Travel Baseball Boot Camp

Being a baseball family places you within a unique subculture with its own set of rules and expectations. But being a TRAVEL baseball family takes that experience up four of five notches. I love almost everything about this strange little baseball world we live in, but after experiencing (and surviving) our 10-year-old son’s first out-of-town tournament, here are a few pieces of information I wish I had learned beforehand:

1. Pre-teen boys (and their younger siblings) will try to own the hotel. Do your best to reel them in.

I totally expected the boys and sibs to dominate the hotel pool, and get kind of loud. I wasn’t surprised when two dozen of them crammed into one hotel room to watch a baseball movie late into the night. But the amount of trotting down hallways, racing up and down stairwells and elevators, and cruising the facility like teenagers at a mall kind of startled me. When it got close to time to leave for the games in the morning, I found myself on a goose chase trying to pin down the roamers. Next time, I am bringing a GPS to install in their cute little baseball pants.

2. Ice cubes and washing machines are THE HOLY GRAIL

On the first night, we baseball parents figured out the hard way that there were only TWO sets of washers and dryers in our hotel, which was housing about a million young ballplayers with stinky socks and grass-stained pants. By night two, one of our team moms (who shall remain nameless) figured out how to stake a claim – EARLY. She plunked down on the floor outside the laundry room, with her stack of quarters and her hotel ice bucket packed with a few cold beers, and did a very pleasant job of scaring all other would-be-launderers to the back of the line. I thought she might cave when a gentleman in a wheelchair approached with a bag of laundry resting in his lap. Not a chance. “Is this the line?” he asked. “Yes, it is,” she smiled regretfully. “Beer?” she offered.

On the final morning of the tournament, I was in mad game-prep mode, SOLO with all three kids since Ian had to return home to work. As I frantically tried to get us ready for the game, I dashed down to the ice machine to fill up our cooler. EMPTY. Then I got the word on the street – the whole hotel was out of ice. It was brutally hot outside. Crud.

In the elevator, I spotted a mom from another team, trying to conceal a bucket of ice. “Excuse me, where did you find that?” I asked. She looked a little hesitant to give up the secret, but she whispered to me, “Second floor.” Our room was on floor 5. I borrowed one of our team members’ amazing 12-year-old sister to watch my girls in our hotel room while I hauled our cooler down the stairwell as fast as I could, loaded up on the coveted ice, and panting, dragged it to the car. SCORE.

3. Your big kid will always be your baby

Cal is my firstborn, and I’m still kind of in a constant state of shock about how big and independent he is getting. He played so well during the entire roasting hot weekend, as did his teammates, and I was very proud of how well he focused under pressure.

There was one moment during a game that caught me completely off guard, and took my breath away. He was coming up to bat – and his bat had been hot all day. We needed the extra runs. I watched his coach grab him by the shoulders, look him in the eyes, and offer him some words of encouragement that I couldn’t hear. In that moment, my son’s profile stopped me in my tracks. That same sweet little nose and baby face that I had seen in black-and-white sonogram images was framed clearly in the late afternoon sunlight. In that moment, I saw his entire 10 years flash in front of me, and realized that he is entering the age where other people in his world – coaches, teachers, friends – will begin to influence him sometimes more than Ian and I do. He isn’t really just ours, and he will become less “ours” each year.

I wiped the tears away from beneath my sunglasses, and watched him step up to the plate.

I didn’t take any pictures that day.

I didn’t need to. The most incredible image from that day is etched in my mind forever.

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