I’d like to welcome Shellie as a contributor to the Wayfarer. Shellie’s travelogue is full of humor and heart, and I can’t wait to share her journey.
A couple of years ago I signed up my 6 year old son Dallen for T-ball. This was his first team sport he had ever played. I thought T-ball would be these cute little guys running around not knowing what they were doing. Nope, not here in the South. I quickly learned that here in the South, we take our sports very seriously. These boys were big, skilled, had their own helmets, bats, gloves and spiked shoes. They seemed like Goliaths compared to my little guy. And from that very first practice I knew that this was going to be tough, for the both of us.
Not only did Dallen not know the rules of the game, or where the bases were he couldn’t throw the ball more than 5 feet at the most. He’d throw and plop it went down into the dirt, poofing up dust all around it. He could barely hold up the bat and his run was a shuffle run with feet barely coming off the ground.
I felt like a complete failure as a parent. Why hadn’t I prepared him better? I felt I had let him down. I felt that he would be teased and made fun of, that he’d be hurt and sad, and it would all be because of me. But we had already signed up, so we stayed and went to every practice and every game.
Some of the boys on the team were nice, but not friends with him; some of the boys made fun of him. They wouldn’t do it directly, they wouldn’t call him names or push him, but as they passed him in the dugout they’d hit his mitt down. Or if he was holding a bat they would try to knock it out of his hands with their hands or bats. They wouldn’t yell or cheer for him like they did when their friends got up to bat. Dallen never mentioned it to me but I knew it hurt him because it hurt me.
Dallen knew he wasn’t great at playing baseball, that he couldn’t make contact or throw hard, or run fast and that he messed up the team’s wins. But he loved coming, he loved being part of the team and he loved to play. He loved coming because of his coach – Coach Johnny.
Every time Dallen came up to bat or throw or catch, Coach Johnny would boom out “Look out everyone here comes Big Daddy K” (His nickname for Dallen because of our last name) and Dallen would just beam! And then he’d strike out, or hit the Tee instead of the ball, or throw the ball basically to the ground or not even catch it. And Coach Johnny would boom out “Good job Big Daddy K. Next time. Next time.”
Six games into the season the Tee was taken away, and the boys had to hit straight from the pitch. Most boys would hit it hard. When Dallen stepped up to plate I would just close my eyes and pray “Please let him hit the ball. Please let him hit the ball.” Then Coach Johnny would say quietly right to Dallen “Come on Big Daddy K. You can do this. You can do this.” And he’d pitch. Dallen would swing way before, way after or not at all. Every game he struck out.
One night we were at an away game. Dallen was up to bat. Strike one. And then, miracle of all miracles, he hit the ball a good bit of the way. All of the moms & dads in the stands screamed and jumped up.
“Run Dallen! Run!” and he shuffle ran his way to first base. I started crying, and as I looked around all of the other parents were crying too. The moms came around and hugged me so hard. Dallen stood there on first base with a smile you couldn’t wipe off his face.
The next batter up struck out and it was the end of the inning. Coach Johnny (who was pitching) walked over to first base to high five Dallen. They walked backed together, and Dallen looked at the stands and I gave him a huge thumbs up.
The last game – I kid you not – was something like out of a movie. There were two outs, we were behind and there was a kid up to bat, then Dallen. I prayed while the other kid was up to bat.“Please let him strike out. Please let this other kid be the 3rd out.”
I didn’t want the potential loss be on Dallen’s shoulders at all. Well the kid struck the ball and made it to 1st base. The bleachers full of parents, grandparents and siblings all fell silent. Dallen walked up to bat and Coach Johnny said, “I want you to focus on the ball Big Daddy K. Just watch it. Take it slow. Focus you can hit this!” Dallen nodded.
I wish I could say he hit the ball and all the bases were loaded and everyone came running in and then Dallen was hoisted up on someone’s shoulders, carried around like a champion. But he didn’t. He struck out. He looked at Coach Johnny, and Coach Johnny walked up to him and gave him a big pat on the back and said, “You did a great job Big Daddy K.” He smiled at Dallen without a hint of disappointment in him. And Dallen smiled back, happy to feel that he indeed had done a great job.
One morning a couple weeks back I had woken up early and while doing the dishes was thinking about this experience. I couldn’t stop crying remembering certain things and understanding more about this thing we call life.
I belong to a team. Sometimes I feel like I’m not a good player. I don’t follow the rules, strike out, don’t throw the ball far enough or run as fast as other team members. I feel my teammates notice my lack of ability and push my mitt down or try to hit my bat away. I feel the embarrassment that I’ll never get a hit or even make it to first base let alone score a run.
But I also know that when I get up to bat none of the other stuff matters. I have someone coaching me who believes in me no matter what and I believe in him no matter what. And all I hear is “Come on Shellie. You can do this. You can do this.” And when I hear that I have hope. I feel like I can hit the ball. I want to hit the ball. I want to make everyone proud and cheer for me. But I might strike out and have to make the long walk back to the dugout. I might hear silence from my team members who are upset and ignore me because I didn’t do what I should as a team player.
Hopefully I’ll sit down on the bench, have a friend put their arm around me and say, “It’s okay. Everyone strikes out. You’ll get it next time.” I know at the end of it though, even though I feel bad and like a failure, that I have the Savior on my side walking up to me and saying “You did a great job.” I have someone who believes in me and makes me feel loved. And that is why I love coming to play the game.