Justin Ricklefs thanks his son for teaching him how to live more fully from his heart.
The tears flowed hard the first time I took you to baseball practice. From you on the outside, but mom and I were shedding them too. You just couldn’t see them. Us adults tend to hide stuff more than we should.
Is it too early? Maybe you’re not ready for this? What a dumb idea. We don’t even know these people.
Good friends, dear ones actually, invited you to play on this little team. We never pushed baseball on you, but you wanted to give it a shot.
Front yard baseball with your and sisters and me, while mom sat on the porch cheering her hardest, was the training ground. The place where your love for the hometown Royals manifested itself in your own life.
Those evenings in the yard led to you saying yes to this little team. Like your personality often does, you tiptoed in, kept your distance, stayed safe.
At practice, you and I would play catch at the end of the line, close to the action but far enough from these little guys you didn’t know yet.
You’d look for me as you rounded first during warm-ups around the bags, checking to be sure you were doing it right.
You took a ball on the cheek during infield practice one day and before I could get there you were wiping tears off those same cheeks while you put your glove back in the dirt, ready for the next grounder.
Little did we know that the little group of dudes you started your baseball journey with were on similar journeys themselves.
Parents like yours that were all trying their best to awkwardly get to know each other. Little fellas like you that were all trying their best to figure out this hard game where you hit a ball coming at you with a stick.
By necessity, because you wouldn’t let me out of your sight, I became a volunteer coach. Tiptoeing my own way in, offering help wherever I could. Giving fist bumps and high fives.
We taught you boys how to field a grounder. How to keep your hands back while you are hitting. How to cover second base when it gets hit to the outfield. How to hustle back to the dugout after you strike out. How to take your hat off when you say good game to the other team.
Little did we know that the things we thought we were teaching you were coming back a hundredfold to us.
You taught us how to lose with celebration. You taught us how to never quit when it gets tough. You taught us that a lot of the time the adults are the only ones that know the score. You taught us that nice boys don’t always finish last.
In fact, nice, hard-working boys like you boys, can finish first. In baseball, sometimes. In life, oftentimes.
Down 10-6 in the bottom of the final inning of the “world championship” as you called it, I was ready to teach you about hard life lessons on the way home in the car. How we tried our best. How we can get them next time. How life isn’t always fair.
But instead, little did we know, that improbably you’d score five runs to win it. That your laughs, cheers, big smiles and big hits would be enough to win the championship.
You boys changed us adults this summer.
Will any of you play for the Royals? Maybe, but doubtful.
But will the lessons we all learned this summer prepare you for the big world beyond the diamond? Certainly.
You stole our hearts Naturals. Or maybe better said, you showed us our hearts. And how to live more fully from them.
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