Waiting For The First "At Bat"

Baseball season is here, but it is a different world this year for the coach in our house, as my husband & I continue to navigate the emotional journey of being a parent of a child with special needs.

My family loves baseball.  Some of the best dates my husband and I have ever had, have been at Comerica Park.  We took our daughter Molly to her first baseball game a little before her 2nd birthday and she enjoyed it so much we stayed until the 9th inning.  My husband lives and breathes Little League baseball during this time of the year because of his job responsibilities and his passion for the game.  And for the past three summers, we have watched Molly play ball as her dad coaches her teams.  My husband loves being a coach, even more than he loved being a star athlete for so many seasons.  His passion, for not only the game, but the young players, including his daughter, is a sight to see.  He is patient.  He is nurturing.  He treats all the players the same.  There are no super stars on his teams, there are only teammates.  He was born to be somebody's coach.

So each year, as the snow melts away, the flowers start to bloom and the smell of fresh cut grass fills the air, my husband pulls out the bat bags, gloves and clipboard and prepares to coach his little slugger, his daughter, in another season of Little League.  But this year something changed.  This year, his number 17, hung up her cleats for ballet shoes and glitzy dance costumes.  She has entered the world of competitive dance and there is no turning back...and there is no room for baseball.  But as a father of an almost four year old son, coaching the next team should be right around the corner.  It should be, but as a parent of a child with special needs, it will not be.

My husband is incredibly patient with our son Brady.  Our son has struggles with concentration, processing, communication, socialization and continues to be non-verbal.  He is hypotonic and very clumsy.  He has a duplication on his first chromosome that has caused malformations in his brain.  Our son needs so much patience.  He gets that each and every day from his dad.  His dad believes in him when others do not. His dad stays positive when the news is anything but.  His dad never gives up on him.  His dad makes him press on, when he is tired and frustrated.  Brady's dad has all the characteristics that make for a perfect coach.  Unfortunately, he will never get to sit on the bench as his dad calls out the positions for his Little League team.  Brady's dad will, most likely, never be his Little League coach, because Brady will not play Little League. 

Because of his special needs, Brady, will not play baseball on a competitive team.  We will never sign him up on registration day, or watch him proudly display his Little League jersey or take his first at bat.  His dad will not be his baseball coach or his football coach or any other kind of whistle blowing coach.

It is a tough time of the year for my husband.  He is not the kind of man to complain or feel sorry for himself.  He does not dwell on what our son can't do.  He does not say it, but I know he is mourning milestones.  I know the frustration he feels is an experience most parents will not understand, because when their children turn a certain age, milestones come.  I know deep down his heart breaks, when he takes phone calls from parents signing up their newly turned four year olds for tee ball.  I know he yearns for days when problems were as simple as whether or not Molly could get all her friends on her team or what their team name would be.  I am sure there are days he wishes he could turn back the clock and enjoy one more day on the field, giving out high fives to his daughter and her friends as they round the bases.  As the president of our Township Little League and the Parks and Recreation Director, my husband gets so many baseball parents' phone calls.  I know it is tough when he hears parents complain that their child was not put at shortstop, even though they think their child is the best player on the team or the parent complaint that their child should be batting lead off, not stuck down at the bottom of the batting order.  I know it is a challenge for him to sit back and hear parents second guess their children's efforts or accomplishments, because they expect more from their children out on the field.  I know my husband fights back tears.  I know he wants to tell parents, just appreciate your child, for who his, for what he can do and for each at bat, big and small.  He wants to tell them to just appreciate the fact their child is actually out there on that Little League team.  He tells me, after a long day at work, I wish parents could just stop for a moment and just appreciate all your child can do.

As parents of two children, one typically developing and one with special needs, we have run the spectrum of emotions.  We are parents of a child who excels at dancing, who competes and who we want to see be the best she can be.  We are parents of a very special little boy who takes longer to reach each and every milestone and who we want to see be the best he can be.  We are competitive people.  We want our children to succeed.  My husband understands when those parents call the Parks and Recreation office and have complaints, because he knows what it is like to want your child to be the best.  But...he understands what it is like to want to just see your child take the field.  Just one time and take just one at bat.

We know, someday, our son will take the field, in one type of special recreation league or another.  He will have teammates and he will have fun.  And we will be so very proud of him.  It will not be Little League and it will not be what my husband had always planned for his son's future, but he will coach him in any way Brady needs.  A good coach can read his players and their needs and there is nobody better than my husband at understanding his players needs.  So if the day comes, and Brady takes his first at bat, regardless of the field or the league or his age, his dad will be the one, patiently waiting for him at first base.

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Michele April 25, 2012 at 12:42 AM
There is not enough Kleenex in my house! I felt every word you wrote. My heart is filled with so many emotions I have known Joe for many years and there was a huge span when I didn't see him. Then we reconnected because of our girls and he was still the extraordinary man he was years ago. Molly, Brady , and you to Erin are lucky to have him as he is lucky to have you all!
Amy Drake April 25, 2012 at 10:20 AM
Another fantastic article Erin. We have been very blessed to have Joe as a coach several times - he truly has a gift for teaching - and, amazing patience! You two are fantastic parents to Molly and Brady.
Mike Ronayne April 25, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Amy Ronayne Krause April 25, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Wow. You continue to amaze me. Love to you, Joe, Molly & Brady. Love, Amy
Rachael Trieu April 25, 2012 at 08:29 PM
You choke me up every time Erin! Love you.
Jim Disser June 14, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Erin .. we've not met but Joe worked with my son Travis over the winter at Terry Copacia's clinics and is now coaching him one-on-one. He certainly has a great gift as a teacher and coach. This blog entry really hit home with me. All our best to your family and I look forward to meeting you sometime.


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