Stepping Up to the Plate

The helmet wobbled around my head as I cautiously took my first steps to stand over home base. A not-so-confident 6-year-old, I tapped the plate with my bat, glanced over my shoulder to find my parents, and gulped air.

Across the field stood the enemy. The other team. A group determined to dash my hoped-for success. Their shortstop pulled a pinch of Big Chew and shoved the wad inside his cheeks. He started the chant. Hey batter, batter, batter…SWING!

Suddenly, little league didn’t seem so little anymore. Was it too late to quit? Mom could get a refund on my jersey, right? It wasn’t even dirty yet. Then I looked to the pitcher’s mound. A friendly face. My coach. I breathed relief. I had heard horror stories about kid-pitch baseball.

I kicked a dirt cloud behind my cleats and brought the bat over my shoulder. The coach smiled, and I grimaced in return. He raised his arm and released the ball. It zeroed in on me at break-neck speed. THUD!

I dropped the bat and grabbed my shoulder where the ball had struck. My face burned hot with embarrassment, steaming away my tears. The umpire escorted me to first base. The game had just begun and already I longed for the concession-stand inning.

Today, I’ve graduated from the little league of childhood to the big league of parenting. My thoughts race as I stare out toward the next few months. Two kids, about to have three. Three kids aged 3 and under. A whole outfield of children. The diapers. The exhaustion. The teething. Oh, the teething! There’s not enough air to swallow.

My daughter is sound asleep: one down. Now time for the older boy. I escort him from the living room to his bedroom. It’s his and his alone for just a little while longer. I tuck him in. He listens to a story and prayer. “Two pray?” he asks as I stand to leave. How can I say no to that?

I pray my regular prayer again, “God, thank you for my children. May they lie down and rest in peace, and know that you alone are their security.” But I hear a taunt chanting in my ear. Hey daddy, daddy, daddy…SWING!

My son’s eyes drowsily close as I continue to pray. His peace is infectious. The future doesn’t look so daunting anymore. I ignore the taunt, kiss my son goodnight, and leave him to his dreams.

I was called up into the majors when I became a dad. No longer just a guy with a great wife. I have a tiny team.

Diapers get filled. Sleep is lost. And teething is a fact of life. But so is stepping up to the plate when it matters most. Sometimes it means taking a few lumps and limping to base. Sometimes it means hitting the homerun and knowing that today—even if just for today—I did it right.

When my kids are older, I’ll tell them about little league. “It’s okay to be afraid when you first step up to the plate,” I’ll say, “because fear is just an opportunity to be courageous.”

And when the time comes for them to swing their own bat at parenting, I’ll pray I coached them well.