There’s an old saying among sports aficionados that I’m just now learning to appreciate: Baseball is the ultimate father-son game.
It can’t be practiced solo, as can basketball, and unlike football, it requires that every member of a team know how to catch and throw.
So when my two young sons (ages 7 and 3) want to play baseball, they need me. It’s how most players – great and not-so-great – get their start: a father and son playing catch in the backyard.
But I don’t want them simply to play baseball in our yard, as fun as that can be. No, I also want them to watch a baseball game, in person, and to learn from players who are much better than them – and me. And I want them to appreciate everything that is unique about baseball: the peanuts, the slow pace, the quirky rules, the seventh-inning stretch.
Oh yeah, and the foul balls. No other sport lets you actually keep a ball that lands in the stands.
Which brings me to my most recent expedition to the minor-league park with my two sons, whose sole goal when going to a game is to walk away with free treasure. It’s a small park with only a few hundred fans and even fewer kids, making the odds of actually getting a ball pretty good.
Our baseball trip on this night had been wonderful. We ate cotton candy and popcorn, played in the playground, sat along the third-base line and then on the outfield grass, and even had a close encounter with the crazy mascot. But foul balls? On this night, they were few and far between.
And so we decided to leave during the sixth inning and get the boys in bed … when the unthinkable happened. While we were walking through the exit to the parking lot, a foul ball sailed back over the stands and landed about seven feet directly in front of me. I was about to sprint toward it when it took a big hop, and then another hop, and then a smaller hop before landing at the feet of a mom, who picked it up and gave it to her young son. My two boys were disappointed, believing that ball should have been theirs. They were this close to getting a ball – and to having a baseball story to tell all of their friends.
Honestly, I also was discouraged – I, too, wanted a souvenir – but I quickly regained my composure and decided to teach them a few lessons about disappointment and perspective. After all, what they had just witnessed will be a reoccurring theme the rest of their lives – whether they are cut from a team as a sophomore or get passed over for a promotion as an adult.
Here are three lessons:
1. Be happy with those who are happy. The Apostle Paul put it a different way: “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). We don’t want to do that, of course, but like all of God’s commands, it’s for our own good. A selfish life is a miserable life. Maybe it was that little boy’s first foul ball. Perhaps he doesn’t even have a baseball at home. He’ll have a story to tell his friends for a long time. I’m glad, and I told my sons they should be, too.
2. Count your blessings. Psalm 103:2 tells us not to forget everything God has done for us. That’s a good reminder when you don’t get the foul ball – literally or figuratively. What you don’t know is that my oldest son already had a foul ball and a home run, all from earlier games this season. So when he didn’t get that foul ball, it simply meant he couldn’t add another one to his collection. But we’re all like him, aren’t we? We grumble over trivial matters throughout the week, overlooking all the blessings – food, shelter, even health – that God has provided. I quickly reminded him: Let’s be thankful for what we already have. That’s a good lesson for any age.
3. We’ll try again next time. The Bible doesn’t specifically address foul balls, but it does encourage believers to keep pressing forward in the Christian life (Galatians 6:9, Philippians 3:14) and not giving up. So how can a foul ball teach my sons about weightier matters? Here’s how: by establishing a life-long pattern of looking forward, not “throwing in the towel.” No, we didn’t get that foul ball this time, but we’ll be back at the ballpark next week — and we’ll try again.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes college football, midnight debuts of Star Wars movies and pretty much any 80s group that involved big, wild-looking hair. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public). Also, check out my video section.