Baseball's Toughest Lesson

Baseball's Toughest Lesson
But baseball has marked the time.
— W.P. Kinsella

There are some great lines in the speech James Earl Jones delivers toward the end of Field of Dreams, but this particular one is my favorite. We baseball parents know this one to be true. While other parents mark the time with pictures of their kids on each birthday, we mark it differently. We mark it with the pictures from each and every rec season. There he is in his Cubs jersey. There he is in his Diamondbacks jersey. Dodgers. Red Sox. And so on and so on. They get a little older, and bigger, in each one. 

Somewhere in these seasons past our boys were asked - it was such great fortune, really - to join a different team, one with its own special uniform. They were asked to become members of the South Park All-Stars. The Rebels. These last few years, we baseball parents were blessed to be able to mark the time with pictures of that team. 

But that time ended last night on a field in Kenansville, North Carolina. The Rebels' late-inning rally in the state tournament came up short. They lost 6-5 to the West Robeson American All-Stars. 

And, just like that, our boys, now twelve and thirteen, have finished their careers in Dixie Youth Baseball. Their rec careers in that league ended this spring, and now their time as South Park All-Stars has ended, too. 

All of their years spent together in spring and fall practices apart from their normal rec schedules, all of their one-day and two-day weekend tournaments in Gastonia, Newton, and Mooresville, and all of their winter batting workouts - they're over. Their magical run this summer in Cooperstown, eclipsing every South Park team that had gone before, and their three consecutive District titles, the last of which included five straight shut-out games several weeks ago - they're all over, too. 

Their baseball will continue, of course, but separately. They’ll try out for their various middle school teams. They will play for teams organized by local baseball academies. Baseball will continue to mark the time, and the game will continue to teach them the life lessons we have come to expect from it. You can't win every time. Teamwork is so important. Every decision, every play, can have a huge impact. Sometimes you get a bad bounce. There's always tomorrow.

But today we are reminded of the hard truth that no one likes to talk about when they talk about sports.

There are good-byes. 

All seasons end. All teams, no matter how magical, end. Nothing gold, Robert Frost wrote, can stay. 

Our boys will surely carry the memories with them. They will remain friends, but they won't see each other as often. They will always have these times to share among them. They will grin whenever they are in each other’s company. They will share their inside jokes of things that happened in a Cooperstown barracks or a car ride back from Kenansville. They'll likely still call each other by the nicknames they've given each other. 

But this team, this time, and their growing up South Park, have ended. 

None of us were ready to say good-bye.

Because baseball good-byes are the hardest. They're harder than in any other sport. I wish I had the words to explain why. Maybe it has something to do with it being America's pastime. Or the fact our grandfathers played this game. As did our dads. As did we. 

It's hard for me to say.

But I know that someone else has already said it best.

In his book A Great and Glorious Game, A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote this:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.
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