Winning is Everything. But so is Bonding.

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Editor’s Note: The image above is of the NC Dirtbags, sent in by Christopher Tuttle. They’re not the team this story is about. But such a cute pic, I wanted to use it somewhere. This story is reprinted with permission from Bleeding Yankee Blue. Win or lose…the brotherhood is what kids’ baseball is all about. 

My son recently went to a baseball tournament with his club.  12 kids with big dreams and a pretty decent ability to play. They stood on a field at 7:30 in the morning taking infield practice Saturday morning… the sun was just peaking through the trees and it was 32 degrees.

early morning baseball fog

The kids had on sweatshirts, newly drawn eye black on their faces… Eye of the Tiger blared on the field on a radio supplied by one of the coaches.  If you saw it, it would bring a tear to your eye… it was like a film.  If it was your kid out there… you’d be proud.

These kids have had a tough road this fall.  Nothing’s easy in baseball.  Lord knows, it’s a game of failure and this club has failed more than they’ve achieved… but one thing happened this weekend as they embarked on a new tournament… they were becoming a team.

Game 1 was a blow out and they almost looked lost in the field.  But every time a player came in after a pop up or ground out, the team was at the dugout entrance with their heads high, hands up, slapping helmets and high-fiving.  At that moment… the outs didn’t matter… they were starting to bond.

I know… you don’t get it if you don’t have a child that plays competitive sports. But every parent that was out in the stands in the freezing cold that morning did get it.  Sure, they wanted a win for their kids… but something was happening… the kids genuinely liked each other and loved playing with one another.  When they started to lose, they also felt for each other and tried their best to pick each other up.  At one point, I watched 3 players come up and 3 players strike out in the same inning, but each time they stepped into the box and until the last out, the dugout was on their feet pushing and praying for their teammate to get a hit. They wanted the win sure… but it was bigger. It was a support system and they learned it on their own. Sure, it’s probably almost too sophisticated for kids that age to think that way, but they were doing it, even if they didn’t realize it.

Game 2 was a tough fight and with it, there was hitting, run scoring, there were cheers and over all, the play was better than the previous game.  You almost couldn’t blame them for being alittle sluggish at this point though, they’d been on the field since early in the morning.  Some of the kids were yawning by 2 o’clock, but every pitch their heads were up and they were engaged.  There was yelling from the first baseman, “Two outs! Plays to first!”  At some points, the infield would be in to stop a run scoring, or, there were passed balls. But eventually, they’d get out of the inning.   Hitting started to become difficult for them.  That’s what happens in competitive ball.  Sometimes the other club just plays better. Soon enough, the game ended with another loss. The parents looked sad. The players looked upset, until one of the kids said, “A must win tomorrow!” under his breath. They packed up their stuff, and knew we had to win on Sunday.  No one talked about the games after that. No heads were down… the kids were professionals now.  It was a job and if they failed… they knew it. Individually, it would have been hard to swallow. As a team, they stood tall… win or lose.  As I watched them walking off the field with their big bags of equipment,they were smiling.  They patted each other on the shoulder, they even laughed alittle.  The parents were distraught.  Again, anyone who has a child knows… sometimes you want it more than the kid.  But the bond was clear. Sure, winning mattered, but they were forming a bond no one could take away.

Sunday afternoon was a different day.  Yesterday never happened. The team had showed up ready to play. More eye black and more confidence than the day before.  “This is unbelieveable”, I said to a parent. “They want it,” he said back to me… “They want this more than anything, but they’ll never show their true feelings… that’s a ballplayer, and I think it’s cool.” He said.

We had to win that Sunday afternoon.  The parents were in the stands wanting to see a huge victory.  More relatives showed up than the day before… this was big.  The pregame workout was incredible. Lose Yourself by Eminem was loud and every word meant something.  The kids never smiled… they were giving knuckles to each other, stoic… talking each other up and while tired… their mission was clear.  The bonding was big right now.  One of the kids, my son stepped up to catch a few innings because the night before one of the catchers got sick and couldn’t play.  The coach put his arm around him, looked him in the eye… “Thank you…have fun kid!” I was proud of that.

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They took the field and looked dynamic.  Coming to the plate, they were ready to hit, but almost too aggressive, and it was a 1, 2, 3 inning. We took the field again and played well and got out of the inning.  When we came up to the plate a second time, it was a different group of kids and a fresh confidence… and we scratched out 2 on good old fashioned run manufacturing.  It was brilliant actually.  Then… there were a few snags… a few errors, misplays, but they kept their heads high, never showing fear and distraction.  Our coach walked to the mound, only to be told by the pitcher they “wanted 1 more batter!” The coach backed up, hands raised and said, “Ok… Ok!”  He walked back to me and put his hand on my shoulder… “I love that!”  2 pitches later though, a 3 run home run over the fence.  It was a great pitch, but it was a great hit too… that’s baseball.

It took the wind out of our sails… but something happened… this team… this little team that wanted it so bad rallied behind that pitcher and did their best to fight back.  They tried, they battled, they fought hard… but it wasn’t enough… we lost. We were going home.

No individual was blame for this lost tournament.  They all were and they were OK with it.  Why you ask? Well, it’s hard to explain frankly.  Everyone wants to win, and those kids wanted it more than anyone this past weekend, but the bonding, the support and the experience was a helluva lot more important than any trophy or medal… they felt for each other, they liked each other and they tried their best… as a team. This is baseball and there is always another team that may have that little extra to pull ahead.  That happened.
We’ll get’um next time”, someone said. “When’s the next game?,” another kid asked.  “Can we have practice now?” another kid said.  We looked at them in disbelief… and we smirked. It could have been worse… they could have been crying, upset and wanting to quit… but  they were hungry for more.   And for those 48 hours… for them… being a team was better than winning.

I had to share this story with you, it’s true, and it’s absolutely sweet.  I don’t know, maybe because I’m in my 40’s and feel like I thought I’ve seen everything. These kids taught me something this past weekend though… I haven’t seen nothing yet.  I learned something new this weekend… even kids can teach adults… winning isn’t everything… friendships last a lifetime… that’s baseball too.

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