My thirteen-year-old daughter is playing baseball on an organized, uniforms-make-it-official, team this year. It’s a first for her. She’s taking part in Challenger Baseball, a local league for children and young adults with physical and/or mental challenges. She knows the schedule by heart and—on game days—starts itching to get suited up right after breakfast. That in spite of the fact that her games don’t typically begin until 7:30 pm. Saying she enjoys playing is a bit of an understatement.
Having played many an unofficial game in the backyard at home, she is fairly knowledgeable on the basics of the game. Still, playing as part of a team has taught her some valuable baseball lessons. And watching her games has taught me some equally valuable life lessons. Here are four things I’ve learned watching Challenger baseball games:
1. Close enough counts – My perspective in the stands may not be as good as if I were on the field, but I see well enough to know that the base runners touch the base about fifty percent of the time. The other fifty percent of the time, they may miss it by as much as a few feet, but it doesn’t stop them from running home and joyfully celebrating the success of doing so.
2. We’re all on the same team – During my daughter’s very first turn at bat, she nicked just enough of the ball to inch it just into fair play territory. While my daughter ran as fast as she could to first base, the pitcher scrambled to get the ball to the first baseman. The only trouble was that the first baseman’s primary concern was not the incoming ball, but rather offering a congratulatory high five to my daughter. Not exactly the kind of sportsmanship you see every day.
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff – One player experienced a seizure in the outfield during a game a couple of weeks ago. It was precisely the type of event that might bring a typical team to its knees and would likely cause a huge scene in any other league. Such was not the case. The seizure hardly raised an eyebrow among the kids and parents who’ve endured far greater challenges. In fact, the event didn’t warrant so much as a time out; play resumed the moment the player recovered and—to my knowledge—the spectators didn’t whisper a single word about it.
4. Heroes don’t always wear spandex – In this league, it’s not uncommon to see parents on the field each and every game, literally helping a child to swing the bat, hand over hand. Once contact with the ball is made, that same parent-child team will run the bases together. I’ve witnessed it a dozen or more times now and every time I do, I can’t help but wish there was a red carpet award night for real-life, every day heroes who actually deserve the applause.
Scores are not kept during Challenger games. If you ask me, though, the real winners are those of us who are able to see and appreciate the accomplishments and sportsmanship of each of those players.