Friday, April 13, 2012

Home Run

Tim told me our local little league would like to name a sportsmanship award for Jack. Right after I spit out my tea, I paused to think about whether this would be an appropriate way to honor our son. You see, sportsmanship did not come naturally for Jack.

But really, I cannot think of a more fitting tribute.

A lot of things came very easily for Jack--talking at a ridiculously young age, reading, math, Latin, logic, art, acting, and earning stellar grades.

But when Jack was young, we wondered if he would EVER be able to play a team sport. Sure, he had intense, laser-like focus, but the happy-go-lucky camaraderie of being on a team? Not in evidence. You could see this at his cub scout meetings where he would sit quietly while the other boys, who knew each other from school, would be squirming and giving each other wedgies. I blamed some of this on Tim, also an introverted, “mild mannered reporter” who hasn’t so much as once (voluntarily) farted in front of me in the past 20 years! I mean, if a dad doesn’t teach a son about lugees and farts, how is he ever supposed to fit in as a guys’-guy? “You and Margaret are good at being around people,” Jack would say. “Dad and I don’t really know what to do.”

And there were other issues.

You know the kid who might have fun at a party, or might leave wailing at the injustice of it all? Well I do. He lived in our house for a time.

Or the one who walked around by himself for a few years during recess because he didn’t know how to integrate himself into games?

The one who cried easily and bitterly when things weren’t “just so?”

Uh huh.

But around second grade, after I had decided Jack would be relegated to staying home doing origami with me, his love of baseball took off, fueled by sharing an obsession with his dad.
Jack did well in baseball, and was blessed to have warm, compassionate coaches he admired --the coarse, tough as nails types didn’t appeal to him.

But who can EVER forget that 4 month period (unfortunately spanning part of both a basketball and a baseball season) when Jack would go crazy about close losses. I’ve told you my guy was quirky, right?

Close wins, great.

Big losses, fine.

Close losses?

Oh dear.

My laid-back friend and mother of four said as she watched Jack freak the freak out after one close loss, “Don’t worry, gifted kids are just more sensitive, Anna.” Love you, Jen. Margaret said, “Mom, I feel kind of sorry for him and kind of embarrassed for us.” Amen, Sister. A sportsmanship award seemed as likely as being given a free trip to Fiji.

But here’s the thing: Jack grew and changed. Birthday parties became a pleasure. Recess found Jack not only playing games, but commentating them like a sportscaster, using crazy nicknames he made up for all his classmates, who loved and accepted him. He was a leader and inventor of neighborhood games which they still play today. Jack became more flexible and more forgiving of himself and others. All of this seemed like an impossibility to us in earlier years.

My point is, while it may seem ironic to name a sportsmanship award after someone who didn’t always exhibit it, the fact that Jack’s sportsmanship was so hard fought makes it all the more precious.

Jack’s final season of baseball illustrated this.

Here’s what he faced in a more competitive environment than before: Reduced playing time. An adjustment to a different sized field. A slew of kids who were bigger, stronger, faster , more talented and in many cases YOUNGER than he was. Practices every day, when often Jack would rather be home playing with friends or practicing for the school play.

The protective mom in me wanted him to play down a level.

No way. He was so stinking excited, and he chose the harder path.

And then, after several years of doing well in baseball, he found himself struggling to make a hit, to make plays in the field. But his shoulders didn’t sag, game after game. He did not complain about going to practice every day, as he might have in year’s past. He never railed against the injustice of it all--why could Joe and Kevin hit home runs, when Jack couldn’t even connect with the ball anymore? He calmly talked about his progress, or lack thereof, during our bedtime chats, and I silently prayed that his season would turn around. Didn’t happen. But he didn’t let it ruin his attitude, his season, or his love of the game.

I know I’m not writing about anything extraordinary. Kids play on teams all the time. They make sacrifices. They suck it up. But for Jack, an intense and sensitive kid, all of this was hard fought and notable. It was just ONE more way that we saw this amazing kid growing through struggle and growing into the best person he could be.

