I have held off writing about this phenomenon for some time for a number of reasons. First, it discloses some embarrassing parent and child moments. Second, I wasn't sure how to approach it. Lastly, I wanted Buddy's permission to discuss it. Out of the three reasons, the permission part, I did not get, so I am going to be very delicate as I write so as not to completely offend the big kid.
But let's keep in mind, he was a very young boy when these meltdowns occurred, therefore he gets a "pass" on them (at least from his mom).
During the game last week Einstein asked me if he was still temperamental...I looked at her and replied..."oh, yeah...you have a very good memory..."
With that said, it was a very hot Saturday afternoon and I was working the snack bar with another mother. The boy (12 at the time) was pitching for the opposing team. As he threw a ball, he looked at the umpire and began to make some crazy faces. The batter hit the next ball and the fielder missed it. It was a very easy ball and Grandmom could have fielded it and threw it to first base before the batter left the batter's box. Nonetheless, it was an error. Since I had the best seat in the house at the snack bar, I looked at the pitcher and he began to cry, but he continued to pitch. Oy! I thought....if you are going to play baseball, you cannot cry...it's a no-crying zone...but he continued to throw with tears in his eyes. My colleague in the snack bar whispered to me, "he always does this..." Mentally, I thought about his parents....do they allow this type of behavior? Come on kid...man up! I felt badly for the kid, team, and his parents as he continued his meltdown, but he never stopped pitching....
My thoughts came back to haunt me as later in the season, I witnessed my own son having meltdowns that would become legend in our little baseball community. To this day, I have the memories and I am sure that the rest of the community has them too. Yet, I now have a philosophy and theory about these meltdowns that I will share at the end of this post.
The first meltdowns that I clearly remember occurred when he would bat. Buddy never struck out...never...I can count on one hand how many times this occurred, so he was considered a contact hitter. Not all of the hits were actually hits...he would be thrown out by the fielders. So, during little league, he would hit the ball and be thrown out at times. At a certain age (perhaps 10), he would get very very upset...no tears but he would either make a fist or smack his helmet with his hand....walk back to the dugout and sulk. Hmmm...whose kid is this, I would think....oh, right...mine....his dad is the coach (even better). This would go on and on, as a person cannot bat 1000 during a season (even if he is Babe Ruth). Finally, I mustered the mother in me and told him to knock it off. Naturally, he did not listen and continued to pout whenever he was thrown out. Finally I reminded him of Borg, a professional tennis player. Once he threw his racquet as a junior player and his mother broke it and would not let him play for a while until he could control his emotions. I told Buddy that I would take his Demarini Voodoo bat (the Ferrari of bats) and he would not get it back until he figured out how to stop the tears. Was I being a mean mom?
The next series of meltdowns continued whenever he was frustrated or was unable to achieve his goal. One of which happened as a elementary school player in a district play off game. He was placed in the game with the lead. He had to hold the lead and they would be champions. As fate would have it...walk...hit batter...three errors...score...score...score...score...pitcher removed from game and placed back on first base. While on first base, the tears flowed. He pulled his hat over his eyes and tried to hide them. I knew that he felt humiliated and could not look at the kids on the team. They lost and I had the immense privilege of driving him to his little league game. He was inconsolable and I will never forget that drive home. It was not all of his fault, since there were a number of errors that could have gotten them out of the inning unscathed, but that's baseball... My heart broke for him and I did everything I could to help him through it...do you want a hot dog? Gatorade? ice cream? water? trip to Hawaii? a life saver? The following week, he was swimming with friends and one of the older kids walked up to him and told him that he was the reason that he lost that game, even though he was not there...this followed him for a number of years...not in a good way.
The last and most memorable meltdown that I witnessed occurred in high school during another playoff game (naturally). I was a bit late to the game and saw a woman who I went to college with. We chatted for a few minutes and Buddy was on the mound and pitching like a champ. Wow, she said...that pitcher is amazing! Then the words came out of my mouth that I regret saying (at the time)..."oh, he's my son..." This was statement that I made in front of the bleachers of the opposing team's parents. He was pitching very well...amazing...however..then it happened...a ball was tapped to first base...easy play...first baseman let it roll through his legs...batter safe. Buddy's face began to contort as his no-hitter began to disappear. Another hit into the outfield...outfielder dropped it...safe...walk...walk..hit batter...single...double...Buddy losing it and losing it in a very big way....I can't take my eyes off of it...a bad movie...a bad TV show...a very bad moment. The coach walked to the mound twice during this meltdown and finally took him out (whew...thank goodness). Was that the end of it? oh no...he stormed to the bench which happened to be right next to our seats and began to tear his jersey off...and fling it into the woods...yes, this is my kid...the world knew it and watched. I finally had it. If the coach (his father) was not going to end the tirade, I would. I walked to the bench and told him to stop or get into the car...buzz off mom....leave me alone. As the inning ended, he sat on the bench for two more innings until he was placed back on first base. "Why did he go back into the game"? I asked. The coach replied that he wanted him to gather his emotions and control them as he re entered the game. The team lost the play off series and I was unsure how to handle it as a parent except to ground him. Baseball was over for the season, so I could not keep him from a game. So, my hands were tied. I could not let it go, and we had discussion after discussion on controlling emotions. Once you lose it, you cannot get it back. So, he was going to have to figure out how to handle adversity and disappointment.
OK...my son is a head case, one would think? Nope, he isn't. He is a guy (like the first kid) who is an extreme competitor. As he went through the teenage years, hormones would be rampant. He would have to learn how to control his passion for the sport and his disappointment when things did not go his way. Either figure it out or leave the sport. That was the choice that he had.
This story ends well. He did learn to control his zeal. He would step off the mound...breathe deeply...walk around the mound....take his hat off and place it back on his head...finally, he did it....Now, I can tell when he is beginning to feel the pressure...step off...hat off...breathe...hit the glove...give me the ball...He did it!!!
Last year, he was pitching in a play off game against another terrific pitcher. The team lost the game, not so much because of the pitching but because they could not score enough runs against the opposing pitcher. The high school season was officially over. A week later, the school held its annual sports banquet. The coaches have to make a speech about the seniors. As the baseball coach began to speak about Buddy, he said that he was going to tell the "psycho" story (I would have killed him), but instead read a letter that the school received from the umpire from the play off game. The letter was two paragraphs long in which he praised Buddy for his gentleman demeanor, behavior, and composure. The umpire wrote that he has never written a letter to a school before, but Buddy's extreme graciousness and abilities on the field warranted it. He wrote that the big kid was a terrific example of what kids should aspire to be....
Wow...this was about my son....suddenly, the mound meltdowns made sense. You see...Buddy has been a real competitor all of his life. He hates to lose and does everything in his power to win, just like the first kid in this post. With that said, this energy and passion had to evolve and manifest itself in order to be a tool in his game. In other words, once he could control these emotions, there was no stopping him. So, the years of watching these memorable mound meltdowns were significant in the developmental process. Lastly, the boy who cried on the mound and Buddy are the only kids still playing baseball in college.