The Power of Sports and Memory

My three year-old son, Gus, recently began his foray into organized (well, somewhat organized) sports with a great tee-ball program called Little Rookies. Newsletter readers may recall that the very first thing he did upon taking the field was to drop his little shorts and pee on home plate. I wasn’t there for that priceless moment, but the story from my wife filled me with a blend of horror and pride. This week, my afternoon class has a big project, so I’ve given them the week off from class to work, which meant I was able to go and see the action for myself.

It was a blast: a gaggle of 3-5 year olds running around and occasionally doing something resembling sports. Bless the coaches, who have the patience of saints and I’m pretty sure keep a smile behind their masks throughout the session. The kids seemed to have a great time playing, but the handing out of post-play stickers was clearly their favorite part. I was most impressed with how well they’ve trained the kids to support each other; every hit and fielded ball is met with a chorus of cheers from the crew and I hope they’ll always be like that. (I know they won’t, things will get serious all too soon, no matter how hard we try.)

I had a great time, but I wasn’t expecting the wave of emotions that came at the end of practice, after loading Gus up in his mom’s car and making my way to my own. I closed the door and pretty much broke down. In part, it was what all parents must feel when the kids begin to grow up. I still remember holding him for the first time in the hospital, absolutely terrified; now he’s taking big cuts and giving high-fives to his buddies. This feeling, I may have expected. But I didn’t expect the torrent of memories from my own childhood spent on fields and courts. The wins and the losses, sure, but mostly my folks, always taking the time to show up and support, to learn the rules and traditions of the American youth sports world. Taking my first home run ball to my mother, sick and in bed at home. My dad inscribed the ball with the date and field; it now sits in my top desk drawer at work, something to hold and fiddle with in distracted moments. A few years later: playing soccer the weekend after she passed away, my absolute legend of a coach, George Inyang, putting his big arm around me and saying “you’re going to be ok maaaan.”

I called my dad from the car. Twenty minutes earlier I had been live-streaming Gus at bat, marveling at the technology to broadcast the experience to the other side of the planet. I think he knew the call was coming. We had a good talk and he brought me back to neutral, as he has always done. I headed to our old house to finish up a move. Fittingly, the last boxes out were the old trophies and the old family photos.

This morning, I woke up, feeling peace and tremendous gratitude. For Gus’s coaches. For my wife and son and our families. For those who have passed and those who have their life ahead of them. Even when the world is upside down, life can be so, so sweet.

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