Monday, August 4, 2008

The Hardest Part of Next Level Baseball

RT Staff Note: This is another real life experience from our fellow Northern Californian colleague...Enjoy!
RT Staff

What is the hardest thing you have ever personally experienced? Run a marathon? Facilitate a high profile multi-million dollar business acquisition? Prepare your own taxes? Give birth? For some of us, it's the simple things, for others it's world changing events. For my wife and me, it was walking away from our son, getting into our car and going back home while he started his new life as a student athlete on a baseball scholarship.

As part of an innovative program his D-I school offers, he is attending a freshman summer school program designed for freshman recruits for all sports and hundreds of other over achieving braniacs to get a head start on college. For the athletes, it's meant to even out their yearly unit requirements. In this program, there are women's and men's baseball/softball, soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, water polo track and field, volleyball, and golf freshman athletes.

During the respective athletes season, which in many cases spans over two quarters, (many California schools are on the Quarter system) they can only take 12 credit hours due to the rigorous game preparation demands and the travel that accompanies it. The 7-9 credits that they signed up for this summer is meant to keep them on track for an on-time graduation schedule, provided that they don't get drafted or go pro in their respective sports.

It also acclimates them to the real life rigors of college in a less stressful environment. Only a thousand or so attend this program. The theory is that they will be a bit more prepared, a lot less intimidated and in great shape…(yes, there are strength and conditioning work-outs to attend EVERY DAY) when the onslaught of 23,000+ converge on the campus this fall. As a major research university, I believe the theory has been proven many times over. They are in their tenth year of this program.

For the brainy prodigies attending the program, most of the students we met during the orientation have already met their General Education requirements and were getting a head start on their core classes in their major. They will in all likelihood get their PHD's and will be on their way to becoming the next Bill Gates in the time it will take my son to graduate. He's making friends with them now, because he will probably be working for them in a few years if baseball doesn't pan out.

Now, back to the hard part. The orientation was meant to prepare all of the parents to learn to cope with separation, ease our fears of college life and give us a glimpse of what their schedules and days would look like. And, for the most part, it did help answer a lot of general questions we had. What they don't know however, is the closeness and intimate relationships that many student athletes and their parents have with each other.

I have mentioned this before in an article titled "Senior Tears", that the life of parents of elite athletes is spent on the road, traveling from tournament to tournament, showcase to showcase, combine to combine. Baseball is no different than any other sport I learned. I talked with a couple of a tennis player from Houston, the parents of a couple of highly touted girls basketball players from Sacramento, volleyball parents from Colorado and a two state ranked boys basketball parents from the San Francisco Bay Area. We all shared the same stories of elite camps, travel teams, AAU tourneys, showcases and more. And along the way, we have stayed in places from Motel 6's to luxury resorts. We were our own private little support group, trying to help each other out for that dreaded hour we would all have to say goodbye.

It worked the first two days. There were a lot of laughs, stories and experiences that kept us preoccupied. Up to that point, the hardest thing to cope with was our kid's task of trying to find out what courses to take in the upcoming fall quarter. The summer program doubled as an orientation for fall and in addition to reviewing their coursework and expectations for the summer program, they were there to enroll in fall classes too. All student athletes have to be done with their classes by 1:00 or 2:00, depending on the sport and finding the right match of classes and times that can co-exist with their sports schedules was not an easy task. Here's a typical day of a student athlete…no matter what the sport.

6:30-7:30 Strength and conditioning
7:30-8:00 Breakfast
8:00-1:00 Classes/lunch
1:30-5:30 Practice
6:00 Dinner
6:45-9:45 Study (Mandatory, depending on sport)
9:45-? Their time to make decisions on what is more important…partying or sleep. Our money is on relaxation and sleep with this schedule. There's always the weekend.

By Saturday afternoon, the scheduling was completed and the last orientation meeting had concluded. As we headed off to the dorms to meet up with our son and say goodbye, the sensation of the past 18 years flashed before the eyes of my wife and I almost simultaneously. From diapers to dances, tee ball to Junior Olympics, pre-school to the dorms we were walking to, it all started to feel like a heavy weight on our shoulders as we walked closer and closer to his new residence.

