After much travel this year, and some would say little thought, I have decided to embark on a quest for enlightenment and spiritual renewal. I have set sights on Yosemite park in California. My adventure begins Friday as I head west. My companion will be my 14 year old son Diego. How I came to this and why, was not a clear to me at first. A few years ago, I watched a PBS documentary on The National Parks and became intrigued with the idea of taking a solitary trip into the wild. Over the course of 2015, I have traveled for business to New York City, Massachusetts, Washington DC, Maryland, New Jersey, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi. After my last trip to New York City, it became apparent to me that I have been hibernating in Iowa for too long. It is time to move West, to see a different perspective. For a time I had thought of myself as the description of William S. Burroughs in the novel, On The Road, living out my days in the middle of Iowa. But that isn’t me. Instead I have been intellectually dormant and isolated, more like the novel, Steppenwolf by Hesse than anything else. The passing of my parents in 2008 took a toll on me that has taken me much time to figure out. There is not much of a point to life when one is surrounded by illness and death, when the seriousness of the moment weighs on you and drags upon your spirit. This lead to the question of happiness and what that means. Have I forbidden myself to be happy? Probably yes. Somewhere rooted in my Catholic upbringing and in my intellectual western ideas I have collapsed and fallen into the hole that is the mid-life crisis. How I can get out isn’t clear to me, and so my natural instinct is to run, to push myself to the physical limit, and establish my connection to the physical world again. This is where I am at, no longer content with looking at the Mac OS Yosemite Desktop every day, I actually want to go there and see it for myself.
Since I wrote about my oldest son last, I thought I put down something on how my middle child, Diego is doing with his development. Diego is eleven years old and has a very amicable personality. He likes comic books, movies, music, and art. For the last two Spring seasons, he has also challenged himself to play baseball in the Iowa City Boys Baseball league. Without having any prior knowledge or experience, he put forth a convincing argument on why we should let him play baseball. Remember, Diego actually can communicate very well, for a child his age, some might even say, he is even manipulative in his conversations. As a parent, baseball was not something I particularly thought I would find enjoyable. The games take about 90 minutes and you have to be somewhat sociable. It would also be a new experience for me as well, so I figured, okay, and I have a hard time saying No to this kid.
The first Spring Season, Diego played for the Orioles. He had very good coaches and a lot of the kids had been playing baseball for a year at least. Diego had a lot of catching up to do. Learning to catch, learning to hit (something that he has struggled with for a long time), and even trying to pitch. It seemed that Diego spent a lot more time with the ball hitting him in the face than anything else. Baseball proved to be a tough physical sport after all. Diego had some good moments though, like his catch in the tournament game to clinch an out. The finals ended in a heartbreaking loss, so the Orioles awesome season ended with a third place ending.
For a first time player, Diego quickly learned the game and impressed his first season coaches. He insisted on playing the shorter Fall Season as well, and so we had Fall baseball. The much shorter season, quickly went and just this past Spring, Diego found himself with a new team: the Cardinals. This meant different coaches and new kids, and a higher level in the league. All of a sudden, this was not little kids baseball. Kids had to really pitch, the mound was farther away, the baseball diamond was bigger, there were lights, the pressure was on! As a parent, the game was harder to watch. The kids either had to improve to survive, or lose the game. I saw a lot of kids not take it seriously and quickly become disenchanted with the game. For the first time, Diego started to think about challenging himself, above and beyond the team practices. He was determined to better himself in order to get the spotlight.
There is no crying in baseball!
I have always had the mentality that you must compete to be the best or why try at all? For Diego, his experiences until now were all about the team and his personal drive was not about being competitive, but about having a good time. I think back to what a lot of NBA players say after winning the championship game, “We were hungry and we wanted it more”. This is what it comes down to. You have to want to win, and will yourself to win, no one just gives you the championship. Diego had suffered multiple defeats, whether they were close ones or not it did not matter. A loss is still a loss. For a little kid, yes, you want to cry, but like Tom Hanks saids, “There is no crying in baseball”.
I found myself on a baseball field this last Spring more often than I wanted to. Diego wanted to practice individually, and so we worked on his hitting and pitching: once before every game, and once or twice on the weekends. The extra practices helped build his confidence and developed his skills. Diego may be a very friendly, positive kid, but he also has his anger streak. This is after all the same kid that asked for his training wheels to be taken off his bike and then when he couldn’t ride it, he lifted it off the ground and threw it down in disgust, proclaiming that the bike had to be defective!
