The best disappointing loss we ever had

In the small frame, this post is about basketball. In the bigger picture, it’s about learning life. I’ll try not to go into the weeds of basketball getting to the larger point.

Our university’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Final Four this year. We’ve been spoiled by going to the Final Four eight times in the past 20 years. However, our team has brought home the National Championship only once in those eight trips. This means we’ve had seven instances of build-up and high hopes, followed by bitter disappointment.

Our last Final Four was four years ago, when Big Brother was six years old. He was just becoming conscious of the game called basketball, and wasn’t interested in it as television viewing. The words “Final Four” meant nothing to him.

Since then, he began playing organized basketball. This past winter, his 5th grade team had a challenging season, but turned their fortunes around at the end by winning their league tournament. Not only did Big Brother learn how much effort and determination it took to win such a tournament, it stirred his interest in our university’s team.

He began watching the NCAA tournament games with increased interest. For me, this was a long-awaited perk of fatherhood: watching sports with a child who cared about the game.

It’s a double-edged perk.

Even in 5th grade, it takes long hours of practice.

On Saturday, we watched the National Semi-final together. The game went back and forth, until the opposing team pulled ahead. Then our team came back and got within one point, but the momentum switched again and the other team held on to win.

It was another case of high hopes leading to disappointment. I’d been there before, but it was a new experience for Big Brother. The final buzzer left him lying face down on the couch. I rolled him over to find tears in his eyes.

At that moment I felt proud, which seems a little odd, but I was glad he could develop a passion for something beyond his own person. I also felt a tinge of guilt at my role in turning him into a sports fan. Sports leads to disappointment more often than not. Even the good seasons mostly end with a loss. Nobody likes to see their children disappointed.

But we have to see them disappointed. The character moments are born of disappointment. I talked to Big Brother about keeping perspective. There are so many things in his life, more important than basketball, to be happy about. We talked about disappointment, and how you have to move past it, get on with life, and be ready for what comes your way next.

I didn’t cheer him up much that night. He’ll have to see it for himself. Life is back to normal, with more pressing things that need attention (e.g. school assignments). If my words can just hang out in the background until the next disappointment life hands him, perhaps they can help him see it’s probably not the end of the world.

I would have preferred a victory, but as far as disappointing losses go, this one may have been the most useful.

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Field of painful dreams

When I was in little league, I got a colored T-shirt with a stenciled team name on the front and a cap with a solid color in front and white mesh on the back (the kind farmers wear when they are out combining corn).

Baseball has come a long way since then. Big Brother’s team has jerseys with numbers, baseball pants, socks, and caps with real Major League logos on them. Parents pay significantly more for sports leagues now than mine ever did, so I guess there should be more stylish outfits to get dirty.

This is Big Brother’s second year in a kid-pitch league. The kids pitch to opposing batters, unless it takes more than five pitches to get the batter out, in which case the coach finishes him off. Elementary school boys are not the most accurate throwers, and there are no walks issued, so this system keeps the game from bogging down into a wild-pitch duel.

Big Brother has a strong arm, but like all the elementary school boys, he has some control issues. Most of these stem from his fear of hurting the kid up to bat. He can throw a number of good strikes during warm-ups, but when a kid steps into the batter’s box, Big Brother’s head fills with images of hardball carnage leading to predictably wild results. As he explained it himself: “I’m a good pitcher as long as there’s no batter.”

Baseball can be a cruel and ironic game.

batting practice

Getting in some batting practice from a pitcher that probably won’t bean you.

Kids need to face their fears, so he was scheduled to pitch the first two innings of their opening game. He nailed the first batter in the back. The boy lived, and after wiping a few tears, even trotted down to first base.

I wouldn’t have wished Big Brother to hit a batter, but in the long run, it may have saved future batters from pain. Big Brother realized he wasn’t likely to kill or maim another kid with a wild pitch and stopped worrying so much about it. He relaxed and recorded a couple of strikeouts in two scoreless innings on the mound.

The flip side of this fear is getting hit with a pitch while batting. In this case, fear hinders a kid with a good swing from playing up to his potential. Somehow, I don’t think getting nailed by a pitch will help him relax, so there needs to be an alternate solution for this.

It’s difficult to be a good hitter when you are leaving your bat on your shoulder until you determine whether or not to duck. He needs to learn the mechanics of hitting in the proper order: step into the pitch first, then assess whether you need to dive out of the way. That way, if you are not ground zero, you still have a chance to contact the ball with the bat.

It turns out hardball wouldn’t be nearly so complicated to learn if it weren’t for the hard and the ball.

