The baseball season is over. When anything ends, there is always that familiar maelstrom of (often conflicting) emotions. I’m happy to get my evenings back, family dinners, and rejoin the groups where I have been absent. It’s awesome to not have to call to report scores, or line the field before games. It’s not as awesome, on the other hand, to be inside on this hot, sunny day and not on a ball field. I already miss the crack of the bat or the sound of a nice fastball hitting the glove. And I’m heartbroken that I don’t get to see the players and coaches every day anymore.
After the last game (a loss), I gave a game ball to one of the players I had coached for several years and would never again. He was 1 of 3 of in that category. They are 3 of the finest young men you’ve ever had the pleasure to know. So that’s hard. It was also the last game where I would be my oldest son’s coach. That’s way too much to sit with for too long, but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? If we don’t spend that time, it stays kind of hidden in the corner of our hearts until…right? Who knows what it takes or when, but it simply has to be addressed. That’s what I did. I sat with that box of memories and I cried and cried, and then I laughed and thanked God that I had the opportunity for so long and that it may be the last for us together, but it is not the last for him. And it’s not the last for me.
Here’s another thing: The umpires quit before the season was over! They resigned because of the behavior they were forced to endure night after night. I wouldn’t consider myself one of their biggest fans as officials, but I am generally a fan of human beings and am always a fan of interacting with respect and love. This puts me and the team I coach squarely in the minority. Apparently, the online culture of aggression and arrogance has left the screens and stormed the fields.
Now, I am not pretending that bad behavior didn’t exist, but like everything else in 2020 (and now -21), the pandemic and it’s partner isolation turned up the volume on the loneliness, anxiety and fear that breeds this selfish nastiness and lack of self-control. Nearly every night, there were new stories. I probably would’ve quit, too.
I know the root of the aggression and arrogance is inadequacy and insecurity. We find our identity in wins and losses, as if youth sports were the Great Arbiter of Truth. Youth sports is a lot of things, but distributor of worth isn’t one. Yet we keep asking it to do what it can’t. Of course, the kids sometimes act like monsters (because they sometimes are monsters), but they’re teenagers. They’re looking to the coaches to expect more from them. I’m not sure we’re not desperately looking for someone to tell us we’re so much better than these embarrassingly low standards we’ve accepted. And the coaches are acting like monsters (because they’re looking, too) and it’s a snowball that is rolling down a steep hill into the garbage dump of history.
I happen to be one of those lucky few that is very rarely tied to “how it used to be,” and especially in this case, if this is how it used to be, I say let it die and let’s start fresh. We can and should forget where it has mutated. Instead, let’s keep the amazing parts and trash the rest, and make something new and awesome in it’s place.
We can still call it youth sports, if you want to.