Here’s what we saw all season: a great attitude. Someone who threw himself into practice. Someone who helped carry the ball bucket. Someone who held his head high, even as the people on the bench and in the stands may have been thinking, “Oh, boy. Jack’s up again.”

After the season ended, he signed up for baseball camp, so that he could improve his game for fall baseball—a team he got to play with in only one scrimmage before the accident. I don’t know what, if anything, the other boys remember about Jack from that one measly game. Was it the fact, as one of his old coaches said, that “Jack was the only player who looked like he could fit inside his bat bag”? It surely wasn’t powerhouse hitting, but perhaps a big smile, a quiet nature, and, we hope, good sportsmanship.

Be Kind
Pay Attention
Never Give Up
Share Others’ Joy


Cindy said...

I remember praying for him that last, hard season. You are absolutely right....a sportsmanship award is the perfect way to honor Jack.

DawnGes said...

Dear, Dear Anna,
With this post you and Jack have hit another home run. Thank you for these beautiful words to describe Jack's transformation process as he played the game he loved.

What a wonderful, fitting award for your family to receive.

Love, hugs, prayers...

smilinjo said...

I usually don't comment as I feel anything I say would seem frivolous but I wanted to tell you that this past fall, my nephew went to college for his freshman year and was hit by a car after being there for only ten days. He was in a coma for over a month and in a rehab facility for over six months and, although home now, still as a long recovery ahead of him. My rambling point is, while things looked so iffy for him, the kids in school who knew him best wanted to do something for him. They wanted him and his family to know they loved and supported them. After Prayers for Joey bracelets were made and worn by everyone in our tiny town, the sports teams also wanted to do SOMETHING. They ended up retiring his soccer jersey and the basketball teams, both boys and girls, all got warm up shirts with the slogan "Go Gentle" as Joe was lovingly called Gentle Joe by his friends. I often wonder what the other teams though when we would run on to the court with that on the backs of our kid's shirts but the kids felt connected to something bigger than themselves and everybody felt the love...especially his family. I guess what I am trying to say is, while I am sure they are doing this for Jack and your family, I bet they NEED to do it for themselves as well, to keep that connection to Jack close forever. It will help them feel like he is still there and a part of what is going on. I think it is a wonderful idea! <3

Pam@OurAdventuresInHomeImprovement said...

Boy did this post touch me. It was so well written. Thank you for sharing. Now I'll go get the kleenex...


Lisa said...

I remember Tim bring Jack to one of Michael's Babe Ruth games at Waters to show him what it was like. Dave and Tim talked to him about it the whole game. He reminds me so much of Michael. I think this award is a great idea.

Anonymous said...

Anna, you and Tim helped Jack grow in this regard so guys are definitely owed credit for your part in this growth. I know a lot of his journey on the path of good sportsmanship came from within him, too, but to me, this is definitely another shining example of how your boy was dang lucky to have you and Tim for parents.


Wantapeanut said...

My brother passed away almost 10 years ago. He was much older than your Jack, but at 25 still too young. I don't know what drew me to your blog today, as I haven't visited in a while, but my brother was a great lover of baseball, and the Dodger's his favorite team. My heart skipped a beat seeing Jack in that uniform.

He wasn't a great player, but appreciated the game. His hero was Orel Hersheiser, who he believed to be a player not just of great skill but also integrity and sportsmanship.

Anonymous said...

I've coached a lot of little league baseball teams. I've coached kids who were extroverted and confident, and I've coached kids who were quiet and introverted and scared of their own shadows, and everything in between. My favorite part of coaching has always been watching the quiet ones grow in their confidence and become part of the team. Sounds like Jack was one of those, and I would have loved to have him on my team.

I think a sportsmanship award is the perfect way to honor Jack.

Anonymous said...

