases to me at third so I could give him a proper hug.
It took me years to accept that sports were not just about winning and losing — though, as I quickly heard from the older brother of one of our players after the game, the Oregon Park Reds did whip up on the OP Dodgers pretty good. And I know they are not about the popularity, the scholarships or big league dreams. I’ve known there is something more to the game than all that.
(LEFT: Not even 37 years of sports would prepare me for 10 seconds of my 3-year-old’s first T-ball game.)
On Sept. 6, 2012, I discovered exactly what “more” is. And I have a 3-year-old to thank for that.
There are moments in our lives that cannot fully be explained. Where the joy and happiness we have while doing something seemingly so trivial as compared to all the important things in our lives, outweighs all reasoning. Sports provide us with some of those moments.
In the years to come, Coop won’t remember the hit. He won’t remember what it was like running to the base for the very first time; getting that hug from me at third; crossing home plate to score his first run; or the pride Carmen, her family and I shared in watching it all happen. But I know he will experience that feeling of pure joy again — in sports and in other facets of life — and as a parent, I’m not sure one could ask for more.