**This column also appeared in the Argus Leader on March 31, 2014.
I've watched you play since your T-ball days with my son, and in case nobody else has told you lately, you are awesome. During these long baseball seasons, I enjoy watching you scamper out to the same spot and try your hardest to focus on the game while swatting at bugs and pulling the occasional weed. You sprint to your spot every time, hoping to impress your coach and get a shot at playing in the infield next inning. Your coach doesn’t always notice you putting in that little extra, but don’t ever let up with your efforts, no matter what happens!
I love watching your enthusiasm at the end of each inning when you sprint back to your buddies in the dugout to share the excitement of getting up to bat. You get disheartened sometimes when you strike out or things don’t go well for the team, but it is great to see you work with your teammates to overcome your challenges and get excited about the next opportunity. One of the things you will learn much later in life is that it’s hard to remember if you won or lost these games, but you will always remember being part of something special with your friends.
Finally! A fly ball comes your way, and I hold my breath in anticipation of your nerves and excitement. I love cheering you on when you catch a fly ball to end the inning, and your “I did it!” dash back to the dugout to celebrate with your team! But you should know that I’m cheering for you when you miss those fly balls too. I want you to keep playing your heart out because it’s clear just how much you love being on the field. It might not feel like it if you drop a ball, but in the end, your passion for the game is much more important than whether you make every catch.
It is great to see how proud you are in your team uniform. Never mind that your jersey is twice as big as you, it’s the number of your favorite player, and that makes it a perfect fit. The dirt and grass stains you take home are badges of honor for your very best efforts. I can’t see your heart on your sleeve, but I know it’s there because I watch you ride the waves of emotion that come with giving it your all in a sport that you love. You are learning that winning and losing are part of the game, and even though it is difficult, it is rewarding to see you do both with pride and respect.
I know that sometimes in the middle of crazy games and screaming fans, it isn’t easy to feel that you made any difference in the outcome. I hope you listen to your coach when he says every chance your team gets to play baseball is another chance to have fun, improve and come together as a team. Being part of the team helps you see that when every person works together for something bigger than one person’s performance, some really amazing things can happen. Whether you are hitting a home run or catching a fly ball, don’t ever question that your contribution makes a difference. We are all better when we work together.
There will be challenges ahead as an athlete, but remember, the most important thing you can do is keep playing the game. Don’t ever let anything stand in your way of being part of the team and part of the experience. Take pride in your involvement, and stick with it a little extra on those days you feel like quitting. You will never regret trying a little harder or playing just one more game.
When chances come your way, I really hope they turn into home runs and the shot at playing infield. But if they don’t, remember that your efforts and passion for the game have not gone unnoticed. The dedication, effort, and teamwork you are experiencing now will never leave you, and they will make you better at everything you do in your life.
Love the sport you play, and play the sport you love. And keep being awesome.
We all enjoy watching our kids in the sports spotlight. We cheer for them to make the winning basket, hit a home run, set a race record, or get a first down. It is important to remember that many young athletes put in endless hours of practice without necessarily having the opportunity to be the star. Those athletes are the unsung heroes of youth sports, and it’s important to recognize their talents and commitment. Be sure to offer your support to those athletes when you have a chance!