I am reading this the day after a meeting with school. A meeting to explain my child's specialness... to try to help them understand that, although I am clearly not perfect, her issues are fundamentally biological. Medical treatment is helping. It is helping a lot. But she is so NOT out of the woods.
No sportsmanship awards in her honor yet. In fact, she is still permitted to stay home from 'team building days' as they bring on full out anxiety attacks.
But here are the things the teachers talked about yesterday. She is a great student to have in class. She loves to learn and participates in class discussion with interesting insights. One teacher even described her as his go-to girl for a bailout when no one else was willing to raise their hand. She likes the SCHOOL in school. But is terrified of the cafeteria and ballfields. She complains about being sidetracked by useless busy work and group work -- what she wants to do is some interesting thinking!
I cried all day long yesterday after signing that 504 plan. Even went into TJMaxx again -- hoping to see Jack. No sign this time. But here it is today.
A reminder of what I know intellectually -- but really needed feel -- that she is special and remarkable and worthy of awards for what she is accomplishing.
She and Jack would have gotten along fabulously!
With love and thanks and prayers

Lisa said...

The sportsmanship award seems quite fitting, indeed.

My oldest seems to be similar to your Jack in so many ways....I found myself thinking "there's hope! While reading this...and I can only hope that my son will be as great as yours...

Mrs Changstein said...

This just brought tears to my eyes. You're describing my son Kaden. Substitute hockey for all things baseball. (yeah, I live on the soggy westcoast of the 'frozen north'.) Seeing him learn, persevere,'s amazing and sometimes unbelievable.
Anyhows. I was in my brother's office (we work @ the same company) and he had a picture of a young guy in a baseball uniform (a real retro shot) on his wall. I asked him who it was - he told me it was Mickey Mantle. He went on to say that every time he looked at it, it reminded him that it wasn't how you start, it's how you finish. And that it's important to finish well. And when I read your post today, I thought about Jack - that he had finished well. Far too early, but very very well.
Keeping you in my heart, and most importantly, prayers. Cindy xo

SouthLakesMom said...

The award absolutely IS the way to honor Jack's participation. For all the quirky kids who hang in there, it will be a way of saying "YES! Baseball is for YOU TOO!"

Your Little League was and will be better for having had Jack as a player!

Geri said...

What a lovely tribute. Your family is getting so many "cushions against the writhing" that other reader wrote about. so beautiful, the generosity and love and kindness of people, and so bittersweet that Jack had grown into being not only a player, but one who understood sportmanship. A lovely, lovely story.

NanaDiana said...

What a wonderful tribute to your son. I think it would make him smile...and maybe duck his head with a bit of a red face...but ultimately, underneath it all, pleased as punch. xo Diana

Ellen aka Ellie said...

Perhaps this essay should be included with the trophy so the recipient knows why this award really matters.

Unknown said...

Wow. Just wow. I have tears in my eyes (again) and am so inspired by this post - by Jack especially, and also what the team wants to do.

As a complete aside, we have the same thing in our couple - I'm the outgoing one and my husband doesn't quite know what to do with himself.

Laura said...

You ~ and your sweet son ~ knocked one right out of the park with this post.

Meredith from A Mother Seeking said...

I agree completely with what you said, "My point is, while it may seem ironic to name a sportsmanship award after someone who didn’t always exhibit it, the fact that Jack’s sportsmanship was so hard fought makes it all the more precious."

I always urge my children to look at their progress instead of just their performance. When something comes easy, it's rarely rewarding.

So glad the award will be in honor of him; he lives on in so many beautiful ways.

~ Meredith From A Mother Seeking

A Mother Seeking...

Anonymous said...

"His presence can take many forms, some quite dramatic, others grounded in the ordinary things of life...But when we feel the personal connection—Christ with us—then we know first hand the experience that has sustained hope and made faith possible from Jesus’ day forward. I experience Christ most when life asks me to lean into pain, rather than run from it. He’s there with me in that. Similarly, when my heart is quickened by possibility beyond my imagining, and I have to take a risk, he’s there, too. Christ is also, in my experience, very gentle. He’s not a bully. If you’d like to know him, the way to begin is to invite him in."

