There are only 18 summers in childhood. -author unknown
To be honest, I’ve been putting off writing about this song. I decided to include “Lost Boy” by Ruth B. on my summer playlist for two reasons. First, I remember it playing practically non-stop last summer (2016) and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around its success. And second, because (eventually) its haunting lyrics and melody spoke to me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.
A piano ballad on the Billboard Top 100 might be unusual, but the term “unusual” pretty much describes this song from start to finish. The Canadian singer/songwriter Ruth B. said she wrote the first line of the song after watching the television show Once Upon a Time. She then “debuted” her partial song via the Vine app. Fans encouraged her to write a full song, and thanks to internet demand, she released a YouTube video in late 2015. Record labels finally took notice and an official music video arrived in Spring 2016. Many in the industry thought the idea of a song about Peter Pan simply wouldn’t fly (pun intended.) Several said it was too “Disney” and others wrote it off as anything but a summer music hit. Obviously, they were wrong. A ballad about a young boy who refuses to grow up, a rebel of sorts who will not conform, a carefree character who chooses fantasy over reality…it was a song that resonated with so many…even a 40 something year old mom.
“Lost Boy” was the song that played on the radio when we headed to the ballpark and played again on the long rides home. On nights when our team won, the song’s melody suggested that these were absolutely the very best days. Peter Pan was definitely on to something–never, ever grow up! On nights when the team lost, the song resounded with a heartbreaking quality. A reminder that perhaps these were indeed “lost” years, where boys transform into men despite the alluring idea of living in “Neverland.” Watching your children grow up is something that no one can prepare you for…believe me, I know. I’ve read all the books, sought out advice from everyone under the sun and I still sit in awe. My mind can barely wrap itself around the idea that these kiddos are becoming adults and my heart practically refuses to believe this is even a possibility. Yet here we are.
I remember what it was like to be fifteen. It was the absolute best and it was the absolute worst. It was fun and it was lonely. It was exciting and it was scary. It was pivotal. Neverland never looked so good (at least to this mom.)
Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life. -Ernie Harwell
When you park your back-end on a bleacher for a good chunk of the summer, your mind occasionally wanders. I think it’s a by-product of the summer air, sunshine and warm nights, and the endless possibilities stretched out before you as a favorite player/team take the field. This magical time at the ball diamond lends itself to reflection and contemplation. And as a result, I’ve come to appreciate the game on an entirely new level this season.
If you’ve played the sport (or you know someone who has,) you’ve heard the adage “baseball is 90% mental, the other half physical.” While I’m not sure exactly how the math adds up, I do think there’s a lot to be said for the mental game. Everything from practice and coaching to adequate sleep time and game day meals, contributes to and sets the tone for a player’s performance during a game. From little league to MLB, players have their own unique rituals–special socks, flavored sunflower seeds, eye black design and even music…e.g., “the walk up song.” Sure team’s have been playing tunes in the locker room for years. Music selections that inspire and pump up the crowd are blared from the speakers at numerous sporting venues. We’ve all seen images of ball players from every sport getting off the team bus with headphones/ear buds playing their favorite jams. This attempt to block out the world, focus on the task at hand, energize the athlete and ultimately get him into the zone, have been going on for decades. For a non-athlete like myself, the process is fascinating! And thus, the baseball walk-up song has been at the forefront of my mind this summer…so much so that I’ve been experimenting with the concept on my children (how’s that for parenting?)
Before you starting thinking that I must have a lot of time on my hands (or that I’m an insane baseball mom,) let me explain. I’ve always thought of sports as a metaphor for life: work hard, practice and learn the basics, prepare, be a sponge, respect the coach, LISTEN, try your best, believe in yourself, be a team player, never blame the officials, realize that there will be both good AND bad days (and the bad days don’t define you), stay coachable and finally HAVE FUN! Baseball teaches these concepts, but there’s one more notion that I had somewhat overlooked (until now,) and that’s attitude– you know, confidence and the mental game. When our children are young, I think we focus on fundamentals and rightly so (there’s only so much teaching that can be absorbed at that age.) As they grow up and develop we can add the nuances, the fine distinctions that play a big role in success and in the long run, enjoyment and satisfaction with one’s efforts. Accomplishing a goal in any area of life hinges on these details. And if the details include being in the right frame of mind (and not relying on luck, superstitions or circumstances) then the baseball walk up song makes a lot of sense.
