There we were, sitting in those foldable chairs that sports parents lug everywhere so they don't have to deal with the torture of bleachers. The hum of the lights filled our ears as the sun went down on a sticky Tuesday night.
This fall my son is playing "kid pitch" baseball for the first time. If you've never experienced it, all you need to know is that the innings are long. What's the word for longer than long? Interminable?
On this particular Tuesday night, our team's pitcher had a no-hitter going, but the other team still had five runs. We're talking walks, people. Five runs worth of walks. Batters routinely get hit by the ball in kid pitch. So do umpires and catchers. It's rough, guys.
This is what learning looks like. People get bruises. Parents get numb bums from sitting in their foldable chairs through interminable innings. Their hearts get tugged violently along on the tilt-a-whirl of watching their loved ones strike out every time they come to the plate.
Growth is a messy, long, bruising affair. It involves nine-year-old kids standing alone on the mound in front of their friends and family and giving it a shot. Risking failure in front of an audience. But also risking greatness. To get one you've got to risk both.
It was time for our son to bat for the second time that game. His first at bat ended at strike three. I'm one of those parents who "just wants the kids to have fun." But as I watched my boy at the plate, I had to remind myself to breathe.
We've been rooting for this kid so hard, for so long. He's one of the smallest kids on this team, and it's been awhile since he played the sport. He's also not a "natural." He practices almost every day with his dad. He goes out before the sun comes up, before breakfast on a school day, to get his practice swings in.
He's never had a hit. Pitch after pitch, we remind ourselves to breathe, and we root for a hit with everything we've got. Pitch after pitch, he swings and misses.
Except for this pitch. This pitch, on this Tuesday night, makes contact with the bat. I jump out of my foldable chair. It's a hard line drive down the third base line. My son makes it to first base easily. Everyone is cheering, even his little sister who has been reading Highlights Magazine the whole time.
The euphoria is all-consuming. Like the breeze from a dusty baseball careening down the third base line, it blows away all the sitting, waiting, pitches and strikes that led up to this moment.
This is growth. Whether it's a kid pitch game or a freelancer starting from scratch, you can't get the glory without the slog. Pitch after pitch, until you get that hit.
Progress comes down to showing up at the plate, giving it a shot, and practicing on your down time. You may get bruised, you may fail many times, and you may get bored. But one day you'll get that hit, and it will cancel out everything else.
The glory is fleeting, but it's addictive. Once you feel it, you'll want more. On the drive home from that baseball game, my son said he couldn't wait for his next game. He also said he wants to play in the spring. I might invest in a cushion for my foldable chair.
This video is blurry (technology) and jumpy (Tom's excitement) but the audio tells you everything you need to know about the glory of the hit.
...was the name of my column in Phillips' Finest, my middle school newspaper. If it was good enough for seventh grade, it's good enough for "adulthood."