‘His smile faded. My heart hurt watching him sit there. But then, it happened. ‘Man, you destroyed that ball!’: Mom shares lesson learned from baseball player son

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“Growing up, I was an active participant in youth sports. Basketball, softball, karate…you name it, I tried it at least once. I didn’t have much natural talent, but when you’re one of the tallest girls in your grade, you automatically become the go-to center or forward for your youth basketball team. Some of my favorite summer memories include cheering from the dugout in the muggy Indiana summertime while we were up to bat and participating in our township’s youth baseball and softball parade (sometimes in the snow).

Once I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I started thinking about how much fun it would be to get him or her involved in sports if they showed interest. In 2012, I had my beautiful son Austin, and from the moment he could hold a ball, he was throwing it. Sometimes for the dog, sometimes to another person, sometimes accidentally at the TV (oops).

A little boy plays baseball indoors with a plastic toy bat and tee
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

When he turned four, he played on his very first t-ball team. I loved watching him laugh and smile while he played out in the field with his friends and watching the entire field run towards any ball hit into the field because they all wanted in on the action. I still have his tiny navy blue t-ball jersey. It’s tucked away with every other baseball jersey he’s had (all but one are adorned with the number 10).

A little boy squats by the base while playing t-ball
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer
A little boy swings a bat at a ball on a tee
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

As Austin grew, so did his talent and his love for baseball. He had a confidence in himself that I admired, and he usually could back it up by getting good hits in games during his coach pitch seasons. Once he started machine pitch, he struggled a bit with timing and his confidence lessened a bit. I always told him to try his best and if he wasn’t having fun anymore, we wouldn’t play anymore.

A little boy fields a ball in a t-ball game
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer
A little boy holds a t-ball trophy and a baseball
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

But he kept at it, and eventually, he turned a corner and started hitting better off of the machine. His confidence came back (after being hit a few times by 40 MPH pitches, I think perhaps the timing was knocked into him). He had a fantastic season this spring, playing first base and pitcher every game and hitting well. He hit a few in-the-park home runs and celebrated like his heroes of the Atlanta Braves do by ‘mixing it up.’ Perhaps his dark green Clovers jersey brought him a little extra luck.

A boy stands with his parents and his little brother at a baseball field
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

Knowing his struggles from the previous season of machine pitch, our family was excited when he was invited to play for the league all-star team. When we got the email he had been selected, he beamed with pride. He knew he had improved so much over the past year, and his determination had paid off. I was excited for him too, a little stressed about juggling summer basketball and the continuing baseball season, but I knew we could make it work.

A little boy stands at home plate holding a bat
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

That excitement turned into anxiety quickly for me. Our team’s first scrimmage was the first time Austin was benched the whole season. Inning by inning, I watched his smile fade. I could tell he was wondering why he wasn’t being played, and while I wanted to go over and talk to him, I waited to see how it would play out. I watched his face turn from delighted to play in between regular seasons to questioning his skills and abilities.

As a mom, I wanted to step in so badly. Granted, there wasn’t much I could do. I’m not the coach. My heart hurt watching him sit there. The scrimmage concluded, and he had sat defensively for six of the nine innings but did bat when his turn in the lineup came around. I knew we were in for a long all-star run at that point. But then, something happened.

I could hear him when his other teammates came in the dugout. ‘Good job out there!’ And at batting practice later that week. ‘Man, you destroyed that ball!’ We’ve always had the same few rules when it came to sports. Always give full effort. Be a good teammate and a good sport. When it’s no longer fun, we won’t play anymore. Shortly after the scrimmage, I was making dinner in the kitchen, and we were discussing the game. He was sad he didn’t get to play in the game, but he told me, ‘I’m happy to be playing baseball and glad I don’t have to wait until fall to play again.’ He wanted to contribute however he could to his team.

