Saturday, June 02, 2018

Feeling the "Empty Base Syndrome"

Nephews Derick and Marcus as Teammates, 2016
Our youngest nephew Marcus, and exchange student nephew Sergio, and their ten teammates played the last baseball game of their season this afternoon.  It was a regional game that could have put them in the final four of the state tournament, but they lost 5-1.  They remain, however, the Section V Class D champs, a status not achieved by our little hometown, Avoca, in twelve years.  I hope they can let go of the memory of today’s defeat and hold on to their amazing season.

For Marcus and Sergio, as well as their two teammates Evan and Austin, this is also their last game of high school baseball.  And for my family, who take their high school sports very seriously, well, we are experiencing something like “empty base” syndrome.  We have cheered a generation through soccer, track, basketball, cheerleading, softball and baseball since their earliest youth soccer and t-ball days, something like 25 years’ worth of games.

We have seen it all.  We have shaken our heads at games when nothing went right.  We have gloried when teams came together and triumphed.  We have cringed at injuries, shared disappointments, and thrilled together when we beat a rival.  We have watched mistakes that are worthy of any bloopers show on television, and we have seen a kid reach inside for more than he or she or we thought was there.  Along the way we also have let more than a few referees and umpires know when they were not performing up to par.

I sit here this evening feeling broken-hearted on the one hand and grateful and proud on the other.  I am sure my parents and siblings do also, and, most of all, I hope our nephews do, feel both as well.

In the end, the importance of these games over the years has not so much been about the competition as it has been the life lived and learned:  What it means to pull together as a team, a community, of different abilities and personalities, ask the best of one another, and live through both trials and celebrations together.  How luck and chance are a part of life, but so is working hard anyway.  Why the love of a family and a community are so important in our lives.  How sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but we are never worth more or less because of it.

Competition is a part of life. Life would be dull without it. But living life is ultimately not a competition.  It is about faith and hope and love, the things that draw us together not drive us apart.

I have loved being an uncle through all of this, and the last three years when I could be at almost every game has been a gift and a privilege.  I am also proud to be a son and a brother along the way, watching the faithfulness of my parents to their grandchildren, and watching my amazing sisters and brother and their spouses raise little boys and little girls to be young women and men.  I am sure you do not get told enough what a great job all of you have done.

And Marcus and Sergio, keep bringing to life that intensity I witnessed so often, the drive to do your best, and help one another thrive.  But leave room for the disappointments and mistakes.  They will always come.  Laugh at yourself once and awhile, and above all keep that goofy side you both have.  Life is a party to be celebrated more than it is a game to be won.