My Dad has always been a Yankees’ man. It didn’t matter if the team was winning or losing, he was pulling for them. I grew up watching the N.Y. Yankees play ball in our living room — via the television — throughout my childhood.
My Dad loves the game of baseball. In his younger years, he played pitcher on a team in Alexandria, La. I remember the whole family loading up in the station wagon to go watch him play. At the time, I thought he should be playing for the Yankees. Such is life through the eyes of the child.
Later, I frequently found myself at the ball ﬁ eld watching my older brothers and sister play softball. My brothers were giants on the ﬁ eld. You could always count on them to knock it out of the park. And my sister, Susan, was no slouch either. She played a wicked ﬁ rst base and no one could touch her at bat.
I played one season of softball, and realized it really wasn’t my sport. But it didn’t stop my love of the game.
My husband is a Yankees’ man. That and his service in the military are the two reasons I think my Dad loves him so much. When we found out I was expecting, the ﬁrst thing my husband bought was a ball glove. When he presented it to me with a big smile on his face, I had a brief glimpse of my future ... countless hours spent shuttling our little slugger to the ball park, sitting in the heat or rain watching games and waiting for the agony of defeat. I have to admit, I wasn’t too excited about that picture.
Thankfully, things change.
Our little one has, in fact, grown up with a ball of some sort in his hand since he was 4-years-old. His first venture into the world of athletics was T-ball. And like every mother who ever sat her son the ﬁeld, I chased him around and tried to get him to understand that the butterﬂ ies were not what he should be interested in, but rather the ball hurtling from the sky at his head.
Our next foray into the athletic world was basketball. Again, he was 4. He and his teammates were more interested in sliding down the ﬂoor of the YMCA gym than actually learning the fundamentals of the sport. And my son, JohnJohn, seemed to think that basketball was a contact sport. My husband and I took great pleasure from the calls of the other parents who would yell, “JohnJohn get the ball from him,” and watch as he tackled the opposing player to get the ball away.
Finesse was not his strong point.
Soccer seemed to be a good ﬁt. He liked playing the goal. And I liked him in the goal. He dominated the goal. No one came into his goal, and pity the poor child who tried.
I remember sitting in my chair at the end of the ﬁeld right by the goal — far away from the other parents — cheering him on. Later, friends explained to me that yelling, “No one comes in your goal — you own it” and “There’s no crying in soccer”— after he was hit in the face by the ball — wasn’t exactly cheering.
Soccer taught me that I had a competitive monster just waiting to come out.
Football was also a good ﬁt for our boy. Somewhere around the age of 6, he started to grow. He has remained at the 95th to 98th percentile for his age in height and weight, so his appearance at football tryouts made coaches smile in antcipation.
He loves the game, and he is good at it. But baseball is truly his passion.
For the past ﬁve years, he has played at the Gray’s Creek Recreation Center. For the majority of that time, he has played for the same coach and with many of the same players. These boys have grown-up together and they have jelled into a pretty amazing team.
Our coach, Jim Lisi, has more passion for the sport than anyone I have ever met. But it’s not so much about winning, rather about encouraging the boys to do their best. Practice after practice, night after night, he put the boys through countless drills.
I remember the ﬁrst season he coached, the boys didn’t even get on the ﬁeld until they mastered what he called the fundamentals of baseball. We parents would sit and watch and wonder when they were ever going to get on the ﬁ eld and how all of the little drills would make them a team. We couldn’t see it, but Jim did.
As is the case with every coach and every parent, we did not always see eye to eye. But Jim always took the time to listen, and, when he found merit in what we said, tried our way. Sometimes that got lost in translation, and rather than seeing how he bent, we saw only that it wasn’t as far as we wanted.
As parents, we sometimes grew tired of the numerous practices and his expectations of his team. While parents would mutter amongst themselves, the boys kept playing. They kept learning, and along the way, they kept winning.
As I watched our team win, I realized that Coach Jim was teaching the boys more than baseball. He’s been teaching them about excellence, about never settling for less, about never giving anything than their best. Those lessons aren’t always easy for 9- and 10-year-olds. Heck, they aren’t easy for adults.
But year, after year, our boys took those lessons to heart. So much so, that it altered their decisions. Last fall, my son opted out of football because he wanted to show Coach Jim that he could excel as a catcher. He made a conscious decision to give his best — even though he knew he wouldn’t be the starting catcher when he returned for spring ball.
That’s the kind of choices that many of the boys on our team have made over and over again, and this season, it paid off for them.
Our team, the Gray’s Creek Yankees (you didn’t really think it could be anything else, did you?) won our league championship.
Coach Jim was named the head coach for the All-Star Team. Being on that team was my son’s goal.The day the team was picked, Jim came by our house to let JohnJohn know he made the team. Why? He knew what it would mean to him, and he wanted to see the look on his face.
Our All-Star Team had a heck of a run. They won their pool, beating ﬁ ve of the best teams in the county. They played with the hearts of champions and with a kindness and spirit that is rarely seen in league sports.
Our season ended on Thursday, June 30, as we fell 4-3 to the North Fayetteville All-Stars in one of the best ball games I have seen in years. Both teams played with a heart and spirit that made baseball the American sport.
On the sidelines, a huge group of Gray’s Creek residents — many of whom didn’t even have children playing on the team — cheered them on. Even in defeat, the crowd roared their approval and love for this team.
Watching, I realized that this is why we choose to live in a community like Gray’s Creek. It’s the people. It’s the love and support they have for their children and their neighbor’s children. I listened as person after person told player after player that they had played an excellent game and had nothing to be ashamed of. The boys looked to Jim to see if this was right.
He didn’t fail them.
We may not have made it to the state play-offs, but we had an All-American season, and that’s a memory and an honor that no one can ever take away from these boys.
Go Grays Creek All-Stars!
Photo: Gray’s Creek All-Stars showed community its heart.