Last of the Last

baseball on pitchers mound

There haven’t been many of my three kids’ high school games over the years when I haven’t felt a little nervous as they got started. This has always seemed normal—I’m thinking about what they and their teams are about to do and I get a little tense. No big deal. The minor butterflies always dissipate fairly soon after the game begins.

But I was uncharacteristically anxious before Quinn’s baseball game in Madrid last week. I had almost a sick feeling gnawing away at me that wasn’t going away. The game got off to a bad start for our team, it was really hot and humid, I had eaten dinner at a concession stand for the 21st time this month—but none of those things was the problem.

Then I had a bit of a déjà vu—this wasn’t the first time for this phenomenon. Flashback to this time of year in 2015; Kristen’s senior softball season. Then all the way back to 2012; Kyle’s last baseball campaign. This pit-of-my-stomach, dry-mouth anxiety was just the realization that Quinn’s season—as well as his high school athletic career—were almost over.

Too soon, by the way this game was going. I was hoping for a least a couple post-season games this year; and maybe, if things fell into place, even a longer run. Six years ago, I didn’t expect Kyle’s last game to be at Principal Park—and that happened.

But Quinn and his teammates were behind 3-0 early and not mustering much offense. They scratched out a couple of runs to get close, but then gave up three runs and were down 6-2. There was one more chance for a rally and they got one going in the seventh inning. I stood up and moved toward the dugout to soak up as much as I could. The last thing players want is parents hanging outside the dugout, but since I’m the sports guy for the Earlham Echo now and I was trying to look as official as I could, I thought I could get a ‘media pass’ for this one.

The rally came up short and, after the handshakes, the other team celebrated while the Cards grabbed their stuff, got out of the dugout, and shuffled to an out-of-the-way area outside the fence. I had an official duty as well an unofficial one. I officially needed to interview the coach for a story for the paper and unofficially needed to give Quinn a hug and say something to him. I wasn’t sure in what order to go. Considering past last games my kids played, I knew I was going to get a little choked up. The last thing I wanted to do was have an emotional moment with Quinn and then sniffle and whimper through an interview with Coach Winter. But if I interviewed the coach first, Quinn might get on the bus before I got done.

After Coach Winter spoke to his team many of the guys started hugging each other and some tears were flowing. I was around a few of these final game scenes this year because of my job with the Echo and several years ago when I wrote my book about high school football and it’s hard not to get a little swept up in the emotion. These aren’t wimpy guys crying because they lost; they’re seasoned athletes realizing that the years of athletic camaraderie and dedication to a shared cause are over. They won’t ever suit up and play for their teams together again. Anyone not getting a little teary eyed over that probably didn’t care enough.

I found Quinn, gave him a quick hug, and my voice cracked as I told him how proud of him I was. That’s it. I got out. I knew he didn’t want a lengthy emotional scene any more than I did. Then I found the coach and asked he if he had time for an interview. I was thankful that my voice didn’t crack then. The interview was fine. I was feeling sentimental so I probably rambled even more than I usually do during these things, but Coach finally got some words in edgewise and gave me some good quotes.

Quinn’s introduction to baseball was when I first rolled a squishy ball with a bell in it at him before he could even crawl—and now he had played his final game for the Earlham Cardinals. Everything between those two events flooded through my mind on the way home. Q-ball, our own two-person version of wiffle ball we invented when he was five; the time I beaned him (with a real baseball) when I was trying to teach him to bunt; all the fun and laughs when I coached his little league teams. I love most sports, but baseball has always been particularly special to me and I have been blessed to have shared so many baseball moments with Quinn.

And this wasn’t just the end of Quinn’s athletic career; this baseball game was the final high school game for all of our kids. Three up, three down for the Webers. That’s a tough realization. So much of our lives has revolved around the kids’ athletic contests, celebrating their triumphs and consoling them in defeat, it already feels like there is a void. When Jennifer and I sit in the stands for Cardinal games from now on, it will never be the same. But on the bright side, there won’t be any more pre-game intestinal distress.

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Coming Soon! (“Soon” being a relative term.)

