“All He Ever Wanted Was to Play”

All he ever wanted was to play.

It started as it does with thousands of young boys and girls, regardless of the sport…his dad took him to a game. From the moment he climbed into the family car he felt the excitement. “We’re going somewhere special,” his father had said. And with the kind of complete trust only a child can have, he knew it would be. As a wide-eyed five-year-old, he held his father’s hand as he was led into the magical realm of a major league baseball park. For over three hours, he reveled in a living dream. The sights, the sounds, the people, the smells. They all imprinted themselves on his young mind, forming memories that are with him even now. But more than anything, he saw the game.

Ken

His father partook of his parental duties and began explaining everything to him, but all that the boy needed to hear was “This is baseball.”  He listened to explanations of what the pitcher did, what a double play was, how many innings there were, but he didn’t need any of them. As his eyes gazed upon the magical circus or color, movement, action, and sound, it all made sense to him. A hidden instinct grasped what he was seeing with ease. And he knew, without even really knowing, what he was meant to be.

Little League ball was the beginning, and that hidden instinct was revealed quickly. He grasped the concepts of good batting form, looking the ball into his glove, staying down on the ball, etc. Everything that a beginning player is taught came to him quickly and completely. Every second spent on the diamond was total joy. Hitting, pitching, fielding, anything. As long as he had a bat or a ball in his hand, he felt perfectly happy.

From the start he was the best player on his team and as fathers do, his dad taught him everything he knew, enabling him to do even more. His teams started to win championships and he played a starring role. Visions of being a major leaguer danced in his head along with a million other boys. To him, every game was game seven of the World Series and he was the star of his favorite team.

Soon he had learned all that his father had to teach him. At the same time, his abilities caught the attention of the coach of a local travelling team. After discussing it with his father, he decided to leave his local team and step up in competition. Driven by a desire to learn more, to be better, the boy poured himself into his new team and new coach. He wanted to be able to do everything possible on the baseball diamond and his new mentor had even more experience and wisdom to share with him. With his parents conveying him to every team game, tournament, and event, the boy’s skills increased even more. Soon the team was a regular contender in regional tournaments. As the boy entered his junior high years, he continued to excel and was even more enraptured with the game. Always able to hit for average, the boy started becoming a young man and soon power was added to his game. A dominating pitcher on the mound, his increased stature granted the boy even more velocity and turned him into a terror on the mound. And when he played the field, he moved with grace and speed around the field of play, with an arm like a cannon.

That’s when it happened. The natural talent, the desire to improve, and now the physical maturation had made the dreams of professional baseball seem within reach. His father wanted to help him achieve his dream, but began to have some of his own, as well. Dreams of fame and glory for his son entered his mind. His mother fell prey to looking ahead also and started to think of a way of life she had never dared conceive before. And the boy continued to grow and get better. The boy saw the possibilities, too, and was able to easily to convince his father to let him take the next step. 

With a stellar reputation, he had no problem securing a place on a top-level select team, and in no time, he was known across the country. His coach now was a team of men who worked with him year round to fine tune every single aspect of his game. But they soon decided his future was on the mound and he only received instruction in his pitching. They built him into the complete package, but at the cost of all of his free time, most of his time with his parents, and almost all of the joy he used to take in the game. Practices were mandatory and strict. The coaching staff pushed him to correct minor flaws until they were totally erased. He fought through minor injuries and felt himself in competition with his teammates instead of working with them. And when he confided in his parents, they reminded him that it was his dream, as well as what they could possibly have if he reached it. But despite all that, he ascended to the top of every high school prospect list. Colleges clamored for his services, but his parents and coaches made it known that the pros were his choice.

Every dream that he ever had in regards to baseball was about to come true. He was going to be drafted in the first round, get paid a lot of money, and get to play professional baseball. Thousands of schoolboys envied and admired him. He would soon be able to take care of every need his parents had. The good life was right around the corner, except he no longer wanted it. The years of non-stop playing, practicing, travelling, and doing whatever he could to gain exposure. His father relentlessly pushing for him to get better, work harder, practice more. The dreams of his mother for a better life and of gaining the finer things that had eluded her and her family. Never-ending pressure to realize his dream and change the world for himself and his family. All of this had turned the dream into a nightmare. The very thought of picking up a baseball now made his stomach hurt. What had once been his destiny now seemed a prison sentence. The magic the little boy had once felt was now a misery. And he saw no way of ever returning to those halcyon days of his childhood.

All he ever wanted was to play.

After all, it is just a game.  Isn’t it?

Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Ozark Preps Illustrated.

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