Time had ran out. The umpire signalled that the game was over. The end of the game meant the end of the tournament and the end of the season. We lost by a few runs and as usual the 5 year olds asked if we won. Depending on the mood of the team, sometimes I would tell them we did even if we didn’t. There was no doubt who won the game on the field this day but the reality was that our team was more than victorious with their effort given.
When I started coaching 4 year olds a year ago I didn’t know what to expect. While my son was 4 I had been around enough kids to know that they are as different as a group of my 34 year old peers. I did not start playing baseball until I was 10 so I never played t-ball. I learned as I went and luckily for the all-star season I assisted a great head coach, David Bylinowski, who was a seasoned pro as well as some other great coaches. My main goal was always to teach and make sure they had fun. What I learned was that some players have fun just being out there and some kids really want to win. This was surprising to me since they were 5 but when I saw the teams from other parks I realized this was status quo.
We were now at the last 5 year old all-star tournament. The kids, Ben, Charlie, Jonah, Rayden, Coen, Ryan, Shunston, Hayes, Olivia, Timothy, Will, and Brody all gave their all for the team. I use their first name because of the lasting impact they had on me as individuals, not just 5 year old t-ball players. After the game many (including parents) were ready to get on with summer. It is a time consuming experience that challenges all involved. The proudest I was occurred when we came back to win a game in that same tournament. The team had beaten us the day before and were leading us again. The kids looked at each other as we told them we didn’t practice this long to give up. The other team and coaches got complacent and somewhat overconfident. Our kids saw this and at that moment they truly became a team. As they came back to win, they already showed the resilience of a champion. It didn’t matter than we won. It mattered that they decided to give their all, not give up.
As stated earlier, during the tournaments I saw the competitive nature of t-ball all-star games. While I was foretold of such craziness I could not grasp the brevity until I was neck deep in it. Part of me was sad, another part got my competitive nature going, while another part tried to make sense of the whole thing. Other fans and coaches were behaving as if the deed to their house was on the line. Five year olds being screamed at that almost drove me to have words with other coaches. It was nearly impossible for me to juxtapose the joy of 5 year olds playing with the desire of many to win. Obviously it was not all fans nor most, but it was enough. During these moments it made me incredibly thankful that my son played for Mims Park.
David started a 4 year old pre-t-ball league a few years ago, which was the only place my son was old enough to play at the time. I never told him but I planned on switching back to the park I grew up with and is 3 minutes from my house once my son was 5. I quickly realized that Mims Park was not just a quick trip on his youth sports journey but was home. The people were genuinely nice and time after time I was blown away at the sincerity and giving of so many volunteers at the park. Chris Norton helped me coach the 4 year olds and volunteers a lot at the park. Knowing much more than I about t-ball, he let me coach and learn and realizing the benefit to me while helping me understand why we do this. Being able to be around and coach these kids is rewarding beyond description.
I encourage everyone to let their kids play sports and obviously I recommend Mims Park. The reality is that any park can be just as good. It is up to the parents to set the example with their attitude and time. There are moments when I wonder about the future of our society but I am pleasantly reminded that I should not. These kids will one day be our mayors, doctors, business owners, and community leaders. I hope that something they learned with us helps them on that path. There will come a time when my son can no longer play at Mims. This may be a sadder day for me than him. Maybe Mims Park isn’t the best park in the world but then again just maybe it is. Twenty years from now, nobody will remember the final scores of these tournaments but I will always remember these kids.