I can think of another whose Way is ordinary, hard-fought, and quiet.

What a lovely thing for his team to do in Jack's memory.

Meredith Self said...

This may be my favorite post yet!! (I've said that before and I'm sure I'll say it again!)

I know know know know how instrumental your unconditional love and support was in all Jack was, became and is! And oh I know he touches you, too. What an amazing pair!

Anonymous said...

Anna, I have a Jack too. He's 11 and since a started reading your blog a few weeks ago, I started to think that our Jacks might be twins. My Jack reacts the same way to recess, parties, sports. My Jack just started baseball. He has only played one time several years ago. Watching him at practice on Wednesday was painful and I was questioning myself about letting him play. I didn't want to set him up for disappointment. But your post was perfect. I have to be patient and let him find his way. So from now on at practice I will send up prayers for both of our Jacks. Thank you for sharing your Jack with me.

Stimey said...

I read this whole thing nodding because I so get this. I see parts of what you describe in my Sam and I know how hard Jack must have worked to get to to his hard fought sportsmanship. I so understand this. What a wonderful way to remember Jack.

Beth Zimmerman said...

Your stories about your precious boy always tug at my heart strings! This one is no exception!

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I think that his love of the game and dedication to being part of a team says far more about sportsmanship than an effortless career in elementary school baseball. He deserves the honor. I like the idea one commenter had about sharing his story. Other kids could learn a lot from it.

Beautiful pictures.

New Mom said...

Such sweet pictures! What a neat way to honor Jack. Through example, your whole family has taught me a lot about good sportsmanship.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I do hope this letter, in part or in whole, will be read to those in attendance when this award is given. I for one want to be there to participate in the standing ovation for Jack (with a tissue to go with that ballpark hotdog)!

Thank you for sharing Anna. Jack will continue to leave a legacy because of your willingness to publicly allow God "To console those who mourn...
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3

Prayers and a Hug! xtx

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Thank you. I needed this today more than I knew. I have one of those quirky funny sweet beautiful guys. And I HOPE one day he "gets it". Reading how in just a few short years your boy was able to adjust so much gives me so much hope. And I think it is SO lovely that so many people were able to see that transformation in him. But mostly that he was able to experience it. Thank you for sharing this.

Melanie said...

I'm smiling because your Jack sounds like my Noah, so the same in personality, especially Jack's reactions to situations, so like Noah. To see how Jack grew and adjusted encourages me a sense of what Noah can become as he grows.

Sounds like that sportsmanship award is totally fitting. Kudos to Jack!

Anonymous said...

Anna, I found out about your blog with the Margaret meet Justin campaign. You have been a voice that I wish I had... You see I relate to Margaret as I lost a brother in a car accident just as he was starting his senior year at Langley. I have loved reading you articulate many of my feelings as well as helping me understand more of what my parents experienced. As you know there are all forms of grief and mourning... And paying tribute / honoring someone is one of those ways... It helps some find closure, makes others feel good to be a part of something and of course there is also the 'keep moving/busy thing.'.

My brother's graduating class petitioned the Fairfax supervisors to have Langley's baseball field named after him, an athletic scholarship was established for a graduating senior, McLean Little League has an All Star award, and the American legion baseball had one as well. It has been over 25 years and my son (who is named after my brother) has now played ball on the field with my brother's name - boy that was a strange but heartwarming day. I have heard from friends over the years about the child who receives the McLean All Star award... all these tributes / honors help bring back good memories, they are not painful but heart felt with comfort.

Making good out of something bad is always how I have looked at it. For me, it helped.

We are heading to the Reston little league parade to march with the Challenger team this morning. Baseball is my favorite season and I definitely know why. Think of you very often.


Princess Kate said...

