Saturday, March 21, 2009

Grand Slam Home Run!!

With spring training in full swing and the Opening Day for Major League Baseball coming in just a few weeks, it is time to confess: Yes, along with my unnatural affinity for the Detroit Lions, I have a similar and also quite unnatural affinity for the Detroit Tigers!

From the days of Willie Horton, Al Kaline, Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich, and others from the 1968 World Champions through the days of Alan Trammel, Lou Whittaker, Lance Parrish, Jack Parrish, and others from the 1984 champs, and even through the dark days starting in the mid-90’s, up to the present day group, I am not sure that I have ever missed a game, in whole or in part, on the radio, television, or in person!

Also, I can’t remember a day on which I did not play baseball during my youth. Our days, long before the advent of cable television, video games, Internet, etc., usually began around 8:00 a.m. (or as soon as our moms would let us leave the house!) and then not end until dark, with the only breaks taken for lunch and dinner. Of course, on game days, we would stop much earlier to rest and get ready for the game. But, in any scenario, baseball has always been a huge part of my daily life.

So, it only seemed normal that my own children developed the same type of interest in the game. My oldest son had the perfect tools for a baseball player – long and lean with a quick swing, strong and accurate arm, excellent base running speed, and the ability to catch anything that was near.

However, despite our countless hours of batting practice at the local baseball diamond and the batting cage, he struggled to hit in games through about the age of 9 years old. Usually, the coach would place him near the bottom of the lineup and my son often did not play for entire games. He would get his three innings in the field, one or two trips to the plate, and then he would take his place on the bench. It was quite perplexing for me, as his tools were all in place, yet he struggled to hit the ball in games.

And then, the big moment arrived when he was 10-years-old: His team was involved in a game in which the following scenario was present:
a) His team trailed by 3 runs
b) The bases were loaded
c) It was the bottom of the final inning
d) There were two outs
e) A flame throwing 11-year-old was on the mound
f) And ….. my son strolled to the plate!

Well, for a dad who had worked endlessly worked with his son on his hitting skills and for a dad who previously watched his son struggle at the plate for his entire 4-year career, watching my son stroll to plate in such a pressure situation was almost too much to bear. If his career-long history held true, he would probably strike out, the game would be over, and my son would be viewed as the goat.

Here is how his at-bat unfolded:
1) First pitch – STRIIIIIKE – yelled the umpire (0-1 count)
2) Second pitch – Ball one (1-1 count)
3) Third pitch – STRIIIIIKE TWO – yelled the umpire (1-2 count)
4) Fourth pitch – Foul tip at the plate (still a 1-2 count)
5) Fifth pitch – Foul tip at the plate – (still a 1-2 count)
6) Sixth pitch – Ball two – low and outside (2-2 count)
7) Seventh pitch - ….. my son swung, made contact, and drove the ball long, deep, and far over the head of the centerfielder’s head!!!!

As the fatherly chills came all over me, I watched the runner from 3rd base score right away; the runner from 2nd base scored; and the runner from 1st base came all the way around to score! My son, running as fast as he could, began to round 3rd base. As he got half-way to home plate, the centerfielder finally picked up the ball and, before he returned the ball to the cutoff man in the infield, my son had crossed the plate for the winning run after his GRAND SLAM HOME RUN!

All of a sudden the hours of fatherly pitching and coaching had paid handsome dividends! My son was the hero and he went on to several years of excellent hitting for the rest of his elementary, middle school, and high school days. In fact, he almost never struck out again, as he had learned to make solid contact with the ball on nearly every at-bat.

The lesson learned: Never give up on your children in any scenario, particularly when they indicate an interest in an area or activity in life! My son, the previous strikeout king, had become one of the best hitters on his team for the next several years!

Yes, by hanging in there and never giving up, my son also learned an important lesson: Despite the odds of success and the repeated failures at the plate, his continued hard work led to personal success for him!!

Now, bring on the Tigers. The Home Opener is only 23 days away ..... I wonder how many of the Tigers struggled in their early years of life, but kept at it, and made it to the Major Leagues!!

Paul W. Reeves

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