Thursday, April 14, 2011

My View from the Ballpark: Opening Weekend

A pint in my hand, oak under my elbows and back-to-back jacks by Bautista and Lind on the big screen – its opening night and the Blue Jays are off to a fantastic start. Add two more dingers from the young catcher, a double-digit score and we’ve got an opening day win.

Game 2. Two more deep balls and Kyle Drabek, the much-hyped rookie pitcher gets his first Major League W in his first Major League appearance.

Game 3. My boys and I are on the train into the city. It’s filled with people going to the game. They’re young and old and come from all walks of life. The woman in the seat beside me asks the boys about their favourite players and tells us that her family has attended Opening Day for years. Her son, who is now grown and lives in Washington, can’t join them in person, but a flurry of texts throughout the game keeps their family connected.

This is what I want for my boys when it comes to sports. I want family traditions. I want fun. I want them to appreciate the joy that can come from being a sports fan and in particular a baseball fan. Sure, when they start to get a firmer grip on skills and strategy I look forward to debating long term solutions to the turnstile that is third base. But for now, while they’re young, I want them to enjoy the pleasures of baseball. Check that - I want more for them than fun and fandom; I want them to benefit from the lessons that can be found in the game.

I try to focus on the good. Not that it’s all that difficult; when you’re hanging out with your kids at the ball game, it isn’t very hard to do. So we share hot dogs. We delight when a Brett Cecil warm up ball ends up as our souvenir. We discuss which way the players have to run around the bases (my guys are still quite young!). And we generally just enjoy the day - taking it all in, singing cheers, chanting player’s names, donning our rally caps, doing the wave. It’s time well spent.

A few months from now, my boys will probably remember little beyond the Bautista Bobblehead they received on the way into the park, but I’m holding out hope that something further sticks. What I’ve learned as a dad is that sport provides a context for those bigger life lessons – our days at the games give us common ground and language. It’s difficult for a six year old to appreciate the importance of school. Baseball provides a context for me to help him understand. The notion that these professionals still take batting practice as part of their job helps me illustrate for my boys that we can always be learning and improving. And with practice comes success.

The education of my sons is a work in progress. Like a team moving toward that ultimate goal, there are a number of skills we need to master if we hope to succeed in life. I hope to use baseball as a platform to discuss, among other things, values such as patience, teamwork, perseverance, sacrifice, determination, humility, confidence, pride.

Baseball may be just a game, but it can be more than that – what’s important is where you place the emphasis. I’m looking forward to watching this season unfold, for the love of the game, and for the love of my boys.

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