I can’t believe that you are old enough to start playing baseball. Weren’t you just born a few calendar pages ago? Here you are suited up and ready for T-ball. Pardon me if I am feeling a little old today.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I had your grandfather in tow and headed for the practice fields in East Point when he was about the same age you are today and missing about the same number of baby teeth.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
I did not push your grandfather to play sports. He seems to have gravitated to football on his own after sampling them all. I think he chose football because it was what he enjoyed the most and not because he felt compelled to please his parents. I hope that will be your experience as well.
Not only are you about to learn the skills of the game, you also can learn some valuable lessons that will make you a better person. For example, learn how to win with grace and lose with dignity. It pains me to see the showboating that has become so prevalent in professional sports these days and seems to be making its way into college athletics and even into our high schools.
In my opinion, such behavior is tasteless and proof that money can buy you a lot of things, but it can’t buy you class. Class comes from within. Be confident, but not arrogant. If you do well, others will know it. You won’t have to tell them.
Have a good time. Life gets very serious as we get older and it should not be that way for a 5-year-old playing T-ball. If you decide to watch a butterfly instead of a fly ball during a game, that’s not the end of the world. It is part of the learning process. I seem to recall a peewee football game in which your grandfather was seen picking a blade of grass instead of recovering a fumble. He seems to have turned out OK.
Give T-ball — and everything else you do — your best effort, but don’t expect perfection. Georgia’s Ty Cobb, who played baseball long before any of us were around, has the highest batting average in the history of the game — .366. That means he failed almost seven out of every 10 times he batted and yet he is considered one of the greatest baseball players ever. Keep that in mind.
There is a tricky balance between learning how to compete and having it ruin the joy of the experience. Compete to the best of your abilities, because that will help you in life as you grow older, but never forget that you are playing a game. Keep it in perspective. Sports are a diversion from the harsh realities of the world in which we live. Nothing more.
Most of all, help the rest of us to keep your first year of T-ball in perspective. Your family is shamefully biased when it comes to you. In the deep recesses of our hearts, we assume you will be great at this endeavor and at everything else you do. Let us have our dreams, but remember that what we think is not as important as what you think.
One of the most influential individuals in my life has been Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, who was CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Billy Payne was an outstanding football player at the University of Georgia as had been his father, Porter Payne. After every game young Billy played, he would ask his father, “How do you think I did today?” Instead of critiquing his son’s play, his dad would say, “How do you think you did, Billy? Do you think you really did your best?” Billy could never say, “Yes, I did” because he knew there was something he could have done better and would vow to improve the next week, which he did.
It is OK to ask your dad or your granddad, “How did I do?” but you, better than anyone, will know the answer to that question. To pursue excellence requires self-motivation, not the judgment of those around you.
This is a lot of heavy stuff to share with a 5-year-old who has yet to hit a ball off a tee but put this advice away for another day and when things get a little rough, remember the words of an old man who loves you very much and remind yourself, “It wasn’t just the game I played. It was the way I played it.”
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb