Last week, Sam’s baseball team travelled to Cooperstown to play in the biggest baseball tournament of the year. It’s not normally the kind of thing that I would recap on my blog, but I just can’t stop thinking about it. I think it is a perfect example of why I love what team sports can do for kids.
First, a little background. We live in a cold-weather climate. We don’t play baseball year-round. We started practice in February. Indoors. That’s right, some good batting practice, but hard to work on realistic fielding on a gym floor. The history of our team at this tournament was a horrible 1-12 record. The boys were told that we’d go to Cooperstown, but that we couldn’t really compete with teams who have been together for years, practice year-round and have corporate sponsorships. Yet they were excited and worked to raise money to pay for the trip.
Now, you are probably thinking that despite the odds, we prevailed and did great. But, this is not a made-for-TV movie. We sucked. We lost every game, most cut short by the mercy rule. That’s not the cool thing.
What happened was a display of pure sportsmanship, which was totally driven by a group of 12-year-old boys, and not a coach or parent. We were a few innings in to a game and once again found ourselves down. If we made it to the fourth inning, we were once again in mercy rule territory. But then, another team (one who had beaten us earlier in the tournament), showed up onto the hill in the outfield.
And they started cheering for us. It seems that after the morning games, they had checked the standings and seen that we were ranked 31 of 32. So they found our field and came to cheer us on. And you know what? It made a difference. The inning that they showed up, we had a six-run inning. It didn’t get us out of the hole, but it certainly turned around some momentum. After the game, they came down and stood outside the dugout waiting for our guys. When the team came out, they did so to a round of applause and encouragement to keep our heads up. And for the first time, our ragged team didn’t look like they were miserable. They looked like a team that was having fun, despite losing a game. But it doesn’t stop there.
The next morning, we played an 8:00 am game. It was single elimination at this point, so a loss would send us home. And guess who showed up? Yep, they were there again. This time, they had skipped their own camp breakfast so they could come and cheer. And they had made signs out of a cardboard box they had in the bunkhouse.
The story would be a lot better if I could now say that their encouragement led us to a victory, but let’s be real. We lost again. But our guys then turned around and cheered for their new friends later that day.
So my point? We do a lot of complaining about kids’ sports today. Too much pressure. Parents are too involved. Kids specialize in a sport too early. The cost keeps the haves and have-nots separated. But this week I was reminded of the power of team sports. Our kids learned a lesson that we, as parents and coaches never could have taught them. They learned how it feels to have someone on your side. They learned what it means to play with heart. They learned how to reciprocate a good deed. And they learned how to take a loss and look at the good that came out of it. Later in the week, after both teams had been eliminated, they played wiffle ball on the lawn. Two teams from across the country, just hanging out, brought together by America’s pastime. Cooperstown is a magical place.
To the parents of those 12 boys who came and cheered for us, I hope you’ll give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve done a great job raising boys who understand the real meaning of sport isn’t winning or losing. If there was a sportsmanship trophy for this tournament, I’m sure it would have gone to your team. Your kids have heart. And they taught our kids to have the same.