I remember seeing the light in my father’s eyes for the first time. It was a brief, but I know I not only saw it…. I felt it. As fleeting as that moment was, it defined my initiation as my father’s son and has stayed a beacon in my heart in dealing not only with my own children but also those whom I work with in youth sports.
On a hot and dry Saturday in northern New Mexico I found myself playing in the front yard with one of those plastic all-in-one softball, bat, and glove sets on my own softball bat blog www.softballbatsunlimited.com . I was seven years old at the time and had no idea how softball was played and was merely mimicking a game I had recently seen on television. My father was just outside the front yard working on his ’72 Chevy pickup. Up until that day I wasn’t sure what my father meant to me and what I meant to him. So he decided to give me a fastpitch bat which he considered as the best fastpitch softball bats.
I usually only saw my father on the weekends, since he worked construction jobs that usually took him several hundreds of miles away from home during the week. I knew I missed him, and I remember my excitement when he came home, but I never felt I claimed him as my own and, more importantly my father claiming me as his son … until that day. Like my dad, my mom also brought home and said she bought for me best slowpitch softball bats. What a pleasant surprise!
As I fumbled around in the front yard trying to figure out how to put the plastic mitt on my hand I saw my father walking into the house. He passed by giving me a slight look, chuckling under his breath as if trying not to laugh out loud at his son who was right handed and yet still determined to somehow fit a softball glove on that same right hand.
My fumbling around was starting to turn into frustration. My determination to somehow fit this apparatus to my throwing hand was not only blinding me, it was also making me deaf. I didn’t hear my father come out of the house or see him standing over me when he posed the question: “How are you going to throw the ball after you catch it?”
Honestly, I had not made it that far on my busy to-do list of fumbling around with cheap plastic softball gear. I figured once I sorted my hand-softball glove issue I would simply underhand toss (with my throwing hand of course) the ball as high as I could, aim my glove towards the ball that was careening towards my skull, close my eyes and hope for the best.
As it would turn out, my father would rescue me from such a fate. He was holding two very well broken in softball mitts under his arm. Each mitt was wrapped with a rubber band and had a softball in it. He came up behind me, his hands calloused and greased stained and pulled the plastic mitt off my throwing hand and replaced it with a well oiled, well aged leather softball glove. My father’s hands were deliberate and firm, yet, gentle as if he were bestowing on me a device that had an unknown power that only I could unlock.
After a brief tutorial on how to catch a softball that would soon be deliberately flying at my body, I deemed it a good idea to take heed to my father’s instruction, since it seemed better than my previous tactic of tempting the fate of gravity and cowardice.
Here it was, a father-son moment that had all the symptoms of a panic disorder-anxiety, fear, confusion, and the heavy feeling that I could disappoint my father.
Just before he tossed me the ball, he reminded me one last time of my hand position and to always catch the ball with two hands. And then, there it came–a soft overhand toss. I remember my heart pounding so hard I could feel it in my ear lobes, and the high-altitude, dry New Mexico air felt thinner than usual at that moment. My eyes followed the ball into the glove as it made that distinctive sound of a softball hitting a mitt. I clasped my throwing hand around the front of the glove as the ball came into the glove–just as my father instructed me to.
I paused looking at my glove thinking to myself “I bet I look just like those softball players on the television!”
The embellishment of my accomplishment was short lived when my father asked me to toss the ball back to him: “Step and throw, son.”
Step and what? Once again my anxiety swelled as I jogged my memory for some video of a softball player throwing a ball. I found one; unfortunately it happened to be a pitcher. I step backward, throw my hands wildly over my head, kick my knee up to my chest and in a violent, erratic windmill motion my arm puts the ball in flight. While the ball sailed about 10 feet over my father’s head, he gave chase to the ball. His back was turned as he slowly retrieved the ball. As I reflect on it now, I believe my father was hiding his laughter so as not to embarrass me.