My father coached all four of us at Sandy Plains starting with my oldest brother’s tee ball team in 1987 to my last season in the Colt league in 2002.
Although my dad loved the game of baseball (some would say obsessively)- he did so especially because it provided him time and memories with his sons. There were times when all 4 of us were playing that I honestly think we spent more time during the weekends at Harrison Park than we did at home- perfectly fine with me.
Connecting with your children is so critical but also so difficult; this is where baseball is so special. Looking back I remember and cherish the conversations we had traveling for all-star games just as well as the game itself. While I know there are other ways of doing this, to me there is something special about the game of baseball that connects father and son unlike any other sport or activity.
My older brother and I would both go on to play college football. Despite successes on a national scale my dad’s favorite moment in sports was when he coached me in the Georgia Little League playoffs in Dalton (circa summer 1995). We had a few wins that set us up against a very tough team and they were shutting us down through five innings. When they relieved a lefty who looked to us like a young Tom Glavine with a hard throwing righty my teammates all looked visibly scared. Whenever my dad would tell this story he’d always preface that the pitcher looked like he drove himself to the game and bought the first round after it. He was launching brush backs that would’ve shaken most high schoolers- let alone 11 or 12 year olds.
My dad pulled me aside when I was on deck and challenged me to be that leader that my teammates needed. I will never forget what he told me then. He said that “All it takes sometimes is one person with one swing to change an entire game- don’t focus on the scoreboard, just focus on making contact”. He gave me the confidence at that moment to face my fears, walk up to the box and turn on the first inside pitch- sending a frozen rope right pass the pitcher’s head. My teammates responded and we went from down by four in the last inning to winning a game that no one thought possible right before that hit.
I knew after that game that I was permanently changed. I knew what it felt like to face your fears and not back down. There have been so many times I have applied this and will always bring it back to that moment I’m walking to the plate to stare down a great challenge- from being an Army Officer leading troops in combat to taking risks in business that seemed daunting to most.
There is no question in my mind that young men that learn through baseball the importance of challenging yourself, taking risks where you might lose, and facing your fears take these lessons far beyond our Nation’s Favorite Pastime. My dad, Coach John, knew this and knew it was important that his sons experienced it.
I could tell stories for days about my dad and baseball. There is one though that everyone around him knew was his life mantra to his kids or any of our friends:
“No matter how busy or crazy life gets I will always play catch with you son- go grab my mitt and meet me in the backyard.”