Finding common ground in Sports

April 2, 2010 8:00:00 AM PDT
Sports are such a wonderful outlet for many kids.

Some of my best memories with my son, Jake, have been watching pro sports on T.V., going to games, and analyzing his favorite pro players and coaches and certainly seeing him play sports of every kind from soccer, tee ball, flag football, ice hockey, tennis, biking, track, volleyball and lacrosse to yoga and baseball (his favorite.) He, of course, wants to be a pro baseball player when he grows up. Therefore, sports are HUGE in his life.

I never grew up following any teams. Once I got to college (UNC-Chapel Hill) there was no choice but to join in on the sports mania. So, I went to basketball and football games occasionally, but I didn't understand details of the players and teams, the strategy, and drama that goes with athletics. Frankly, I'm more of an artsy type who loves ballet, music, theatre and art. Back then I never quite got why the sports programs seemed to receive all the attention (except for their money-making ability).

After moving to Philadelphia, sports again seemed to dominate the city and it's been fun falling in love with the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and Sixers. Certainly there are no fans anywhere who are as passionate, knowledgeable and wonderful as Philly folks!

But having a young son who is consumed by sports takes it to a whole new level! We'll be eating breakfast, talking about what's coming up at school that day, when out of the blue, he'll start a conversation like this:

JAKE: "Mom, name your top 5 favorite baseball pitchers."
MOM: "Jake, I can maybe name two from the Phillies and none from any other team. Can you give me a list and I'll choose from that?"
JAKE: "Mom, that's terrible. I need to teach you some sports stuff."

And then he does.

We make it our breakfast and driving-to-school project that day to teach me at least five great pitchers' names and one important fact about each one. Then that night at dinner, he'll quiz me to see if I actually remembered. Of course, the Phillies' Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton, among others, but also Carlos Zambrano, Jake Peavy, and C.C. Sabathia. I passed the test, but that only spurs him to ask more questions, to again see that I'm woefully illiterate when it comes to the depth and breadth of background he already knows at age 9, and to determine to fill in my gaps!

Thanks to our special teacher/student bond with sports, we've taken our family sports "classroom" on the road for field work, if you will. We generally go to a couple games for each of the four big Philadelphia teams. He uses the opportunity to update my sports repertoire, put names of players with faces, and amid lots of laughter and smiles, starts teaching me some of the history of our great sports teams. (The laughter and smiles usually happen when I confuse things and say something so ridiculous that only a loving family member would tolerate such ineptitude! Like when I jumble all this new information and answer one of his baseball quizzes by accidentally naming a football player! You should see his face! Then I kindly remind him that he probably can't name any great ballerinas and that I can pirouette him off the field any day?just to remind him that not everyone is smart and good at everything.)

The highlight of our sports "lab" work came in 2009. I took Jake to Monday's incredible Game 5 of the 2009 World Series Baseball showdown between the Phillies and Yankees last week. What an incredible show! Even the uninitiated can't help but love the homeruns, the pitching duel, a couple of the referees calls (we disagreed with the one against Ryan Howard), and the 9th inning where it almost all fell apart. It kept us on the edge of our seats in a way I've never experienced! Especially now that I know both the Phillies' players names/backgrounds and the Yankees' players' names/backgrounds?now that I know a bit about both coaches (love Charlie Manual?he's too cool), and now that I can intelligently tease some Yankees fans with thoughtful jabs as they sit nearby.

Jake and I watched the sportscasters finishing up their pre-game show at 7pm, then saw the Color Guard assembling their flags in the tunnel before they walk out on the field. We got to see a silly fan with his face painted red getting removed by security, we settled in for the wonderful game and munched on popcorn and nachos, as temps fell we snuggled up in mittens and blankets with hot chocolate (Jake refused to wear his winter coat until after 10:30 because it covered up his "Cliff Lee" jersey. Understandable I guess, on a night when it was all about Lee and Utley.) We laughed when we got on the Jumbotron for doing a silly dance. We laughed again when the Yankees fans in front of us were mesmerized debating the merits of the game with Jake (it was all very civil). Jake scored the game on his program, and learned some new symbols from the nice older couple behind us who drew the base runs with grass and other markings.

We figured out that the music played as each Phillie comes out to hit must be his own personal favorite, so we enjoyed trying to identify the artists and pick our favorites. We laughed and laughed when the speakers blared the lyric "Say what you need to say" from a Top 40 song whenever the Yankees' catcher would run out to the mound for a private conference with the Yankees pitcher. We giggled when the Phanatic picked a Baby Phanatic out of the crowd and tried to teach him/her some moves.

And of course the incredible game! The runs, the outs, the near misses, the pop ups, the speed of the pitches, the balls that nearly whizzed right by for us to almost catch, the Yankees pitcher taking forever to pick mud off his shoes, the player who crashed into the wall and got shaken up, the base coaches, the Utley steal, the sacrifice hits, the pitchers each side chose to replace their top guns towards the end, the missed opportunities, the errors?finally I can appreciate it with all the levels and layers the game deserves! I don't pretend to know all that Jake knows or to "get it" like he gets it. But I'm getting there!

It was more fun than I can ever describe. Of course anytime a 4th grader gets to stay up until nearly midnight watching his favorite sport in person, it's like living the dream by definition. But the way we share sports together, more correctly the way he shares it with me, is something I'll treasure always. And I know he will too!

I hope you can find a special activity, hobby, or sport with the child in your life. Even if it's not your "thing," you might be amazed how learning it, sharing it and enjoying it opens you up to new fun!