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The Language of Baseball

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SCOTT BENNER
Scott Benner

The following is an excerpt from Scott Benner's award-winning parenting memoir, Life Is Short, Laundry Is Eternal: Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Dad. Life Is Short reveals how experiencing his family from the traditional perspective of a mother has taught Benner to be a better parent, partner and son while helping him to resolve his own feelings about the broken relationship that he experienced with his father.

BASEBALL, PART II

Baseball gives many fathers and sons the ability to connect, but it also provides the opportunity to draw parallels to which your son can relate. I often find myself talking with Cole about life in baseball terms, and I think that for him it makes hearing the lessons that he needs more relatable and easy to absorb.

Recently Cole hit his first batting practice home runs during an all-star tryout. He has played on our town's all-star team with the same great bunch of boys for years. Every summer for six or so weeks those boys eat, sleep, and live baseball together. They practice nearly every day to play in a local tournament that, if won, will lead them to a regional, which could lead to a state and beyond. It's all part of the Little League Baseball system and is taken quite seriously in youth baseball circles. Prior to this tournament in the late spring, there is a tryout for a team such as this in almost every town across the country. I'm proud to say that Cole has been an all-star every year since he was seven years old.

Cole has come very close in a number of games this spring to hitting a home run, but it wasn't in a game that he hit his first few--it was in batting practice during his all-star tryout. There is a big difference between hitting a ball off a pitcher in a game and hitting one from a coach who is throwing the ball right down the plate to you. Nevertheless, this was the first time that Cole was able to move the ball through the air with enough proficiency that it cleared the two-hundred-foot fence. I was excited for him, not because these were home runs, because technically they were not, but excited because he reached another goal that he set for himself. He hit a ball over the fence on the field that he's played on for most of his life. Not really a home run, but a memory he doesn't want to forget for sure.

It's rather customary for children to keep the home run balls that they hit over the fence. I wasn't sure if Cole would want these particular balls because they weren't hit in a game, but I retrieved them just in case. I passed Cole as I walked back to where Kelly and I were sitting; he was now on the field playing his position. I spoke to him through the fence and asked, "Do you want to keep these?" He turned his head just so slightly and grinned ever so slimly so as not to look too excited in front of his teammates, a few of whom had already hit home runs in actual games. He nodded his head yes, just enough so that I could see, and I smiled back and said, "Do you want just the first one or all three?" He held three fingers at his side without looking back at me. He knew that the boys were going to give him crap for keeping those balls, but he wanted them anyway. With that I was now proud of him for something else, for being his own person.

The next day Cole told me that many of the boys on his team gave him some good-natured ribbing about keeping the batting-practice home run balls. They teased him a bit about it and gave him their opinions about the matter, as boys will do. Cole just laughed along with them knowing that they really didn't care, they were just doing what friends do, acting like boys and busting balls just like he and I do sometimes when we throw. He loves being a part of that club and didn't seem in any way put off by the hazing that he was receiving.

Still, as his father, it's my job to ensure that my child is experiencing this banter in a healthy way. The next time we were alone, I brought up the subject so we could talk about it. Not unexpectedly, when I told him I was proud, he minimized the accomplishment. Instead of disagreeing, I gave him the respect that his feelings deserved and told him that I understood that he didn't feel like they were real home runs. We spoke about goals and surpassing and setting new ones. He agreed that now that he knew he could clear the fence his new goal was to do it in a game. I nodded to indicate that I thought he was right, and then gently asked what the boys on the team said to him about his keeping the balls after the tryout.

He told me what each had said and that he knew they meant it a little but that he believed at the same time that they were just messing with him in a friendly kind of way. I was happy that he wasn't being oversensitive, and I told him again how proud I was of him for not buckling to peer pressure. I smiled to myself knowing that he was well on his way to being his own man.

Then, I told him the story about that big plastic bat when he was three. He'd heard it before, but this time I told the story from my perspective instead of from his, letting him know how my heart sees our life together. When I finished telling Cole how excited Kelly and I were when he found a sport that he'd love on that day so long ago, he asked why, and I told him, "Because we love you so much and we want you to have every great experience that you can." He liked that answer, and then we both became a little quiet.

Cole broke the silence by saying that he still felt weird for taking the balls home after he hit them out during batting practice. "Maybe," I said, "maybe one day if you have children, you'll get to take your son into your backyard and have a catch with him. You could take one those balls out of a drawer and make your own memory with your boy. Tell him how this ball was the first one his daddy ever hit over a fence, explain to him about setting goals, and the hard work and the perseverance that it takes to reach them. Be sure to tell him how you felt when you reached your goal and how excited you were to set a new one." I paused, then added, "Maybe you can tell him about us and all of the great times that we had having a catch in the yard you grew up in. Then, use that ball to teach him to love baseball the way you do, and the way I do when you are with me. Tell him that it isn't the game that you love most--not the stories or the heroes, the close games, or the big wins. Show him that this game means more than all of that to the fathers and sons who experience it together and know that, wherever I may be, I'm thinking of you and me and all of the 'thwaps' that we made together."

Those three balls are now displayed in a case on Cole's bedroom wall. They are waiting patiently until it's time to make another little boy feel what only baseball can ... and waiting to help my son learn what it means to be a father.

Excerpted from LIFE IS SHORT, LAUNDRY IS ETERNAL by Scott Benner. Copyright © 2013 by Scott Benner. Excerpted with permission by Spry Publishing LLC.