Pearls from the Diamond

For baseball parents, those whose kids either play the game or are fans, October is huge—it's the month for the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series. The bright spotlight October shines on baseball's finest teams and players also "loads the bases" for teaching moments.

I'll never forget the cloudless Colorado Saturday afternoon 16 years ago that found our 10-year old son at shortstop when a line drive off the bat struck his team's pitcher square on the face. As the boy crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain and bleeding from his nose and mouth, our son and his teammates all rushed to the mound and surrounded their stricken pitcher. We in the bleachers collectively gasped in horror, and then I and another doctor-parent ran onto the field to stem the bleeding and send someone to call an ambulance (yes, this was during the Jurassic Period before many of us carried cell phones).

As the other young players sifted through the pebbles for our pitcher's presumed missing teeth, our son backed away from the crowd, shaking. He slowly sat down on the infield dirt, desperately trying not to throw up from the sight of his good friend—and his friend's blood and teeth—now lying motionless on the ground.

The ambulance was there in minutes and our pitcher was whisked away (he went on to make a full recovery, although he needed a tooth implant). But it's what happened after the ambulance left that changed our son's life. As he was hyperventilating, his back to home plate and his head between his legs, the coach patted him on the head and matter-of-factly told him to quickly warm up because he would be the new pitcher. Despite his love of pitching, when the coach broke the news, our son looked like he had been the one hit with the baseball. Somehow, he rallied, got his legs back, and took the hill.

My son is all grown up now, a lawyer, and married. But in the years since replacing his injured friend on the mound, there hasn't been a hurdle or challenge he's faced when he didn't call upon that little league moment to find strength and courage.

Embedded in kids' passions are priceless parenting moments. We were lucky because our kids loved anything that bounced, and sports have always brought forth metaphors for life. But lessons abide in everything kids undertake with commitment, from art, writing, music and theater, to math, science, technology, and history. Commitment itself is an important message for kids. Parents needn't wait for dramatic episodes like ours to teach life lessons.

Sticking with my October World Series theme, baseball offers mundane but meaningful teaching moments every inning. A runner leading off from base learns to balance risk and reward. A called third strike teaches the consequences of inaction and missed opportunity. Batting averages prove success in life doesn't require perfection—after all, the great hitters in baseball, those who hit "300," still get out 70% of the time. Standing in the "on deck circle" reminds kids to learn from others' experiences, while the fielder in the "ready position" reaps the rewards of forming good habits. "Calling for" a pop fly ball requires taking responsibility for a task, and then following through. The sacrifice bunt...well that's obvious, as is "backing up" teammates on throws and ground balls. These will all be on display on the national stage this month.

And then, when you've passed enough wisdom on to your kids for one evening, pop some popcorn, cuddle on the sofa with your little ballplayers, and enjoy the best baseball of the season.

MLB pitcher Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals demonstrates how to pitch a baseball. Now, play ball!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

Image via Shutterstock

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