I’ve talked about the friendship between my son and his friend R before. “Brothers in baseball” N called them. Together for two years, plus a fantastic season of soccer, both our families kept our fingers crossed they’d be together again this year for baseball.
But it wasn’t meant to be. This is the first level where the kids have to do a skills assessment and be drafted based on those skills. We knew that the coach we were hoping to get had every intention of drafting both the boys, but he only had so much control over it. We joked that the boys should throw the skills assessment, despite knowing we’d never actually ask them to. We just wanted to keep our kids together.
The day of the draft came, and we waited. Coach didn’t even get a shot at R. Another coach picked him up before it was his turn to choose. And that was that. He took N and the “brothers” were now competitors.
We were all heartbroken. The families, the kids. Telling each of the boys was awful. They both cried. We all cried. It sounds so silly, but I think there was a part of us that believed the two of them would just always be together on the same team. They were so close, and played so well together. They read each other, trusted each other, and rarely did a ball thrown from one to the other go sideways.
Practices started and it just became the new reality. Obviously it wasn’t the end of the world, and the boys both just love to play, so they settled in to their teams. Today was the second game of the season (and the week for that matter), and the first chance for N and R to face each other.
When R’s family got there, we sat together on one side of the field, and we cheered for both teams as they took their places. R’s sister and J sat and drew pictures together while the adults joked we needed shirts with both teams’ logos on them. R made a great play in the infield, getting one of our kids out and H and I cheered as hard for him as his own parents. At one point, N hit the ball, and one of the kids on the other team threw the ball to R who was attempting to tag N out at second, and we all held our breath because we literally wanted them both to get it – R to get the tag and N to beat the tag. N beat the tag – this time.
N had started out playing 2nd base, and then between innings I heard his coach say, “N, you’re pitching.” As he threw a few practice pitches to prepare to pitch his first official inning of the season, we realized it was R who was coming up to bat first.
N’s first real pitch in a game would be thrown to R. I couldn’t see anything more fitting than that.
I scrambled to find a place where I could somehow get a picture of both of them in the same frame. There was something about this that felt like it would mean something – later, maybe – if not right away, and I wanted to make sure I had it captured.
At this level, if they get to a pitch count of 4 balls, they don’t walk the kids, they let them take as many pitches as they have strikes left off the pitching machine. N had R at 4 balls and 1 strike, so R got two off the machine, and struck out. I looked at N as R dropped his head a little and started to walk away and I could tell he was having a hard time not running over to R to give him that high five he’d always give him after every at-bat.
“Great at-bat, R!” N yelled after him. I don’t know if R heard it, or really if anyone other than me saw or heard him say it. My eyes filled up.
I don’t know honestly if either boy will remember today as anything more than another game in a long history of hundreds of games they’ll have played over the years. They may not. But I will. Baseball is such a metaphor for life in so many ways. From the moment R came up to bat against N to the moment N called after him as he walked to the dugout, we were witnesses to a life lesson. That even though things don’t always go your way and you don’t always land on the same side as your best friend, when push comes to shove, you always have each other’s backs. And the truth is, it wasn’t the boys who needed to learn the lesson, it was the adults.
You don’t have to wear the same jersey to be on the same team.