I love baseball. South Carolina is a great state for it. The year I moved here Clemson was playing the University of South Carolina in the College World Series for the National Championship.
I am also a sucker for baseball movies; however, this is not a story about a movie.
This is a story about life.
My boys have been playing baseball since they were three years old. I love to watch them play and I love the life lessons they learn through sports.
Like most dads, I’m hard on my boys when they don’t give 100%, regardless of whether they win or lose. I believe that transfers to success in school and in life.
On the little league baseball field, however, I observe some tough love that seems to fit a whole new parenting style – one that makes me wonder if I should have CPS on speed dial at times.
This is partly why the story I’m about to tell you made such an impression on me.
My youngest son is currently playing on a good team with some great coaches. The head coach is named Bill and his son Will plays on our team.
Our season was a roller coaster in the wins and losses column. We started the year undefeated and then lost a few games in a row. During one of the last games of the season, our boys were coming off a few losses and they were hungry for a win.
That night Bill’s son had a different look in his eye when he stepped up to the plate. With laser-like determination that resonated throughout his eager stance, he stared at the pitcher. We had runners on base and were starting to build momentum. You could feel the tension in the stands.
“If he could just find a gap,” I hear one of the dads remark.
Coaches get excited when players hit the ball into the gap – the space between two outfielders, because it usually means an extra base hit.
The ting of a baseball hitting the sweet spot of an aluminum bat is a sweet sound.
Will found the gap that night; it was a perfectly placed ball. He hit the ball farther than I have seen him hit it all year. The right fielder could not cut it off and it rolled to the fence. Will turned on the motor and dug deep to find an extra gear.
After Will rounded home plate, he turned toward the dugout. I could see his face. His eyes did not have the normal look of a 10 year old boy who just hit a home run. There was a mix of emotion I could not quite pinpoint.
His dad made a beeline out of the dugout and knelt down in front of his son. He put his hands firmly on his shoulders, looked his son straight in the eye and with an intensity you could feel across the ballpark said, “angels in the outfield.”
I did not understand the remark. I thought he was talking about that movie at first.
Will knew exactly what his dad was talking about.
A floodgate opened. Tears streamed down Will’s cheeks as he embraced his dad in a bear hug. I’m thinking to myself, wow, his dad sure is proud of his son! But I didn’t get it. Not yet.
It was a great moment. One I felt God urging me to capture. Immediately I started thinking about hard work, tough love, determination – and how all those things will help you find the gap in life.
Then in one of those moments that you can only describe as a God moment, it was like the Holy Spirit was telling me – that’s not the story.
I look over at Bill’s wife Melanie, Will’s stepmom, who also has tears running down her cheeks. She makes eye contact with me and it was like she could tell my eyes were searching for the meaning in the moment.
Filled with emotion, she tells me, “Will’s mom died five years ago today. He wanted that so bad for her.”
I was speechless.
You see God didn’t put a story on my heart about how tough love leads to determination and success. It was a reminder that God the Father sent us a helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and how His love sustains us through loss.
Will lost his mom to cancer when he was young. Five years ago to the day he crushed his first and only home run of the season.
Angels in the outfield.