season's end {life}

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Tonight we play what might be our last game of the baseball season. It's tournament time. Win and we go on. Lose, and know. There may be a consolation game, but we can't count on it.

I realize that I may lose a lot of you with this post (except Erin!), but knowing that this blog is written as much for my family as for a larger audience, I could not not mark this significant passage in our boy's life. The end of his first baseball season.

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It was good.

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It's a fascinating thing to watch your child become a part of something that's separate from you. To watch him stretch and grow. I mentioned last week how impressed we were that he wanted to try baseball at all, when all these kids have been at it for so much longer than he has. And yet there's some relief in being able to say you're the rookie. I know that's been true for us as his parents. "We're new at this. What happens next?" We're constantly asking. We couldn't have met a kinder group of people to sit with in the stands. I should take a picture of them tonight. Maybe I will.

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There have been some frustrations. A learning curve like you wouldn't believe. Most of these kids have been at this for five or six years. Cal, for six months. But he's gaining the fundamentals, and getting stronger each game. (And, as you can see, he loves to steal bases. Got lucky with a stand-up steal here.) The goal, for those of you who are new to baseball, is to tag on to each of those bases until you come "home." Home counts as one point. If you get tagged with the ball before you reach the base, well, then you're out. Only three outs before the other team gets a turn to score points.

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Also key to baseball is the batting order. Hitters bat based on their ability to make contact with the ball and get on base. The strongest hitters come at the top of the line down into the middle, with the very best batters batting 4th or so. The worse you are, the lower in the line up you go. At the start of the season, Cal was batting ninth out of 12 kids. By the end? He was consistently in the fifth spot.

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When their team is up to bat, the kids line the fence, yelling encouragement. "Come on kid, come on kid!"

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Half the fun has been watching them gel as a team.

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One of the things I admire most about my son is his willingness to try anything. Word got out at some point this season that he wanted to try to pitch, and people, let me tell you, pitching is hard. Your team is there to back you up on defense, but it is really you versus the batter. And you are standing alone on the mound. We've seen pitchers cry this season. I honestly don't know how their moms handle it! But Cal, even knowing the pressure, wanted to try. He almost had a chance earlier this year, and when it didn't pan out, well, it wasn't pretty. His coach mentioned to us at practice that he might be pitching at this last game of the regular season, and Neel and I held our breath. 

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And there he was at the start of the second inning, warming up on the mound.

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One of Cal's coaches saw me taking pictures and told me to come to the dugout (that's where the boys hang out during the game) to get some better shots. I'm so glad he did! It was so fun to hear his coaches holler suggestions out to the mound, to really coach him as he went. And I could see the changes immediately.

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And you know what? He did pretty well. Two walks (those are bad). A ground-out that he fielded himself (that's good!), and two strike-outs (that's really good!)! As soon as I swallowed the lump in my throat, I almost wanted him to pitch again!

Saturday's game was great, and about more than just Cal. Our kids started out behind against a great team and a tough pitcher. One of our guys (the one pretending to punch Cal in the photo above) is a phenomenal batter and pitcher himself. His dad has promised him $100 if he hits a homerun this year. (Baseball lesson #42: a homerun is when the batter hits the ball [usually] out of the field so that he can run all three bases to home and score a point. If there are runners on base, they score too.) As he walked to the plate for his last at bat, he says to his dad to go get some money. Someone in the stands (it may have been me, a-hem) yells, "Time to make your dad pay!" First pitch, first hit. Taps the fence and bounces over.

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Did I mention that there were runners on all three bases? Four runs scored. That's called a Grand Slam, my friends. It'll probably be the only and best one I see in my whole life.

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Ah, me. And now it's over. Uncomfortable bleacher seats, snack bar duty. Freezing cold and blistering heat. Running from homework to practice to shower to bed, a couple times a week. Angry, frustrated kid. Elated, over the moon kid. Batting practice, fielding practice. Build them up, try and keep them humble. It'll never be like this again. And I can't finish this post without saying something about his coaches. When your child is playing sports, you hope that you're blessed with good coaches. Men (or women) who get the sport and get your kid. Who know when to encourage and when to ride them a little harder and when to tease out a smile. Cal's had good coaches in the past and some bad ones too. These two men who coached his team this year were some of the best I've ever seen. Coaching is a labor of love, for sure, and an often thankless one. What they did for our boy and the whole team is pretty spectacular in my book. It was a wonderful introduction to baseball for our boy, and I have a hard time imagining it'll ever get better than this. Anyway, we'll do a camp and some clinics this summer, but now it's over. Until we start again next fall.