Baseball in Chicago is more than just a game

They were the Bad News Bears of pee-wee baseball.

Last spring, my husband and I nervously registered our two oldest boys for America’s favorite pastime. We weren’t exactly the traditional baseball family. My husband’s side is comprised of thick Irishmen custom-made for the gridiron. Conversely, my people are tall, lanky Lithuanians designed for playing basketball and eating kugala.

Baseball was simply not in our blood.

Despite our trepidation, we headed to the boys’ first game fully prepared to enjoy a beautiful April afternoon and a hilarious comedy of errors.

Inning after inning, the kids kept us in stitches. Nobody could catch, throw or pitch worth a lick. It was as though the league had taken every child selected last in gym class and compiled them into one awesomely bad team.

But the coaches?

They were freaking All-Stars.

With the patience of a thousand Mother Teresas, these volunteers calmly explained and demonstrated the elements of the sport. Then they explained and demonstrated them again.

Every practice.

Every game.

Over and over and over.

If a kid wanted to pitch, he pitched. If another kid wanted to play first base, he played first base. It didn’t matter how awful or unnatural the child was, the coaches had a laser-sharp focus on learning, and not on winning. Parents took their cues from these Zen-like leaders who never once yelled or humiliated young players as they slowly and steadily gained confidence.

The team gelled. With no clear superstar, no pressure to be perfect and nowhere to go but up, there was an amazing camaraderie and sense of fun. The parents bonded. There was plenty of laughing. Everybody looked forward to the games, win, lose or draw.

And that’s when the miracle happened.

The boys did start to win.

A lot.

They faced far superior teams, ones where words like “travel league” and “scholarship opportunities” were batted about. But the Bad News Bears kept pulling it out in dramatic fashion.

Parents were dumbfounded. It wasn’t as though any of our children were exceptional athletes, yet together? They were unstoppable, often rattling off six or seven runs whenever someone from the other team pointed out they were down. Opponents warned others: DON’T TELL THE BAD NEWS BEARS WHEN THEY’RE LOSING OR THEY START HITTING LIGHTS OUT!

The coaches just nodded and smiled.

It was as though they knew this would happen all along.

Although our team would ultimately lose in the championship game, my sons still talk about last season with such excitement and enthusiasm that I know this experience will stay with them forever. They have been taught that being bad at something is only permanent if you walk away. They have learned why it is better to lift teammates up instead of tearing them down. They have been introduced to a model of leadership rooted in kindness and caring instead of cut-throat competitiveness.

I wish every Little League parent out there at least one magical season. When it comes down to it, there is just so much more to be learned from baseball than fast balls and foul tips.

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