I couldn’t have known while watching it live that this bat drop, recorded at Strikes a few weeks ago, might have been the last one I’d see.
Preparations for baseball tryouts next week had been proceeding apace for almost ten months. He’d been on this long road since he suffered a stress fracture in one of his lumbar vertebra at the end of the freshman baseball season in April. After receiving the diagnosis at a particularly heartbreaking visit to the doctor, there was first a mandatory shutdown period of three months, wiping out summer ball. In the early fall he started rehab and PT, and not long after that he resumed his sessions with a trainer at the gym. We also frequently heard the clunk of the weights in our basement. The focus was almost entirely on building core strength and additional flexibility in his hips to lessen the torsional load on his spine during the swing; baseball is brutal on the human body. Then in November, with the blessings of his doctor, physical therapist, and trainer, he resumed weekly pitching and hitting work at Strikes to get back into baseball shape. This kid worked really, really hard, and was feeling justifiably confident.
Now, that said, it was going to be a steep climb to make the JV team this year, as they cut down from 28 freshmen last year to about 15-18 sophomores this year. But he was looking really good: strong and explosive, two inches taller, and with maybe 10 pounds of new muscle on his frame. He was hitting screamers in the cage, and more importantly, had worked his fastball up into the high 70’s. Along with his lights-out 12-to-6 curve, and developing a straight change and splitter, he was giving himself the best chance he could to make the team as a pitcher/outfielder.
But a couple of weeks ago, one night while I was in Lexington, he told Sharon that he was having his doubts about whether he wanted to do this anymore. For a while he’d been thinking that if he didn’t make the baseball team, he’d try out for volleyball the following week, and if both failed, he’d play spring Ultimate, a no-cut club sport. That had been the plan. But he told her that night that he just wasn’t having that much fun with baseball lately, and wanted to take some time off, maybe try volleyball instead. Later that week, he went to one of the early morning volleyball pre-tryout workouts. He absolutely loved it, cementing his decision. There would be a new plan.
His reasons are his, and not mine to share, I don’t think. I’ll just say he’s clearly thought this out, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of his assumptions? That doesn’t matter. He’s certainly old enough to make his own decisions. I support him and want him to be happy above all else, and it’s clear that he’s feeling good about this choice. It’s an exceptionally brave thing to do, walking away from the thing that has in large part defined you for ten years to do something completely new. He’s never played a single minute of competitive volleyball. Bold strategy, Cotton! I’m proud of him. I wouldn’t have been that courageous and confident at his age. Hell, I might not be at this age.
I still have my own feelings to process about it, of course. Baseball was the thing we did together for ten years, one of the centerpieces of our relationship. I was his coach for big parts of that decade, and can count the games I missed on one hand with enough fingers left over to hold chopsticks. I was in the dugout for the home runs, the tearful walks from the mound, all of it. For that reason, it’s probably not a coincidence that he chose to have all the hardest conversations about this with his mother, with me in another time zone. He’s an empathetic kid, and he knows what it all meant to me. He asked her how I’d feel about this. When I got back to town, I told him that my overriding desire is for him to be happy, and that I’m always proud of him. Those are the only feelings of mine he needs to be concerned with. I think that was when he finalized his decision.
I’ll handle the other parts of my feelings, including my anger at the forces that have sucked so much joy out of high school sports, this one in particular. Maybe there’s more to say about that later, but none of that is about him in any case.
Here and now: he’s happy. He seems lighter. He loves the volleyball workouts, even getting up at 5:15 without much fuss. The coaches are present, hands-on, organized, and positive. He’s got friends on this team, all good kids. He’s gone to a couple of clinics a local club is running to get players ready for their high school tryouts, and he had a blast at those. And if the fallback to Ultimate ends up being the answer, he’s got good friends and solid coaches there, too. We can’t really lose.
I don’t really know anything about the world he’s potentially entering, but I’m excited to watch him figure it out, and to figure it out with him if required. I’ll be in the stands no matter what, and I can google the rules if I need to.