Ten Throws

When I was eight years old, my parents signed me up for city league softball.  We practiced twice a week and played Tuesday night games.  My dad was the assistant coach and it turned out I had inherited his athletic genes.  I had a strong right arm, great hand-eye coordination and quickly took to the bat.

The faster the pitch, the further the ball would sail. My base running, however, was painfully slow.   Many of my “home run” hits turned into singles or doubles because of my lack-of-speed.  My mother tried to focus on the strength of my bat, but I would overhear her talking to other parents about my slow motion run.

My teammates compared me to a cartoon character attempting to run through Acme glue. During one game, I was on second base when cleanup Lori hit a home run and literally walked the bases to touch home plate inches behind me. Deep down, I was embarrassed by my slow speed and compensated with my defensive performance on the field.

I was competitive and hated to lose. I wanted to be where the action was. In this league, it was infield. I played third because I was one of the few who could make the throw to first. I eventually moved to short to cover more ground. I did this by diving, not by running.

When I was ten, my dad moved me to a more competitive league. We would scrimmage local teams during the week, and traveled to tournaments in St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis and Des Moines to play teams from all over the country.

My dad was one of the coaches and generally headed up practices. We always arrived early to set out gear, run bases and get my arm warmed up.  When my teammates arrived, he drilled us on the fundamentals and pushed us to run until we nearly puked.  He was like an Army sergeant and goofing around was banned from the field. This was serious business and he would scream and hit line drives at our heads to keep us on our toes.

For fear I wouldn’t have enough energy to excel, my dad wouldn’t allow me to swim or bike the days I had a game.  Softball became my life.  My summers were no longer about having fun and hanging out with my friends. I missed slumber parties and swimming parties because I was busy traveling with my team. I didn’t take gymnastics during the summer because my time was spent at the ball diamonds.

At tournaments, my father would argue with the umpires on pitches and yell at us from his third base post to “look alive.”  If we were on-deck and didn’t have a practice bat in-hand before the batter in front got to the plate, we would run bases after the game as punishment.

I could see parent’s reactions and after a while, could sense my teammates aggravation with my father’s intensity. I wasn’t invited to ride with other kids to tournaments and we didn’t go out for pizza with the team. No longer was the game about the team camaraderie or the spirit of the sport, it was about winning and advancing to the regional and national tournaments.

Each year, my dad took me to get a new glove and spent weeks breaking it in.  My dad would massage oil into it to soften it up and he made me sleep with it wrapped up tight under my mattress to get it to fit like a glove. My dad’s intensity increased with every season and I was becoming bitter by the imbalance in my life. I resented the stupid, strict schedule and was ashamed of my dad’s temper. I began to lose focus and care less and less about playing. I wasn’t giving my best and it showed up on offense.

We were facing faster pitchers and I was striking out more than I was hitting. I was playing outfield and hating every minute of every game.

Sensing this, my father did what every good father would do – drill me with more softball practice.  One evening in the ally behind our house, my dad made me play catch. The drill was to throw ten consecutive throws into his glove, without making him move an inch to catch it.  If I got nine perfect throws and number ten was too high or low, we began again at one.  My shoulder was on fire from exhaustion and my head and heart were on fire from spite.  I could taste the bile coming up from my stomach and my veins popped with hatred. The more he made me throw, the more pissed off I became.  When the streetlights turned on, I realized the only way out was to get ten in a row, without error.

In my mind, I pictured each ball aimed perfectly for his head, fantasizing he would miss and be knocked unconscious. Even with my arm throbbing, the speed of my throws increased as I attempted to sting his hand.  Unfortunately, that never happened and I eventually threw ten perfect throws. Instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I felt defeated and powerless.  In bed that evening, I prayed for lightening to strike our house and kill my dad.

The next summer, I refused to play softball.  I wouldn’t play catch with my dad and spent my time swimming and biking with friends.  In the evening, though, I was forced to go to the ball diamonds and watch my younger sister’s team play.  As much as I enjoyed my freedom, I realized I missed the sport.

I went back to the city league and played for my friend’s father’s team. I shined on the field and at the end of the season, won MVP, but still wasn’t invited to the team pizza party. I later found out it was because the coach didn’t want more sideline advice from my father. Regardless of my potential and desire to play, I chose never to play competitive softball again.

Years later painful memories emerged as I watched my son play baseball for a maniacal parent who volunteered to coach.  I watched with anger as he stripped the fun from the game by drilling the boys with practice and discipline. I verbalized my discontent and nearly pulled Cameron from the team. Instead, I made it an opportunity to demonstrate to my son what it means to commit to a team and respect authority, even when it wasn’t pleasant.  As the season progressed, I had several conversations with the coach about his technique and strategy and learned what fired him up. As it turned out, he sincerely thought he was doing the right thing, regardless of the obvious misdirection.  My son had a terrific season and eventually earned the team’s sportsmanship award for his kind-hearted ways, but that’s another story.

I realized my reaction to the coach’s intensity was triggered by the unexpressed anger and frustration of my youth. I began to examine the experiences of my youth from a detached emotional state and with some help, re-shaped my stories and moved from discontent to acceptance for the coach’s involvement in my life, albeit unbalanced.

Most importantly, I forgave my father and found I appreciated his intensity and perfectionism; attributes he has clearly passed to his children. I realized I am no different than my dad, and for this I am learning to be grateful.  The same intensity that drove him to coach, was the same intensity that drove me to quit.

We’ve both mellowed some and approach life with sensitivity, but I’ve come to appreciate our passionate ways. We are never halfway about anything and that has served us well.  Some will never understand or relate to it, but others connect to the stories in a deep and meaningful way.  Love or hate it, we are driven to push beyond where we’ve been, whatever that looks like for us. My dad did the best he knew; and I’ve done the best I know, and through those experiences, my life has taken shape. By accepting, forgiving and loving him, I accept, forgive and love me.

Forgiveness, Acceptance and Love are Powerful Perspectives — qualities that begin with awareness and move toward love.

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