Passion and the Quest to Build Character

San Diego’s fans, in recent years, have found themselves complaining about the dispassionate management of their sports teams. When the Chargers dismissed Norv Turner fans were ecstatic – Maybe now, someone with a little fire will lead this team. Someone who will call-out a player not meeting expectations. When fans discuss Bud Black the laments are often the same. Bud doesn’t show emotion. Bud doesn’t do this. Bud doesn’t do that. Bud’s not like Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly. Actually I don’t think anyone has ever verbalized such a complaint before but those guys certainly showed passion the other night. Does there exist a place where a man can learn to express himself with such passion?

When I ventured out to the RB Community Fields last Saturday, I discovered a great many things about passion. This is where my nephew played in the championship game of farm league baseball. Yes – where 8 year old boys play baseball there lies a fountain of passion – although the source may come as a surprise. Amongst these children, standing resolute, is the father who plays the role of baseball coach. Bud Black and others around MLB could learn a thing or two from one particular manager who honed his craft before an eager community awaiting a champion.

In order for you to fully understand the message I’m trying to convey let me set the stage. This game was the championship game of a double elimination tournament. My nephew’s team needed to win on Saturday to force a second championship game on Monday. The tension mounted with each passing at-bat as these 8 year-old boys knew that every decision made could be the one that either brought the season to a close or extended it by another day. The tension palpable, I sat on the edge of my seat. I thought to myself, this is where the character of young men is forged – and it is the coach who serves as blacksmith.

Fables begin in times such as these and the moment of truth had arrived for one young boy. This young lad was the best player for the opposition and he eagerly dug into the batter’s box, waiting and surveying. Finally receiving the pitch that best suited his slight 4’6″ frame, he wasted little energy, efficiently directing his hands to the ball, and drilling it to center field on a line. He sped to first base only to learn that my nephew, waiting on the fringe of the infield dirt had charged in to make the grab. I watched as this little soldier marched back to his team’s dugout, tears in his eyes, the weight of expectation thrusting down upon his shoulders. Overwhelmed by my own humanity I yearned for someone, anyone, to put their arms around the boy to tell him it would be OK, that this game wasn’t over, and chances for redemption were still to come. And at that moment in stepped the coach, the blacksmith, who echoed the following for the world to hear: “Are you serious? You’re crying? Are YOU serious! You cannot be serious!”

Then, as the coach disgustedly turned his back on the child and walked away, an epiphany engulfed my being. My preconceived notion of empathy as a means to provide perspective and to ultimately build character was a misdirected one. I realized, through the actions of this coach, how soft I was as a man . . . and that I could never coach youth. These children simply needed more than I could ever provide. The methods of this particular coach proved effective as his team went on to victory sending my nephew home to learn life lessons of another sort. The passion and steely resolve of this coach, neigh the coach, will forever stay with me. On my next trip to Petco Park I will invariably look down to that field of dreams and I will wonder . . . how many of these men were forged by the will of a hardened volunteer during the days of their youth?

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I contribute to Padres Public on Thursday mornings and when I’m feeling particularly inspired. I can also be found on twitter at @AvengingJM where I judge overzealous little league dads, 7 days a week.

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