For many years, my son, Owen, suffered from debilitating anxiety. His timidity made it difficult for him to connect with other kids his age. He wasn’t teased or bullied. He was so painfully shy; he simply wasn’t noticed. Then he discovered baseball and his whole world opened up. Owen began playing ball in a recreational league in our hometown of White Bear Lake in the first grade. From his first coach-pitched game, he was hooked.
Since then, Owen has grown into a strong, confident, athletic teenager. He’s still sensitive and soft-spoken, but he’s also developed empathy, leadership skills, and deep friendships with his teammates. Because we happen to live in a predominantly white community, for a long time our son rarely had occasion to connect with people of color his age. Now he has friends — all of whom he met playing ball — whose skin colors and backgrounds are different from his own and he’s a better human for it. We need these kinds of connections, now more than ever.
As much as my husband and I would like to take credit for our son’s transformation from an anxious child to a confident young man, we know full well the real catalyst for his growth: baseball. And our son is no anomaly. I’ve witnessed similar transformations in other children. His cousin, in particular: once a shy, soft-spoken girl, she found her voice and her power on the field.
So much more than a sport
Clearly, baseball is so much more than a sport! It’s a way to fit in, to make friends, and to gain confidence and a sense of fairness that carries over to so many other areas of life. Moreover, baseball (and youth sports in general) is such an important opportunity for kids of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to come together and create lifelong friendships. I don’t think its hyperbole to say that the future of our nation depends on these friendships.
My son has come a long way from being the shy, quiet kid on the playground. Nowadays, he can handle almost anything life throws at him. He can handle adversity. He can handle distance learning. He can handle wearing a face mask in public. He can even handle not seeing his friends and grandparents for months on end. What he can’t tolerate — what none of us can tolerate — is the sense that our community is diminishing right before our eyes.
I don’t know much about politics or pandemics. What I do know is that when our kids aren’t playing ball, they’re finding other, less-healthier ways to occupy their time. I’ve spoken to parents whose once vibrant, energetic kids have fallen into depression, developed poor eating habits, and turned to video games and junk food to fill the emptiness they feel. Sadly, I also know families who live with domestic abuse exacerbated by the quarantine.
The power to energize and uplift
While I don’t believe that baseball (or any sport) is a magical cure for the pandemic we’re in, I do believe the game has the power to energize and uplift our collective spirit. It’s such a small thing, yet it would have a tremendous impact on the mental and physical health of our communities.
We know baseball helped the nation heal after the 9/11 attacks. When players took the field again, especially in New York City, it was a sign that America was not broken or defeated — just the opposite. I’d argue that youth baseball could play a similar role now — even if the enemy is an invisible virus and the games are played in empty ballparks.
With extra safety measures in place — measures that have been carefully developed by the Baseball Alliance of Minnesota, a collaboration of MYAS/Gopher State and Metro Baseball, the two largest statewide, community-based baseball organizations — there is no reason why our boys and girls can’t compete this summer. Our kids — the least at-risk population in this pandemic — shouldn’t have to go an entire season without playing the game they love.
We need to get our boys and girls back on the field. Parents can watch from a distance or not at all. Let’s just get our kids off the sofa and back onto the diamond.
Tina Mortimer is a freelance writer based in the Twin Cities. Her work has been published in many local publications, including Minnesota Parent and Minnesota Good Age.
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