Night had fallen and the tall bright lights shone on the diamond like a sun dawning. It had rained off and on and off the whole evening, which began before 7 with excitement and enthusiastic tension as my son’s team took to the field for his division’s World Series game 1.
My son started playing baseball last fall, so his development as a player is a little behind most of the players, who’ve been suiting up and at-bat for years. Still, he tries and he tries and he works hard to catch up on his skills.
His two teams have been encouraging and kind. When my boy gets up to bat and fears the fast ball flying his way, no one criticizes, no one shakes their head as if to say, why is he on my team?
He bought special sunglasses that won’t slide off in sweaty games so he can look straight up into the setting sun when the ball comes his way deep in the outfield. His heart, his soul are in it.
Last night, the two teams were well-matched. Boys between 11 and 14, of varying heights and talents, ready to play the first game of the final round of their season deep into summer.
We took to the field like champions, pulling ahead fast to a 6-2 lead. Parents and kids alike rested into the notion that we’d win this game, we’ll take the series, a little too soon.
My boy in the outfield caught the ball of a lifetime, the best of his short baseball career, and the coach and the players and the parents cheered him on because finally, he’d caught an important ball, and we saw how all of his hard work had paid off. He tipped his hat from the outfield in thanks.
We were riding such a baseball high that it was no surprise in the way that stories unfold that the other team pulled ahead to a 6-6 tie toward the end of the sixth inning. At this age, the kids play for just under two hours. Games stop at the bottom of the final inning as the clock ticks toward done.
Not this time. You can’t have a tie in a World Series baseball game.
Our umbrellas popped open and pulled closed and popped open and pulled close as the rain fell on our heads, dampening the dirt under their cleats.
It rounded nine o’clock and then 9:15 and we were in the 7th inning, and the 8th, and the 9th. Still tied, until the other team pulled forward in a burst of energetic skill to hit a 7th run. Then we were down by one with half an inning left, a last chance to bat ourselves into the lead.
Something happens deep in a game when you were winning and suddenly you’re not. The psychology of sport sends that surge of adrenaline to all your limbs and you hang low in fear of losing or burst forth with the energy of winning.
It doesn’t matter who’s better or who’s worse. That 11th hour athletic enthusiasm erupts and you play like you’ve never played.
It was close to 9:45 when we had two outs and a man on third. And it was my boy’s turn at-bat.
All eyes on him. Cheers and hoots and encouragement and nail-biting. He took the bat in his hands and approached the plate.
I don’t remember what happened, but the game ended after my son’s turn and we lost. The coach high-fived him because it would have been undeniable pressure for anyone to be the last at-bat. Not his fault. You can’t lose a game on one person.
Still. He dissolved in tears outside the dugout, I lost the game for everyone, his burdened refrain.
No, he didn’t. We told him over and over, it’s never one person’s fault or success that causes a team to win. Still. His tween hunched shoulders burrowed in sorrow, his brow furled and dampened by tears. My poor sweet boy. Taking it for the team.
When I coached soccer, I told the kids the cliche that there’s no I in team. There isn’t. We rise and fall on the collective effort and dedication of all of us – never just one. There are those moments when you make the perfect catch deep in the outfield or strike out at-bat with everything to lose.
But you’re not alone on a team. You play for the collective soul, winning it – or losing it – for everyone. If we ever dare to point the finger at one particular player then we’ve forgotten the point of it all.
These sweet young souls, they’re learning first-hand the importance of the big picture, the necessity of every player on that field, every position, even the ones waiting in the wings to relieve the superstars, every single person playing the role they’re uniquely intended for.
No I in team. We are never truly alone.