Last night our family experienced one of the best sporting moments we can remember.
This story isn’t just about baseball. It’s a story about doing something hard. It’s a story about making a tough choice. And it’s a story about hard work and determination.
The story starts with an 11-year-old kid who loves baseball.
He lives, breathes and thinks about baseball year round. He throws tennis balls against the fence in the middle of winter to work on his pitch. He counts down the days to the spring draft.
This year, he had a great evaluation and couldn’t wait to find out which team he would get to play for in the spring. When he got his team assignment, his heart sunk. He’s been on some good teams, and he’s been on some bad teams. He knows that a winning team isn’t always the “best” team to be part of. But he’s also had some really difficult coaching situations, and he knows how important it is to have a good coach. A coach who encourages kids and wants to help them improve their skills.
This new coach had a reputation for his style. While some kids love being part of his team, we aren’t big fans of an abrasive style of coaching. We knew we were going to have a really stressful spring not knowing how quickly we might sell our house. We also know that baseball is a huge commitment for our family. It’s numerous practices a week, and sometimes several two-hour games each week. We limit our other activities in the spring so our family can spend the weekends at the ball park. Our whole family invests a lot of time and energy into supporting one family member’s love of baseball.
We just didn’t have the emotional energy to spend the spring in a situation that could be very stressful with a coach who has a more negative approach. So we asked the league if there was any way our son could be moved to another team. They responded that the only thing we could do was pull him off the team and put him on a waiting list.
We talked to our 11-year-old and he immediately responded that he wanted to be pulled. We couldn’t believe it. We explained to him that it might mean no baseball this year. He would only get on a team if another player dropped out. He understood. But he said he was so anxious about going to practice with this coach that he would rather not play baseball.
It was a hard choice. And after we had e-mailed back our decision, I felt sick. For the next few weeks, we were in a bit of mourning, realizing that we might not be involved in baseball this year.
We also didn’t realize until a few days later that our decision might be perceived as a political maneuver on our part to try to manipulate the system to get our kid on a better team. I thought we could quietly take our kid off a team before the season started. My stomach was in knots when other baseball families were asking about what we had done. Still, we knew why we did what we did. And we were certain we did the right thing for our family.
One week before opening day, we got a call that Matthew had been put on a team. We knew immediately that we had made the right choice. The first sign was the e-mail we received from his new coach. He welcomed us to our new baseball “family” and said that he believes coaching is about more than baseball. His priorities are to help the kids develop good character. To encourage them academically. To help them become well-rounded individuals.
Since Matthew missed several weeks of practice, the coaches really didn’t know much about him. But we were impressed with how nice the other kids were. They welcomed him to their team and encouraged him.
His team lost game after game. By the time they had lost about eight games in a row, we asked Matthew if he regretted the decision to leave the other team. He responded that he definitely didn’t regret it. He was having one of his best baseball seasons yet. He was getting the opportunity to do a lot of pitching. He was having some great plays in the outfield, and he was having fun stealing bases. He had no regrets.
When it came time to play his original team, I begged him to just stay home that day. I hate conflict, and I was scared to death to even attend the game. That game confirmed our decision one more time. Our team had been behind, but was pulling ahead. The other coach (our original coach) started arguing with the umpire to the point that the ump called the game. We were ahead by two runs, but because the ump ended the game, we had to go back to the score at the beginning of the inning. It ended in a tie.
Fast forward to last night. The division is broken into three brackets for the playoffs. We were in the “bronze” bracket, meaning we were in the lower third of the teams. Our season had gotten off to a rough start, but our team was really coming together and had started winning a lot of games. We made it to the championship game of our bracket.
And guess which team we were up against?
By this time, our entire team was determined to win after what had happened the last time we played this other team.
Matthew started off pitching and threw three great innings, only giving up one run.
Both teams were playing great defense and the score was tied at only 1-1 at the end of the third inning. In the fourth inning, we put in a new pitcher. He did his best, but the other team came up from behind and had us down 6-1. Both teams were hitting the ball, but they were also playing great defense. We got to the bottom of the 7th and final inning and we were down 7-2. We were the last at bat.
At this point, I think most of the parents were ready to pack it up and concede defeat. This game looked like it was over.
Then our players started hitting. And hitting. They were hitting hard and scoring runs. The score was 7-6, and Matthew was up to bat. Matthew has been a strong hitter in the past, but the past few seasons, he has really struggled with his hitting.
The other team put in a new pitcher. Now he was facing an unknown pitcher and the pressure was on.
He stepped up to the plate and hit the very first pitch. It flew to left field, over the head of the outfielder. Another runner scored, and Matthew made it to second base.
The game was tied 7-7.
If Matthew has any strength in baseball, it’s that he is an extremely aggressive base runner. He loves to steal bases. This strength can also be a weakness because he is going to steal bases no matter what. This does not always have the best result.
But in this case, the kids on Matthew’s team said they saw that he was on third base with the score tied 7-7, and they had no doubt they were going to win. Matthew was going to steal home.
The next few pitches seemed like forever as Matthew taunted the pitcher, running back and forth ready to steal. All of the parents were a nervous mess, watching his aggressive style. Then he saw his chance. The ball left the pitcher’s hand, and Matthew was off. He made it home easily as the catcher tried to grab a missed ball.
We won the championship game.
The assistant coach picked Matthew up and all of his team mates were screaming his name. They gathered together for a picture and the other players told Matthew he should be the one to pose on home plate.
It was an amazing game with so many lessons. The team didn’t give up. Their determination was unreal.
But bigger than that, Matthew saw that he had made a good choice. He was faced with a hard decision at the beginning of the season, and it worked out in his favor. He saw that it was more important to be part of a team that worked together and encouraged each other to show character and kindness. And in the end, it paid off.
He learned that winning isn’t what’s most important. But sometimes, the good guys really do win.