One of my sons was born with some physical challenges, which made coordination hard for him. He struggled to even walk without falling. I felt any physical activity would help him, so when he was five and asked to play softball, I was supportive and even agreed to coach the team.
When another small boy, Timmy, who had similar problems, started hanging around at our practices, I invited him to join us. Timmy’s father said Timmy didn’t have the ability to play because he would never be able to run, catch, or hit the ball. But with Timmy’s pleading, along with Timmy’s mother’s prodding, Timmy’s dad finally agreed to let him try.
I watched as my son and Timmy tried, but stumbled and fell time and time again. And when they tried to bat, the ball was long past before they swung.
I started taking my son to the ball diamond an hour or two before the others showed up so I could help him. Timmy would immediately come over when he saw us. I worked patiently with the two boys. Sometime I think I felt worse watching them fall down than they did. There were times I wanted to run to them and pick them up, but I knew I couldn’t. I always told them, as I told my whole team, “Getting up each time we fall is what makes us stronger.”
The two boys did grow stronger and could eventually run all the way to a single base without falling down. For batting, I started having them just hold their bats out and I would pitch at it. Gradually they started swinging the bat, and eventually they were able to hit the ball. The other children were far better, but each day I could see improvement in the two boys.
When we played our first game, I made sure every child played. It was not important to me if we won. I had only agreed to coach to build children. Sometimes the other children would become frustrated with my son and with Timmy, but I always ran interference. Sometimes parents could be even meaner, but I talked with them before our first game and made it clear how I felt. For the most part they were understanding.
Timmy and my son didn’t do too well in their first games, but we continued to work, and they continued to improve. As the season went on, I hoped that Timmy’s parents would come. I looked for them at each game, but they weren’t there. Timmy’s father said he didn’t want to be embarrassed. But, finally, one day, I heard someone cheering for Timmy and turned to see his mother. She was surprised to see her son chasing after the ball in the outfield, even though he fell down a few times. His throws were a bit wild, but he threw.
Each coach pitched to their own team. I knew right where to put it for Timmy. When he hit the ball and ran all the way to first base without even stumbling, his mother almost fell off the bleachers.
At the last game I was surprised, but pleased, to see Timmy’s father sitting beside his wife. His shock at seeing Timmy run and catch a fly ball was evident. He soon was cheering for his son and was louder than any other parent there.
The years passed, and my wife and I continued to encourage our son. He grew strong, and a person would hardly know he had ever had any problems. But I always wondered what happened to Timmy. Then, one day, I happened to be at the high school to pick up one of my daughters when the district baseball championship game was about to start. The team passed me, heading out to the field, when a tall, blond boy stopped and looked back. He turned and came trotting back to me. He smiled. “Hey, Coach. It’s good to see you.”
I didn’t have any idea who he was, or why he called me “Coach,” so I just said, “It’s good to see you, too.”
The young man’s coach called. “Hey, Tim, you’re the starting pitcher today. You better get warmed up.”
Suddenly, I realized who the young man was, and my shock must have shown in my expression.
Tim laughed. “Remember, getting up each time we fall is what makes us stronger.”