Before you read further, you have to understand that there are people who love baseball, and there are those who despise it.
I am the former.
I am the guy who watches Field of Dreams, the classic 1989 film starring Kevin Costner, at least two or three times every month; less for the actual baseball content, but more for what baseball represents: faith, forgiveness and redemption; three things that we, as Jews, need to have plenty of this time of the year.
It may sound a tad clichéd, but to me, baseball is a metaphor for life where, sometimes you will succeed, other times you will strike out. In baseball, as in life, you often find yourself frantically running in circles with the common goal of just getting home safely.
At this time in the Jewish calendar when it’s all about self-awareness, introspection, reflection and new beginnings, it is baseball that again, has me thinking.
You see, my 14-year-old son Eli, who in all objectivity and neutrality is an ace pitcher; and a southpaw at that, and a defensive stalwart at second base, has played organized ball for years while I have had the great good fortune to be one of Eli’s coaches for much of it. For some reason, and perhaps taking it for granted, I expected it to last forever.
As the proverb goes: “God laughs when we make plans”.
Recently, while deciding what team he wanted to pitch for next season, Eli, with a suddenly serious and mature look on his usually laughing punim, looked at me and said simply, “Dad, I don’t want to play baseball anymore.”
Baseball, which was everything to Eli and I, and an activity that bonded us since he was four or five, was suddenly in the wind. I remember it like yesterday, hitting him a hundred ground balls, a hundred fly balls in our backyard when he was no taller than the bat, and man, was he good!
In this season of reflection, I found myself stunned by his news, and a bit sad; perhaps melancholy, thinking about how something that was so important to both of us, suddenly has gone the way of his old toys and his once beloved Batman mask; things that were once so vital to his happiness, becoming useless trash.
I guess it was inevitable, but I never thought it would happen to me; I mean him. I mean me. I was told for years not to complain about the insane schedule, the two-a-week practices; the travel to places like St. Thomas, Ont. and Stratford for tournaments. I was told that, believe it or not, when it stops, I’d miss it.
Last season ended just two months ago, and it’s the time of year when the Raptors and Leafs have my attention rather than the Blue Jays, but already I miss being part of Eli’s baseball “career”.
Knowing that next summer will be without his baseball doesn’t seem real. What will we do with those warm summer nights if we’re not at the diamond?
As disappointed as I am with his decision, I am more proud of it. It is a clear indication that he is growing up; he’s maturing, and figures it’s time for him to look for other opportunities. He’s even thinking about (GASP!) looking for a job!
Maybe it’s the time of the year. Could it be that my baby boy is having moments of self-awareness and reflection as we enter 5780?
I think about his shocking decision every day, and subconsciously expect him to break out our gloves and a beautiful new, white baseball with its 108 red stitches gleaming, while he throws it to me shouting, “I was just kidding dad, I can’t wait for next season!”
But, alas, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. So, while my 14-year-old boy reflects on his young life and looks to the future and new opportunities, perhaps it’s time I also do some self-reflection and make sure that I am equipped to handle his growth – both physical and spiritual – and that I grow and change as much as Eli has, just so I can keep pace with him. After all, he’s going to need me for a lot more than baseball moving forward.
Besides, my daughter is only 10 and throws a mean fastball.