“Swing the bat, son!” It was the fourth game of the season and Dave had yet to get a base hit. Worse than that, he had yet to swing the bat. What had happened to my future all-star in the big leagues? He had impressed everyone the year before with his hitting abilities.
Sure, the kids were pitching the ball now instead of the coach, but the concept was the same. Boy pitches ball. Boy hits ball. It seemed so simple to me.
For some reason, this little change caused momentary paralysis in my son every time he stepped to the plate. He could hit every thing I threw at him. Hours had gone into his batting practice. Then when the moment to perform came, so did the baseball version of stage fright.
“Strike three!” The umpire didn’t have to yell so loud. Especially as Dave ducked his head and shuffled over to the dugout.
My heart ached at his shame. In every other element of the game, Dave was a standout. He could pitch with the best the nine and ten year old league had to offer. If an opponent hit the ball his way, they knew they were as good as out. But when Dave was at the plate, the other team knew it was an easy out.
I figured it was time for some dad psychology. I knew it wasn’t his form or ability. It was his confidence.
“Son, what happens when it’s your turn to bat?”
“I strike out, dad.” Frustration filled his voice.
“What would happen if you swung the bat when it was your turn?”
“I might hit it. But I might strike out too.”
“That’s right, you might strike out. But you are guaranteed to strike out if you don’t swing. Next time you get to bat, swing at anything that comes near you. If you strike out, at least you will go down swinging.”
The next game was the test. Dave stepped up to the plate, tapped the base with his bat and looked down at the third base coach for the signal. We didn’t have any signals but the other team didn’t know.
The pitcher looked in for the sign, shook his head, spit, then nodded. The stretch, the wind up, the pitch!
“Swing, son, swing.” I pleaded under my breath. “You can do it.”
So much for dad psychology.
“Craaacckkk!” I looked up at the sound. My son had gotten a hit! You could see the confidence in every step he took around the bases.
The season flew by and is now just a vague memory. Nobody remembers the number of games won or lost. Dave can’t tell me how many hits he eventually made. The screaming mothers and sideline coaches have found other people to torment. The only thing remaining is the relationship between a father and his son.
The innocence of childhood will one day be gone. Little league baseball will provide only a smile and a few memories in the years to come. Hopefully a subtle message of how to overcome fear will last a lifetime.
The fear of rejection has caused many people to never give their dream a shot. Take a lesson learned from a youth’s baseball game.
Swing the bat.