Michael T. Dolan

Writings, Reflections, and Commentaries

For the Love of the Ball

Posted on | September 30, 2009 | No Comments

"Little Champion"

Illustration by Dewey Saunders

Fathers, sons, and lessons learned…

“For the Love of the Ball” (Main Line Today, October 2009) 

Early on in my eldest son’s life, Michael decided he wanted to be a ballplayer when he grew up. Signs of his intended vocation came from the start.

Instead of sleeping with a furry teddy bear at night, my wife and I would often find him clutching something a bit less cuddly and snuggly—say, a basketball or football. Or we’d find him sound asleep in his pajamas with a Phillies cap perched on his head.

Sports were his world, and they still are.

“You have a good sleep?” I would ask him each morning when he was 2. “Have any dreams last night?”

“Yeah,” he’d answer.

“What about?”

He’d then provide a litany of sports that ran through his head as he lay in bed at night. Basketball. Football. Baseball. Soccer. Hockey. Lacrosse. Jai alai.

Yes, even jai alai.

It was the same every morning. But with so many sports, which would he settle on? It seemed like them all.

From the moment he could walk, he gravitated toward basketball. For two years, he stood in front of the net in our driveway and tried to make a basket with one of those bouncy balls you find caged up in the supermarket. Staring at the rim, the pint-sized boy would throw the ball skyward. For two years, he missed, but he got a bit closer each time. And with each throw, he fully expected to make the basket.

I remember the morning it finally went in. He watched the ball swoosh through the basket and then turned with a big smile to see if anyone else had witnessed this momentous event. His wasn’t a look of surprise, but rather joy. He knew the ball would go in; it was just a matter of when. I was fortunate to witness it. From then on, he refused to leave the court on a missed basket.

Soon he traded the bouncy ball for a real basketball, and our kitchen floor became his court. Heck, the whole world became his court.

Basketball wasn’t his only love. I remember him playing blocks one afternoon, glancing up at the television and seeing a hockey game. His eyes lit up. He knew he wanted to play it, but he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around what it was players were chasing and hitting.

“What’s that, Dad?”

“That’s called a puck, Michael.”

After the first icy snowfall of that winter, he dragged out a hockey stick and a net. His little body too light to break through the surface, he skated around the yard in his boots, hitting slapshots, wristers and backhands.

So it went through the seasons, as he traded one sport for another. Breaking his leg at age 1 while trying to do a trick with a soccer ball. Throwing a football in a perfect spiral at 2. Switch-hitting at the plate a year later.

Watching my son on the field and court has taught me much. Perhaps most important: You can achieve anything with practice, patience, fun and faith. After all, what takes more patience than a toddler looking up at a basketball rim and waiting for the day he’s big enough to make a basket?

Practice, patience, fun and faith—not a bad formula for life. My son has indeed taught me much on the ball field. And seeing as he’ll be turning 4 this month, there’s still much more for me to learn.

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