A little boy cheers from inside the dugout
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

I reached out to Atlanta Braves player Pablo Sandoval via Instagram. I sent a message just asking for some advice for my baseball-loving kid who wasn’t the star of his team anymore and asked for any advice a bench player could give him. Graciously, he responded with a voice message telling Austin to never give up on his dream, to trust himself, to have big confidence, and just to be himself. He couldn’t believe a professional athlete took time out of his game-day schedule to send him a message, and just like that, Pablo Sandoval gained an entire family of fans for life. What another incredible example for my son to have in his life!

A boy and his father wearing Braves jerseys at a baseball game
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

Unfortunately, our all-star season only lasted three games. Austin sat a few times during those games as well, but his support for his team and his positive attitude never waivered. The experience was invaluable: they played at a great sports complex, with teams being announced and lining up along the baselines for the national anthem and being announced before their at-bats. He was happy to continue his season a few more weeks, and I was happy to get to take some really cute photos of him in his new red, white and blue all-star jersey (this mama never passes up the opportunity to have a photoshoot with her boys).

A boy wearing his all-star baseball jersey
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

On the car ride home from the elimination game, Austin sat quietly in the backseat eating his packed lunch and drinking his Gatorade. As I reflected on the experience, I realized there was a lesson in this situation, but the lesson was not for him, it was for me. So often we think we know how our kids are going to respond to a situation, so often we want to jump in and save the day because we want to protect them. What I learned is kids can surprise us, and often, they are more mature than we think, and even more mature than we can be sometimes in certain situations. We want to protect them, but sometimes we need to let them feel what they are going to feel in a situation and have them adapt accordingly. My son is only eight years old, but he’s teaching me just as much as I’m teaching him as he grows up, and I’m excited (and a little anxious) to see what the next lesson will be.

Just today, we got word Austin didn’t make the travel team he tried out for. It was the first tryout he had, and he was disappointed in the news. I went outside to call my mom and tell her the news, and just a few minutes later, he came outside, bat in tow, and took some swings. He told me he was ‘working on his stance.’ Through the disappointment, he decided to use it as motivation. He took the news better than I did. He never stops amazing me.

A boy wearing a batting helmet stands in a dugout
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

There are definitely times when he acts like a typical whiny eight-year-old. Times when he’s too loud playing with Nerf guns or action figures and wakes up his brother from a nap. But there are so many times lately when he does or says something unexpected, something smart or thoughtful or mature, and I see a flash of the young man he’s going to be in just a few years (insert sad face here). I love that his baby brother Aiden has such a great influence (plus, he’ll be able to babysit him in a few years).

A little boy holds a baseball on top of his head by a green wall
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

I would love to take credit for his amazing attitude, but it really takes a village, as they say. From a young age, he has attended kids’ church, learning the qualities and characteristics of the ultimate role model in Jesus Christ. He has had amazing, kind teachers since the beginning, including the leadership at his current school, where they end the morning announcements with, ‘Leave things better than the way you found them, especially people’s hearts.’ We do what we can as parents, but the other people he is surrounded by on a daily basis have an impact on who is becoming, too. I’m sure I’m not the only ‘villager’ who has learned lessons from a youngster in their midst. Kids say the darndest things, but they will make you think, too.

A boy holds a baseball whole wearing his baseball uniform
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

As a parent, our instinct is to step in and protect our kids at all costs, whether that’s from physical harm, emotional distress or something else. Sometimes we forget they are capable of handling their own emotions and navigating situations without our assistance at a younger age than we expect. They surprise us when they make decisions that seem beyond their years.

Don’t get me wrong, I will still turn into a Mama Bear in less than 30 seconds flat when it’s appropriate, but with this baseball experience under my belt, I will try to remind myself to step back for a second and see what happens before I intervene. We’ve got a few more summer basketball games left this season, and now I don’t worry as much about how Austin is feeling when he’s sitting on the bench. I can just look across the gym and watch him jumping up when his team scores and high-fiving whoever is taking his place when he’s going back into the game. He’s got this, and if there’s a chance he stumbles, his mama will always be right here to cheer him on.”

Parents sit with their son at a baseball game
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer
A boy wearing his all-star baseball jersey holds a baseball towards the camera
Courtesy of Amber Swinehamer

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amber Swinehamer of Bluffton, South Carolina. Follow her on Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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