Thank You, Little League

Every single year at this time, for the past decade of my life, I’ve participated in the ritual of calling a list of ten to twelve local families to notify them that their son is on my Little League baseball team. This year, however, will be my last. My youngest son (I have three) will age out of Little League after this season. An era of our lives together is coming to an end, and I’m feeling rather nostalgic about it.

Since nostalgia shouldn’t be wasted, I want to devote some thoughts to local Little League baseball. Consider this my tribute—my ‘thank you’ note. This year, I plan to soak up every single moment of it, to finally enjoy the losses as much as the wins, and to relax and bask in the relationships I’ve cultivated at the ballpark. Why do I love Little League? Let me count the ways.

First, thank you for a beautiful game. Roger Angell, the American essayist who is now 101 years old said it best, “Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.” We live in a world of hurry and deadlines. And though my wife and I have been known to put in frantic effort in trying to get to the park on time for practices or games, once we’re there—between the fences—everything slows down. Baseball is one of the only sports without a clock. It offers a reprieve from the rat race, a calm pasture for reflection and grace.

This beautiful game also connects us with our past. Angell also wrote, “Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors. This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our fathers’ youth.” When I throw the ball back-and-forth with my boys, I remember my father performing the same ritual with me in my backyard. There’s immense value in being connected to a tradition. When everything else is forcing us to look ahead, baseball keeps us rooted in a story that looks back.

I could go on and on here. In short, I believe baseball is the most beautiful game ever invented, and I’m a little romantic about it. Thank you, Little League, for giving me the excuse to be around this game.

Second, thank you for giving everyone a chance. I’ve coached amazing athletes. If I had to guess, some of the players I’ve coached will go on to play in college. Maybe some will even go further than that. But I’ll always remember the kids who got picked last in the draft—who showed up with no experience and minimal athleticism but were willing to work hard with a good attitude. To me, the kid who goes from unable to catch and throw to catching game-saving flyballs in the outfield is the real hero of the sport. Little League teaches kids that hard work and character can overcome a lot of disadvantages.

Third, thank you for forcing me to meet people in my community. In his 2018 book, Them, Senator Ben Sasse argued that one way to overcome the vitriol of partisan politics is to get involved in one’s community. He said that what we’re missing in America is “that hometown-gym-on-a-Friday-night feeling.” Partisan shrieking takes over when people no longer feel connected to their local communities.

When I’m at the ballpark, I’m surrounded by families I’ve grown to know and love. I can let my kids run around, knowing that there are watchful eyes I trust all around. When I’m at the ballpark, I never think about how anyone voted. I feel at home. I feel like I belong. I’m going to miss that.

Finally, thank you for giving me an excuse to spend more time with my sons. Parenting is hard. Sometimes it feels like all I ever do is get onto them. Baseball has provided me an outlet to spend unhurried time with each of them. We’ve had talks about hard work and character and how to handle disappointment. We’ve approached the baseball diamond as a practice field for life. I’ve been able to walk them through how to deal with mean-spirited teammates, how to work through the heartache of feeling like you haven’t been treated fairly, and how to lead others.

Most of all, we’ve talked about Jesus. I’ve tried to teach each of them that the pattern for all of life is the one who sacrificed everything to save us. We trust him for salvation. We imitate him in life. Thanks, Little League. I’ll never forget these memories.

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