And as we approached the dorms, we passed other parents donning sunglasses, wiping tears and clinging to each other with expressions of sadness and separation anxiety. That didn't make it any easier for my wife and I. We were both about to succumb to an emotional episode ourselves when out of the corner of our eye, we spotted our boy ride around the corner in his used cruiser bike we purchased for him a few days earlier. He had a look of accomplishment on his face and happily exclaimed that he did indeed get the classes that he wanted… his first collegiate success.

As small as this "victory" was in the scheme of the things he will most likely face in his next four years at college, it WAS his first success and my wife and I were happy for him. Right then and there, we knew he would be alright…We strolled together up to his room, took some final pictures, my wife tidied up his bed, desk and dresser, we engaged in some small talk and finally said our goodbyes.

There are a lot of things I could have said at that moment, but the only words that came out were " I'm so proud of you". Maybe the ghosts of parents past were looking over me at that moment, because it was exactly the words he wanted to hear. He didn't say that of course, but after 18 years of long car trips, sharing free and very austere hotel continental breakfasts and the glances he made to me after a home run or spectacular play, my parental instincts knew, that he knew, that I really meant it and he really appreciated it.

The car we entered after our goodbyes was now empty…devoid not just of his school things, but of his funny personality, his sometimes annoying music, dusty cleats, crusty bat bag, smelly socks and body odor from a long tourney or double header. We never thought that we would ever miss stuff like that, but I in particular, miss that most of all. That's what raising a student athlete, a baseball player, who happens to also be a great, caring son is all about. That was the life that we had with our boy…And what a perfect life that was.

Good luck to all of you parents that will be going through the same experience in the weeks to come.

RT Staff


Anonymous said...

I am a single mom of an only child who has a son going to play ball in Texas in two weeks. Your story made my eyes well up at first, open up with the crazy schedule in the middle and cry a gallon of tears in the end.

You painted such a beautiful account of your last days with your son. I hope I have the strength to handle it. At least I know now what I am going to say...because like you I am very proud of him. Thanks so much for a beautiful story.

Anonymous said...

I can't stop crying. My husband and I are going to be real emotional in 10 days when we drive our son to college. Thanks for sharing your moment with us.

Anonymous said...

I guess my wife and I have been so excited about him becoming a college athlete that we didn't even think about him not being there in our house anymore. Boy, it's going be tough on my wife and probably tougher on me. My son and I are really close. Thanks for preparing me for that. Good article.

RJ said...

My sons summer season is over and he is preparing to go to college next week. I was going to clean out the back of my truck and couldn't bring myself to vacuum up the mud from the cleats, waterlogged baseballs, and torn up batting gloves sitting back there. I'm going to hang on to that mess a bit longer. Those things are like mementos and like a tribute to his accomplishments. I may never clean it up.

Thanks for all you great articles in the past few months. They helped a lot, especially the strength and conditioning stuff. Good luck to your son too.

Anonymous said...

I showed this to my wife and she showed it to our son. My son was worried that we will be taking down the batting cage in our back yard when he leaves. I told him not to worry. that old thing has way too many memories to take it down. SWe are hitting in it tonight and maybe the rest of the week,. he leaves in 8 days. i'm savoring every minute of our time together.

baseballfirst said...

The emptiness takes a while to deal with. When we dropped our son off to college last year, it took me thre months to get over it. Your experience was much like mine. Very good article.

Jim - TeachDGame said...

The funny part is it is not just the parents who have these feelings. I remember myself when I was a player and this strange phenomena happened. I was 18 yrs old, all gung ho driving off to college 500 miles away from home. How GREAT it would be to now be on my own, getting to live life, play D1 College baseball. Those feelings changed about a month into it when I'm sitting there in my first collegiate game (back then we played / practiced a lot more - it was a winter game @ Stanford), I look up in the stands, there are only a few folks there and no familiar faces. I had grown up playing my whole life with my family, girlfriend, other friends there at every single game. Now here I am at the greatest stage I had been working for and NO ONE WAS THERE. For the first time I truly felt alone. That was a very strange game for me and one I have never forgotten.