While sitting on the metal bleachers last week watching my grandson play his last tee-ball game of the season I thought about my kids playing at the Central Park tee-ball field many years ago. The similarities included watching the kids try their best to concentrate on the game while ignoring the grass or dirt that called for them to sit down. I smiled as they all rushed at a hit ball trying to be the first to pick it up and throw to first base.
Running bases was also something all parents cherish, watching as their little Yankee or Red Sox slugger cleanly swats the ball off the tee, then watches the ball roll out toward the other team’s fielders and then carries the bat a few steps before slowly ambling to first. (There are also a few who run the wrong way toward third or get to third finally and just give up for the solace of their dugout). After three at bats the players all gather on either side of home plate and put out their arms for the traditional “good game” hand slap before running to after-game pizza or snacks and a drink.
My grandson has now played his first year of organized recreation department tee-ball and has a long career ahead of him as he moves to machine-pitch or coaches pitch ball and then into organized league play, travel ball or high school baseball, before college baseball and eventually the minors and major leagues.
Maybe I am being a little presumptuous, no, a lot presumptuous. My kids played tee-ball and moved up to little league games but most ended their baseball careers somewhere before entering high school and their major league first at bat. Skill level had something to do with it, as my boys had low batting averages or their speed and fielding prowess didn’t warrant all star potential, or they just lost the urge to face a pitcher who threw the ball much faster than they wanted to face.
My sons also were able to grow up at the same time as the city’s growth in sports facilities. At one time North Myrtle Beach had a ball field just off Sea Mountain Highway and teams played games at McLean Park and Central Park. As the city acquired the nine-acre parcel along Possum Trot Road and expanded its Central Park sports fields, more teams and more kids were able to take advantage of tee-ball and organized league play. As soccer grew in popularity and the city added fields for that sport, my kids joined the soccer craze.
As you might expect all four boys eventually found their niche. One played high school soccer, another decided to play football his senior year of high school and was one of few players I have ever seen who was flagged for a personal foul while standing on the sideline. One gave up sports for the high school band and we got to see him at halftime of football games as the band put on a great halftime show. Our other athlete stuck with baseball into his teens and then joined his older brother surfing, where he and brother garnered a few trophies along the way.
Throughout these years, we as parents did what so many of our readers still do. We drove kids to games, bought lots of snacks, oranges, apples and other food for the team, made sure we had the uniform, schedule and place for our next game, and let our stomachs churn while our kids laid it all on the line out there on that field. We cheered when they got a hit or even a walk, scored a goal or anything positive. We were happy when they got to play and were ecstatic if they “made all stars.” We tried to make them feel better if they struck out to end a game or missed a wide -open shot at the goal and we hugged them when they felt bad about losing.
Over the past few months it has been my pleasure to cover North Myrtle Beach High School sports. Since I have seen all my kids graduate from North Myrtle Beach schools I now root for these kids. I have talked to parents who give so much of their time and commitment to their children and the sports teams they play with. I watch them suffer through the losses and smile at a win. They are there to support their child no matter how many minutes or innings, halves or quarters they play in. I also watch them support the school by giving of their time to help raise funds by working in the snack bar or even helping work on fields or build facilities.
Each individual athlete on any high school team deserves a lot of praise for the work they put in for their sport. They practice, run plays, hit the weight room and spend an enormous amount of time throughout their season playing games and matches while still keeping up with their studies.
As senior athletes graduate this year, many will continue their sport at a higher level. Most will not. Their parents will have more time on their hands as they watch their children grow, mature and face adulthood. Eventually they may end up on a bleacher seat at some field somewhere watching their grandchild hit that tee-ball about twenty feet, carry the bat a few steps before throwing it aside and slowly ambling to first base. It doesn’t get any better than that.