I think this is a fabulous way to honor Jack. This reminds me of my volleyball coach in 7th grade. She would start each practice and game with this famous quote -

One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it. - Knute Rockne

Thinking of you today and praying for a "good" day..

Katherine said...

I remember you telling me about Jack's struggles on the baseball team and it is great that he was able to overcome so many of those challenges. I think the sportsmanship award is a wonderful way to honor him. I just wish so much that he was still here so that he could continue down that path. Love and hugs to you.

Barb in Vienna said...

There were prayers for Jack today at Opening Day. He was the first name Bill called. Thinking of your family, today and always. And thanking Jack for maybe having a hand in the perfect opening day weather.

Anonymous said...

I know this is not on topic, but I'm worried about your husband not farting more freely. Maybe a little work with a behavioral modification techniques would help. (I'm kidding.) Erica

pembrokeshire lass said...

Oh sounds so familiar...been there got the T shirt....I'd like to say it gets better but....... Hang in there! Joan

pembrokeshire lass said...

I give up!! I've tried to comment 3 times but can't get past the word police...perhaps this time!!

K A B L O O E Y said...

Another wow of a post. Your boy keeps teaching me how to be a better person. Thank you again. And its good to know second grade might be a turn-around year as far as playground/cafeteria dynamics are concerned.

Anonymous said...

I still vividly remember my 8 year old on his travel soccer team getting yellow carded and starting to cry on the field. His coach said to me with a look of helplessness....."whatever he does, he just CAN'T CRY". Oy. And yes they outgrow it. Thank goodness.

What a sweet tribute to your boy. Obviously THEY remember him as a good sport. What else matters.

Marinka said...

This one took my breath away, Anna. I don't know what to do first, praise the writing, wail at the injustice, cheer for those near wins.

love to you all.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I agree with Marinka, this post took my breath away also. The Sportsmanship Award is definitely one that would be honored to have Jack's name on it!

purejoy said...

While I am not a faithful comenter {thank you, iPhone!} I read your blog and think/pray for you and your sweet family all the time.
What sweet memories of persevering through hard things. Sports didn't come easy for Jack, but yet her pressed on and in. Love that about him.
Your recollections of him are so honest and pure and quite often funny. I miss the Anna from B.A., but it's not like I like you any less. You're just different. I love that your humor is still present, but you are so much deeper and truer than I have ever encountered.
You know the post you shared about the one standing on the sidelines watching the griever? Well, I am LOATHE to say something that I think is helpful only to have it fall flat or worse, be an unintentional stinging slap, or one that causes you heartache beyond what you are already experiencing.
Know that you are loved, admired, and treasured.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I can only echo Marinka's sentiments-she said exactly what I was thinking.

Anonymous said...

Along with several others, I see so much of my quirky, passionate kid in the beautiful words you wrote here. Jack's hard fought victories are a ministry of encouragement as I watch my 7 year old wail at parties, walk around recess alone, and rail against things that aren't just so.
I am so sorry that Jack is gone. I am so sorry for the giant hole ripped in your heart. I am praying for you.

Princess Kate said...

Thinking about you today. Hope you are doing ok.

Salvimom said...

God Bless you and your awesome family Anna. Your memories of Jack and his life and growth are so precious because they are so truly reminiscent of the growth and struggles of most other boys including my own. May you continue to grow as well. I am happy to see you smile in your pictures, and hear the warmth in your writing. Love, prayers, and blessings.

Seatle, WA

Christy said...


Thank you so much for sharing this. Know that I pray for you and your family as you travel this road of grief.

Anonymous said...

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." Romans 12:15

I'd say this is both. Cause to celebrate his life. And cause to mourn a passing to soon.

Thank God that so many people have gathered together to honour the memory of your little boy. Take solice in the fact that he is remembered. He touched lives. He will live on: on earth in our memories and in Heaven for eternity.

Theresa O said...