The Pitcher Takes The Mound
Finally, the kid gets to pitch and my first thoughts are that this is going to suck bad. I had sat through so many games where the pitcher just could not even get the ball to the batter, where pitching a strike was not even an option for some, that I kind of felt bad for Diego. He would have to struggle just as the other kids did and struggled he did. However it was not as bad as I had feared. He did quite well at times. We had practiced on hitting a target with his pitching, getting to the batter instead of trying to throw the fastest. Slow but accurate pitching, is what I figured would help develop his pitching arm. The batter could hit his pitches, but it would not matter, because he would be a new pitcher, and it would take the batters some time to figure his pitches out anyway. In the end Diego did okay, not great but his development was coming along.
No Longer A Rookie
It is Fall season now and Diego’s team, the Padres, are doing well. They have lost one game, but they are a pretty strong team. Diego has become a hitter as well and he is enjoying the game a little bit more. This is usually where I would talk about some lessons that baseball has taught my kid, but in reality, baseball has taught me something about myself as well. Not being known for my patience, I have had to give up my time and put in some efforts in helping Diego become good at something. The baseball hit me a couple times too! For Diego he has grown, learned from his defeats, and challenged himself to conquer his own fears, for me, I have had to watch my son grow and learned to let him find his own way in life. The time I have had with him will always be remembered and that is something that I would not have had without baseball.
In 2012, Katryn and I decided to challenge our oldest son: Gonzalo. He was finishing up his Jr High basketball season and he was pretty proud of himself at the time. As parents, we listened to his frustrations of being a leader for his 8th grade team and then we gave him our point of view. Clearly he towered over his opponents and this made the game easier for him, but his lack of basketball skills was evident in his time on the court. We asked him if basketball was something he wanted to pursue in life. This would be one of his first serious decisions of his life. Like anything else, life is a series of compromises, you end up choosing what to do with your time and in return you give up on something else. In this case, basketball to a 14 year old means giving up time with your friends, video games, and other hobbies. It is a commitment that changes your life dramatically.
Do you really want to spend your life on a basketball court?
Katryn and I could not make this decision for him. On the way back from a basketball game, in the minivan, Gonzalo chose basketball. And so his journey begins…
I think back to my own adolescence and wonder at times what lessons I learned from the people that took an interest in me and ultimately contributed to my success. For a long time, I have considered that doing things on your own and failing is what makes you better, but perhaps Katryn is right and things do not have to be done the hard way always. For Gonzalo, the first thing to do is get him a basketball coach. After some convincing we were able to get Coach Acie Earl to provide weekly skills training for Gonzalo. At first Acie was hesitant to take on an older kid, but Gonzalo’s height was a distinguishing factor. When you are six foot four and only fourteen, people take notice of you. In addition to having skills training, a friend of mine is a personal trainer and agreed to provide Gonzalo with physical training.
Initially Gonzalo struggled. It was as if he had been walking for a few years now and all of a sudden he was told he was doing it all wrong! He had to start all over again. Mentally he had to discipline himself to learn to move his body as Acie commanded. The frustration quickly set in. We could see him getting pissed off and feeling defeated at times. Acie demanded more from him and he had to push himself to perform.
At the same time, in between Diego’s baseball games, we had sparring matches to see if the son could defeat the father. The son was now taller and heavier. I ultimately had to accept defeat in most of our matches, but I did manage to win a couple of games this Summer.
It was decided that with Gonzalo’s size and his progression, that Acie could use him as a backup player for his Club team: Venom Sports. This meant at first another day with Acie at the gym and eventually, we all had to hit the road for a Summer filled with basketball tournament weekends. For parents, this means we have to give up our weekends and support the players on the road, not an easy task for those of us with other kids. Scheduling becomes essential to making sure everyone knows what is happening this weekend and the week after that.
For Gonzalo this meant he would have to play with high school kids, mostly sophomores and juniors that would be about two years older than him. His first lesson is that high school kids hit hard regardless of how tall you are. In the center position, he became the object of abuse and he had to learn to defend himself against the onslaught of his opponents. Often Gonzalo was asked to block out the bigger players and unknown to him at the time, he managed to frustrate and tire out his opponents.
At last, a worthy opponent. Our battle will be legendary! (-Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda)
With each tournament, he progressed and started to come into his own identity. He still has a lot to learn, but his time on the court this Summer has solidified him into the man he will become. At this time he is still a kid, but he is now a basketball player.