Seasons on the Run

Seasons on the Run

Dealing with the sheer terror of grass stains on my kids’ white baseball pants; suffering a shoulder injury waving home a runner while coaching third base in a youth baseball game; sprinting up and down hills at cross country races until my quads ache, just to get a brief glimpse of my kids running by.

All of these tales and many more are in Seasons on the Run, my humorous and heartfelt book that details the white-knuckle tension, occasional pain, and sheer laughs that my family shared during 12 months of my kids’ school and youth sporting events.

While I finished the book several months ago, don’t look for it anywhere just yet! I am currently seeking an agent and/or a publisher that will see the book for the genius that is and help vault it to the top of every best-seller list in the country. And since I probably won’t get that, I’m at least looking for someone who will talk to me about it and help get it published in the foreseeable future.

So in the meantime, click here to check out an excerpt from the book. With apologies to my boys, this particular chapter is a couple of tales featuring Kristen. (They already think that she’s the favorite anyway, so they’ll be alright. Besides, there are 30 chapters in the book and their adventures are well-documented in some of those.)

Never fear! This book is no over-dramatization or promotion of my kids’ feats or any kind of diary or prose “slide show.” Seasons on the Run features anecdotes, remembrances, and nuggets of wisdom that are presented from the perspective of a family that has lived the sporting life and has been playing, watching and appreciating games of all kinds since we came into being.

So, enjoy the excerpt—and I’ll be sure to let you know when I’m going to be on Letterman.

“Daddin’-Up”

ballsI’m not a professional coach and never have been. I did receive a gift card from some parents after coaching youth softball one season, but I don’t think that affects my amateur status.

This is the first season I haven’t coached a Little League baseball or softball team since Kyle first started playing in the late ‘90s. I coached Quinn’s team last season in his final year of youth sports and after that, I was ready to move on. But this spring I have missed being out on the field with the kids and doing a little coaching-up. (I just don’t miss lugging all the equipment around and the road trips to Panora.)

So I think it was more for my benefit than Kristen’s or Quinn’s when I asked them Wednesday evening if they wanted to go up to the fields to work on their hitting on a rare off-night from any games. Sure, they could use some work on their mechanics, but I was eager to get out there to throw a little BP and do some “daddin’-up” of my own kids.

Daddin’-up is something I did less and less with Kyle and Kristen, and now Quinn, once they graduated to junior high and high school and professional coaches. Yes, I know a thing or two about the game, but I figured they were under the tutelage of people who do this for a living and any advice I gave to the kids might contradict what they were being told in practice. That didn’t (doesn’t) stop me from offering intermittent tips and having occasional “film sessions” (going over the details of their form using photos I take), but I tried (try) to keep it to a minimum.

On Wednesday I presumed that a few recommendations wouldn’t do any harm and I didn’t hold anything back. Besides, parents can say certain things in certain ways to kids that some coaches aren’t comfortable with. I was barking hard at Quinn about his stance and not finishing his swing, and when he complained that his thumb was hurting, I shouted back, “I don’t care!” Well, I had forgotten that he had sprained his thumb a couple of days prior in a Nerf basketball game (at least he was doing something constructive), so I felt bad and apologized.

I did some soft toss with Kristen because there was no way I was going to try to pitch underhand. (The only time I ever do that is in our back yard when I know the garage is there to stop all my errant attempts.) We talked through a few tweaks and I deemed her swing to be “fixed.”

I was anxious to see what the results of our mini session would be when the kids took to the fields yesterday. Quinn responded with two solid hits in two at bats in a win for his team in the morning. I was eager for a little recognition of my efforts, but when I suggest that to him, he responded with something like, “I hate to break it to you, but Kyle deserves the credit. He changed my swing earlier.” Oh, well. There was still Kristen. But last night she only swung the bat once in four at bats (she hit it hard!) while bunting twice and walking once. I did offer a quick bunting tip Wednesday, so I felt good about the sacrifices.

In the end, it’s not about any credit for me—the kids do all the work. I just feel good that they wanted to do the work and they let me tag along.