I have to tell you - there isn't a day at Zach's baseball practice or a day at a baseball game that I don't think of your Jack. And now reading this, I definitely will be thinking of you. The other day we were at a scrimmage game and a boy on the other team got up to bat and his teammates were yelling "Go Jack"....and as I sat there thinking wow, I don't know a whole lot of boys named Jack through Zach's school years....and how odd as I had just been thinking about you all - because that was the day the rainbow had appeared for just what seemed like a few seconds....

Zach also is sensitive, a loner at recess, loves baseball, doesn't YET care if they win or lose (I'm sure the competitive side is coming though!), and could also fit in a bat bag - for as always, he is the smallest on the team.

Thanks for always sharing your loving words about Jack. You are truly an amazing person, and a more amazing Mother.

Ann Imig said...

I love that his team is honoring him. Long may the celebration of his life and wonderful qualities continue!

Anonymous said...

I'm a Grade 7 teacher from Calgary, Alberta and somehow I found my way to your blog tonight, browsing over from Young House Love.

I wasn't expecting to stay up two hours past my bedtime, learning about your family and having my heart pulled open with your grief. You can add another person to the list of those praying for you from around the world.

Your son was the kind of kid I love having in my classroom. Thanks for sharing his spirit with all of us.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! I needed to hear this after having some frustrating moments with my "sensitive and gifted" five year old at recent soccer practices.

I love reading your posts about lessons learned from Jack. His beautiful spirit will never be forgotten.

carrie // kimm said...

Every story I read about Jack really impresses me.
You were so lucky to have such a great kid.
I know you know that...but sometimes it's nice to hear it.

anymommy said...

You truly capture him with your words. It's gorgeous. I hope you tell us who wins his award!

Kristin said...

I have been reading your blog, but I had missed this one until someone recommended it on Momastery. Truly a beautiful post, Anna. I'm glad I found it.

joyfulchallenge said...

If heaven has a baseball field, I believe Jack & Austin are playing and having home runs that are out of this world. ;)

Unknown said...

That scrimmage was the last time I saw Jack. What I remember is that I was pitching, and Jack hit a weak ground ball to me. I got him out, and as he walked to the dugout, we shared a laugh. After the game, he made a comment to me about how that pitch clearly was unfair. We laughed even more. He wasn't mad at me at all, we were just two friends having a good time after a relaxed scrimmage. That's always how I'll remember him.

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

@Bryan Covell-- Thank you for sharing your memories of Jack. Love, Mrs. D.

jmartens said...

I so needed to read this today, as I am having my sweet, sensitive second grade boy take a break after experiencing tearful frustration over a project. I have often wondered if he will outgrow this phase (can you call it a phase if it has lasted for 8 years??) He is smart and kind and a million other things I love, but he can also be incredibly sensitive, which translates to difficult. There is nothing relaxed or easy going about him. He is that kid who would rather hang back and watch at a party, or just plain stay home. As a mom, it can be hard to watch and just let him "be."

This summer he discovered baseball, and coincidently his team is the Dodgers. He loves it, and has found something that gives him the inside track on making friends. He amazes me with his skill.

So thank you for letting me know that my sweet, sensitive boy may grow into some resilience, and that there will come a day when tears don't fall so quickly.

I keep you, Jack, and your family in my prayers. Blessings to you on your journey, and thank you for so eloquently describing my feelings.

jmartens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea Mowery said...

Love this insight into your beloved son. His character is so clearly defined - thank you for sharing him with us. Love to you.

Loukia said...

My third grader is a lover of science, history, and math. He really does NOT like playing sports on any team, though he's played soccer for the last few years. He does like swimming, and playing tennis.
Thank you for once again sharing your stories about your son, Jack. Can you believe me when I say your story, out of all the stories in the world that I've read or heard about, has touched my heart, broken my heart, and made me appreciate and cherish every second more than anything else? And believe me when I say I think about your loss every day. As a mother it's hard not to. Love love love love to you.

Cynthia said...

Break my heart!!