When I was growing up, I wanted to play first base for the Detroit Tigers! I would dream about coming up to the plate in the ninth inning at Tiger Stadium down by two runs, with two runners on, and I hit the first pitch into the overhang in right field.
Growing up on the east side of Detroit in the mid- to late-1980s, there was never a shortage of games. I went from field to field to play in any pickup game I could find. My friends and I would meet up near my house, get on our bikes, and not be home until we either had Little League practice or the streetlights came on. It truly was a simpler, gentler time.
Everyone was welcome; everyone had his or her own special skills. Rick could pitch, Jim was the all-around player and I was the power hitter. We were a traveling band of misfits, and I can still remember some of the crazy catches and tape measure shots.
We didn’t have matching uniforms. We didn’t have thousands of dollars of equipment. All we had was fun. Eventually we all ended up playing on travel teams. But the thing that we didn’t have on travel teams was that love of the game — that fun when all you’re playing for was that high-five at the end of an inning or after you rounded third and headed home after the ball cleared the fence.
Don’t get me wrong. Travel baseball was good for all of us, but it wasn’t the same because the spirit of the game was lost. It went from a game to a job. Extra practices, matching practice gear (practice, not just game uniforms), and overzealous parents who thought their son was destined for Cooperstown, all erased the love of playing the game for me.
As parents, we have to realize that every event our children get involved in starts with them showing interest in and it’s up to us to make it flourish. But that doesn’t mean refinancing your house to buy a new mitt or recital costume (hey, I’m the father of two girls). It’s about being there, with your full attention. Don’t get me wrong, good equipment is important, but so is understanding how being treated like a college or pro athlete can burn your child out, and maybe even extinguish their love for their sport.
As for my band of misfits? Jim got scholarship offers, Rick’s playing career was cut short by health issues, and after I found football my baseball career ended with two separated shoulders.
– Jim Pesta, Parenting Program participant and father of two girls