The rite of passage known as Little League Baseball player assessments, which took place last Saturday at Baranof Field, reminded me of something from my own childhood.
I still remember the butterflies in my stomach on those days. My buddies on the field. The support I felt from dads, coaches and other adults — some of whom I had never before seen. And it never took very long before the excitement of tryout days made me forget about being cooped up all winter long.
Spring had arrived, even if there was still a chill in the air.
Maybe, just maybe, the 200-and-some boys and girls who took to the turf last weekend in Kodiak had the same feelings. I sure hope they did. Our kids deserve to have something good to wipe away the fears and anger caused by the ongoing COVID pandemic.
Baseball taught me a lot about growing up. It taught me how to make friends, and how to keep friends — even when we weren’t on the same teams. It taught me about work ethic and self-worth. As I got older, baseball gave me an understanding of how to decide when to take risks, whether the risk was the size of my lead or whether I should throw my worthy opponent a curve ball for the third straight time. In high school, baseball showed me what it meant to prepare for what’s next by showing me how to prepare for next season.
As a father, I continued to learn from baseball. It showed me the importance of giving back to my community by volunteering to coach Little League and Pony League teams. It continued to help me make friendships with other dads who were willing to help, and it gave me the pleasure of getting to know boys and dads who had entirely different upbringings — people whose paths I might not have crossed had it not been for a game that brought us together.
When my boys outgrew my coaching skills, baseball still played the important role of giving my boys and me something to talk about. At a time when many fathers and sons find it difficult to carry on meaningful conversations, we were able to speak a common language — the language of baseball.
Whether I was rooting them on from the stands or taking them to a game, we always had something to discuss, and the time to discuss it. And those discussions would, on occasion, open the door to more meaningful conversations I earned the right to have because I made the extra effort to speak their language.
Today, at the age of 55, my love affair with baseball is still going strong. I marvel more about the ageless beauty of the game than I do about a certain player’s batting average with runners in scoring position when down two strikes in the count.
The beauty I am looking for is the smile on a child’s face when she makes a good throw, or the high-fives given when a boy hits the ball for the first time. And, most of all, I look for the beauty of parents embracing their children for doing their very best on the field, hoping those warm feelings will carry over into home life.
I haven’t been able to see those things in Kodiak yet. But I will be looking for the subtle beauty of baseball when I take in some games this year. Remember, the best things baseball teaches us do not depend on your coaching genius or your child’s athletic ability.
Could it be that spring has arrived in Kodiak? For the sake of our children, let’s hope it has.
Kevin Bumgarner is publisher of the Kodiak Daily Mirror print edition and kodiakdailymirror.com. He and his wife, Melanie, have three grown kids and a beagle named Sadie. They moved from Florida to Kodiak during the summer of the 2020 COVID pandemic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.