America’s National Pastime: Allegory for Family

You’ve seen the shirts: “Always October” or “October Together.” That’s America loving baseball: the national pastime. Baseball teaches many lessons, but as an empty nester, I see a clear familial metaphor.

Sure, there are diamonds in both baseball and families. At least, most wives expect a diamond ring or diamond earrings at some point in the relationship. But that isn’t the sort of trite connection I’m talking about.

Image from wikimedia.org

If you’re a baseball genius, this post will irritate you. I don’t know all the lingo (and I suspect only two guys who read this do), so I’ll probably get something wrong. Bear with me. If it’s too annoying, feel free to leave a comment.

I see the family when I watch those nine guys take the field. The biggest reason: the dichotomy of this game. It is clearly a team sport (uh, nine guys – not one), but there are aspects of the game that are all about the individual player.

Family works together and plays together. When someone is down, they pull together to offer support. As a parent of adult children, I’ve learned that we can’t be their pinch-hitter or pinch-runner anymore.

In life, as in baseball, there are some things each person is individually accountable to accomplish.

The Pitcher

No, the pitcher isn’t the one who throws the best insults around the dinner table.

He does play an important role in the offense, though. He needs to be looking out for the team. He can’t throw perfect pitches and expect the opposition not to slam the ball over the wall.

This doesn’t mean the game is all about him, either. When the batter hits, the pitcher needs to trust his team to do their jobs – catch the fly, snag the line drive, make the throw.

To me, the father plays the part of pitcher. He makes things happen (or keeps them from happening) based on his actions. Everyone looks to him – mom, kids. The weight of expectations might be oppressive.

What about the pitcher staring down Barry Bonds? All dad can do is the best he can do. There’s only one dad, but there are eight other players on the field to back him up – encourage him. (This probably makes mom the catcher – giving the signals, talking behind her glove at the mound.)

The outcome of the game shouldn’t rest solely on dad’s shoulders. Everyone has a job to do. Dad sizes up the opposition and does his best to keep them from making trouble for the rest of the family.

The Batter

Everyone takes a turn behind the plate. Some people don’t have much of a swing. If the ball goes beyond the mound, they’re feeling good about their hit (this is me).

Life is full of curves, sliders and fast balls. Sometimes we get nothing but balls with no opportunity to hit it out of the ballpark. Each day: another at bat.

This is one of those things each family member faces alone. Sure, dad can coach you from the dugout (and he is the one who could give decent hitting advice), but a person must swing his own bat.

This is a metaphor for the choices we face in life. Will we choose to take a high-paying job in a field we aren’t crazy about? Should we marry that person we’ve been with for a year? Stay in college or drop out to take an incredible job offer?

Sometimes, we make the right choice and get on base – or even blast it over the fence. Other times we strike out.

Running Bases

Once we get a hit, it would be nice to believe we’re home free. We’re destined to score – succeed – because we put bat to ball.

Just as base runners might get thrown out or stranded, every decision we make in life doesn’t net a positive score. In life, sometimes we might rack up negatives (so glad they don’t do this in baseball – minus a run for every error).

One decision leads to another decision in life. Choosing a certain job leads to relocation, promotions, or lay-offs.

Base running is an individual sport, too. Sure the base coach might give us the signal to steal or keep running when the ball is hit deep. That’s the advice you get from parents, siblings and other family members.

If you get thrown out stealing second base, however, you’re the one who pays. Ultimately, you make the decisions in your life and you get to live with the consequences.

Fielding Hits

When we start talking about these next items, we’ve shifted from offense to defense. That is true in our family, as well.

When problems come, do we avoid the afflicted member? Do we hang them out to dry? Not if we’re good defenders. We back them up, cover their blind side and cheer them on.

On the surface, fielding might look like another individual aspect of the game. Don’t be fooled. The short stop can jump up and snag a ball intended for center field. The second baseman can dive into the dirt, stopping a speeding grounder destined to be a base hit.

A good teammate looks to make the play – help their family member. If you wave them off, they’re still hovering nearby – just in case. Backing you up, offering support and encouragement. This includes a high five when the catch is made.

Making a Double Play

No doubt that it takes more than one member of the family to make a double play. During the 2014 World Series, a few of these beauties made this writer gasp. “Replay it,” I kept saying. “Can you believe he made that stop (catch, throw)?”

Usually at least three teammates will be involved in the double play (especially the awesome one between Panik, Crawford and Belt of the San Francisco Giants – video above). The second baseman grabs the grounder speeding between first and second base. Shortstop is on the move to cover the bag. A toss to him –out at second – and then the slingshot over to first base.

Think of times when your brother, sister, uncle, cousin, whoever-you’re-related-to stepped in to help you with something. It could be moving from your first apartment to your new house. Or taking you in when you lost your job.

To me, the best example of a double play is when someone is sick. You cover for them – cook meals, drive kids around, clean the house. Most of the time, the more people involved in this, the better.

Winning (or Losing) the Game

Okay, no one wants to lose the game. Ever. Any game, not just baseball.

In life, there’s likely to be more times when it feels like you’re losing. Your team (family) needs you to huddle up with them during this time. Don’t push them away – hoping to lick your wounds in peace. Let them commiserate. Believe me, when you’re hurting, your family hurts for you (or with you – or both).

As for winning, don’t be the negative jerk in the family. “Yeah, but we only won because they dropped the ball at home plate.”

We won! That’s the point.

Celebrate the successes of your family members. Graduated college – rejoice! Got a promotion at work – hallelujah! Life is short, celebrate every little thing.

Be a team player! Look around your family and see the needs. Are you really going to strand a runner? Is there anything worse than that in a close game?

Don’t whine when you strike out; learn from the mistake and get a hit next time. Don’t resent the people hovering near to back you up; they want to help.

Most of all, keep your eyes open. Be aware of what’s happening with your family members, that’s the only way you’ll know when the field is ripe for a double play.

What important areas have I overlooked? Maybe this allegory doesn’t work in your mind. What would you compare baseball to?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.