 

 

Local boy avoids 257 bone fractures in one day

My wife has discovered local swap meet web sites. This can be useful, like when she scored us a free elliptical machine, or not as useful: “Do you need 160 square feet of patio pavers? It’s only 50 bucks for the whole pile.” I admit, that would be a good deal if we had a patio, or even a potential patio area, but as it stands, we’re holding out for further price reductions.

On the useful side, we bought a bunk bed frame for the kids. When we went to look at it, the nice lady selling it gave Big Brother a pair of roller blades her children had outgrown.  Recalling the length of time, and the voluminous gnashing of teeth, it took for this kid to learn to ride a bike, I was unsure of the usefulness of the roller blades. And how much would these free blades cost us in pad purchases?

Chalk up another useful application of the Internet. Within two days, my wife had located a complete, never-been-used set of pads for $10. The only piece left to be put into place was the boy’s willingness to fall repeatedly in order to learn a skill requiring real effort.

The first time he put the roller blades on his feet, he practically had to be carried out to the driveway. Up and down the sidewalk, he rolled a little, clung to me a lot, and fell down most of all. The clinging wasn’t helping him master his balance, so I cast him off. He started making two or three strides in between falls.

Stride goeth before a fall.

His mother, proud of the bargain she’d found on the pads, and wanting to instill in him the necessity of wearing them, but mostly proud of the bargain, commented after each fall. “If not for those pads, your elbow would be completely shattered right now.”

I thought these comments might intimidate him, but he seemed to like thinking of his joints as shatterproof. It encouraged him to try again. He put together a few more strides, then tumbled.

“Your knee would be in shreds right now, except for those pads.”

The indestructible boy grinned and climbed to his feet. He took four strides before the next fall.

“Your wrist would be toast right now. Completely mangled. Thank goodness for those awesome pads, right?” He was wearing his old bike helmet, so she didn’t bother to crack his skull.

He went at it until dark. The next day he made it to the end of the block on one tumble. It’s been nothing like the slow agony learning to ride a bike was.

It just goes to show that kids can surprise you with their drive to accomplish difficult things. It also shows how Dad can always learn from Mom. I clearly didn’t talk enough about broken bones during bicycle training. Maybe if I encase him in bubble wrap and throw books at him it will make him a more avid reader.

Skate away. That’s all.

We got game – family style

Big Brother just finished his second season of playing organized basketball. He seems to have found a sport he loves. He’s pretty good at it, much better than at soccer. This is not surprising since he seems to have good hand-eye coordination but is not a natural athlete. Soccer limited the use of his best asset; at least he was allowed to use his eyes.

We have a hoop in our driveway and he often wants me to play with him. Sometimes I do, but sometimes, like in February, it’s too cold for old folks to be shooting hoops outside. And sometimes there’s a good basketball game on TV, where we old men play most of our sports. These days, my best athletic moves involve transforming from the upright to the reclining position.

Meanwhile, the boy has received, as gifts, at least three small, indoor hoops that hook onto the top of doors. Mommy shudders every time he gets one, because he always wants to hang them from the door of his bedroom. This ignites the age-old conflict between moms and playing ball in the house. For my part, I see Mommy’s point, but I also remember how fun playing ball in the house could be, so I have mixed emotions.

As a compromise, Big Brother was allowed to hang a hoop over a door at the bottom of the basement steps. When he has a friend over, they can often be found playing basketball in the basement. This is doubly good, because not only does it keep the big kids from in front of any game I might be watching on TV, it encourages the little boys to go downstairs and play in the toy room there.

I’ve grown accustomed to hearing talk of slam dunks from the bottom of the stairs, but last weekend I heard something new. After the friends had gone, there was still the noise of kids playing basketball in the basement. Big Brother was sharing the sport he loves with his little brothers. “Is this a three pointer?” I heard Buster ask. Big Brother explained the rules; he was actually teaching them.

I love this on lots of levels: first, I love that no one was fighting – that’s always a plus in our Itchy & Scratchy household. I love that the little boys are developing an interest in basketball. I love that admiration for their big brother is the cause of this. I love that Big Brother wants to share one of his favorite things with them.

I called the boys to come upstairs for dessert. Big Brother and Buster came up, but Big Man kept practicing. He needs to stand on the second stair to get the ball near the hoop. I asked him what he wanted for dessert. “Nothing,” he replied, “I’m paying bassetbaw.”

There he stayed, practicing his second-stair shot. I’ll remember this day when he’s swishing three-pointers. I hope Big Brother does too, so we can be proud together.

 

"Paying bassetbaw."

“Paying bassetbaw.”

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With a two-step handicap.

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Is better than cookies.