Pop ponders what he's learned, what's next as son retires

A dad ponders what’s next now that his son has retired

By Stephen G. Largy
Canadian Baseball Network

From the time my son was about 10 years old, we have had the vast majority of our “vacations” in an arena or on a baseball diamond. He was an accomplished hockey and baseball player and, when he was young, “any” sport was his passion. And even prior to that we were still on a diamond as he cut his teeth playing softball from about 5 years old.

When he turned 16, he chose baseball as his passion and set a path that would take him into a more focused level of elite baseball as a student athlete. His journey would take him through the Premier Baseball League of Ontario and into the US for Community College and University. He achieved a notable amount of success on the field, got his associate degree and his Bachelors of Business, and had the lion’s share of his post-secondary education paid for by athletic scholarships. He had a plan, he worked hard, and he continues to work hard toward longer term goals of teaching and coaching.

As parents, we were supportive. In fact, we have been accused of being over supportive; however, that is something that we believe you do for your child. That being said, we thoroughly enjoyed watching our son play, develop, compete, and achieve. We were – and are – diehard fans of our son and of baseball.

We learned a lot about the baseball “stuff” – the league rules, Coaching styles, the program philosophies, and nature of the sport. We learned about the scholarships, I-20s, GPAs, and the American education system. We learned that some players made it. And some didn’t.
But there were also a lot of other things that I learned from being a baseball parent…

_ I learned that, sometimes, the writing was on the wall. Early on, in my son’s last year of competitive hockey, we took part in a Christmas Week tournament in Phoenix, Az. We won our age group in that tournament. But this would be the year that, at the end of hockey season, my son would choose baseball as his future path. I guess that wasn’t a surprise as one of the memorable events at that tournament was seeing a baseball team practicing outside the arena after one of our games. Aww, the beauty of year round baseball in the Cactus and the Grapefruit league zones. Even though we were there to play hockey, there was an instant longing for baseball season to start again – albeit, in the Northern Game, that would not be till May

_ I learned that Labatt Park in London, Ont. is the “oldest continually operating baseball grounds in the world”, with a history dating back to 1877. And we learned that it was a beautiful park to play in – and win in – as our son saw at least one tournament championship and a provincial championship at Labatt Park

_ I learned that not all diamonds are “community parks” and that there are some great baseball stadiums in Canada for youth and adults. In southern Ontario these include Bernie Arbour Stadium in Hamilton, Welland Stadium in Welland, and Soulliere Park in Windsor. Although perceived to be underutilized, they remain great venues for baseball and every young player’s eyes light up the first time that they enter these parks to play

_ I learned that great teams and great victories don’t just happen. And that the coaches cannot do it all. We always volunteered to help with the “off field” stuff and encouraged other parents to help too. The results were great bar-b-ques between tournament games, great road trips, and friendships that have survived the different paths taken by the players as they “grew up”

_ I learned that Grand Rapids, Mich. has an old stadium originally Valley Field, now called Sullivan Field, that was built in 1937. The old grandstand is all wood with steel beams holding up the roof – and obstructing the view. Situated on the edge of a quiet residential neighbourhood, playing at Sullivan Field was a step back into baseball history 

_ I learned that I loved Nashville. We went there for a Sandlot World Series; and everywhere we went we were greeted by good, friendly people. During one rain delay the opposing team started a game of hangman by tossing a ball back and forth between dugouts. And in a friendly conversation, one parent excused himself to call home and tell his family that they “… need to come down here and see this team that has come all the way from Canada (pronounced a little more like Can-a-der) to play baseball” 

_ I learned that the University of West Alabama is the home of the UWA Tigers and head coach Gary Rundles, who during a visit by our team to UWA, proved to be the personification of Southern hospitality. Coach Rundles was looking at one of our pitchers and invited the team to use his practice facilities. And after practice, he invited the whole team up to the Tigers Clubhouse for pizza, ice cream, and to watch baseball. By the way, our pitcher ended up at UWA and now coaches for Canada’s Collegiate WMBL Medicine Hat Mavericks. You just don’t get the baseball out of your blood

_ I learned that when you are a northern team, the start of the baseball season tends to occur during a trip south. In 2013 and 2014 we followed our son’s team to Austin, Tex. and Arlington, Tex. for their season openers during March break; and found out that winter is NOT over just because you go south of the Mason-Dixon line 

_ And I learned that the stereotype of the Mid-West being nothing but corn fields is pretty close to the mark. NJCAA and NAIA ball in Illinois means you see an awful lot of diamonds where the corn grows right up to the outfield fences. And that’s not a bad thing

_ All in all, I learned a lot of things that translate as much into good memories and good fun as they do into learning about baseball

My son is now 24 years old and this will be the first year that he will not take the field as a player. As a complement to his chosen career path to become an elementary school teacher, he has joined an elite baseball development organization as a youth development coach. This year he will be leading from the dugout.

And we will not be sitting in the stands or on the grass as spectators and fans as we have done for more than 15 years. We will not be planning weekends away for out of town games and tournaments. We will not be “analyzing” (more like “whining”) from our seats when the game is not going well. And we will not be sitting on the edge of our seats when the team pulls a late-innings win out of their hats; and we end up jumping up and down celebrating like high school cheerleaders. 

We’re not sure how we’re going to handle that. Or what we’re going to do with our spare time?

But I do know that we will always have the life time of memories that I learned by being a baseball dad.