Players will tell you that a certain degree of thoughtfulness goes into their walk up song choice. The selection is used to invoke baseball nostalgia, entertain fans, instill confidence, set a tone for success and maybe even intimidate the opponent. Above all, it gives the player a moment to focus, be still, assess the situation, breathe and maybe even smile. The value of the strategy is obvious. So, why leave this mental game method strictly to secular areas like sports? Imagine if we purposefully approached our daily lives in this manner?
For years, I have used scripture and music as a source of peace, to call my spirit into focus, and essentially to put myself in a good mood. When walking into a job interview, the doctor’s office, approaching a loved one with a difficult situation, in parenting, ministry, and countless other situations… this practice has proven helpful in preparing myself for whatever lies ahead–both good and bad. And I know that it works! Psychologists often refer to this approach as “visualization,” a mental technique geared to create success and/or positive outcomes. While all of this sounds pretty heavy, I think there’s a place for it in both serious and less weighty scenarios…and you may already be using this strategy without even realizing it. Here’s how it works: You’re all set for a night out on the town with your friends–you know the right music will set the tone. Family road trip? You create a playlist that incorporates a little something for everyone in the car. Special date night or anniversary…a little Sinatra never hurt anyone! You get the picture 🙂
So here’s where it comes full circle…. My baseball musing went from the bleachers to my favorite players–my kiddos. These competitive and determined little league players often put a lot of pressure on themselves. As a parent, we want our children to have SUCCESS as well asFUN and having a good attitude plays a key role in that. It wasn’t long before our pregame routine included a couple of walk-up songs. Sean has two or three songs that he looks forward to hearing as we cruise over to the ball park. Casey enjoys listening to her own personalized playlist before games, but also before practice as well. Look, I’m not saying this tactic is the missing link between Losertown and Winnerville…but it sure has led to high-spirits, less pressure, and a lot more smiles! Ultimately, I hope it’s a game plan that the children will carry with them as the grow up, not just where sports are concerned, but for life. Setting the tone truly can make a difference!
We have a choice in how we approach, prepare and deal with every situation that comes our way…and the mental game has a lot to do with just how successful we will handle both the highs and the lows. And personally, I welcome any positive strategy that sets us up to “win.” I’ve even claimed my own walk-up song, a little ditty that rolls through my head as I’m pouring coffee in the morning. Because come on…we could all use that extra something (especially at 6am!)
“Baseball…is a place where memory gathers.” — Donald Hall
Another baseball summer has come to an end. And so goes that magical time of year where we schlep our kiddos to and from practice, block out our evenings and weekends for games, purchase sunflower seeds and Gatorade in bulk, spend all of our money at the sporting good stores and plant ourselves for hours on end upon narrow (and often uncomfortable) bleacher seats. Oh, how I LOVED it! There’s just something special about being at the ballpark. And this summer, America’s favorite pastime took on new significance for me as a typical ballgame outing transcended time and space (cue Twilight Zone music here….)
One of the consequences of living hours away from family is that the chorus of cheers and encouragement for your kid come from yourself and the parents of your kid’s friends. I had become accustomed to hearing these familiar voices during my son’s baseball games, but on this particular weekend when my son stepped up to bat I could hear my Mom say, ‘Here you go, Sean,” followed by my Dad, “Pick a good one.” And just like that, I was transported back in time, to ball fields in my home town. Their voices and their presence that afternoon sent me right back to my childhood. You see, I was a “baseball sister,” nestled in the stands…sucking on sunflower seeds, drinking soda and watching my little brothers at bat. My Dad was on the field as coach and we all waited with bated breath for every pitch. In a flashback moment I could see their uniforms and determined looks. I recalled hot and dry, western Kansas evenings and the sports complex where they played little league. I took a deep breath and present day reality set back in.
All afternoon my head (and my heart) bounced between the baseball game at hand and games past. My mind’s eye could clearly see thrilling victories and agonizing defeats–my brothers’ sweaty faces and red, dirt stained white pants. I remembered Dairy Queen celebrations and post game lamentations at the kitchen table. Then I would see my son, in all his determination strike out a monster of a batter (keep in mind this is little league, but this batter was as tall as the umpire!) In the stands, my folks and I reminisced about Gatorade gum (does that still exist?), pre-game rituals and the power of green m&ms. Every caught ball, grounder and close call produced cheers and jeers intermixed with stories from my own childhood…Do you remember when kids wore stirrups as part of their uniforms, when entire teams ran to the parking lot for coolers loaded with soda and snacks, when games were scheduled as late at 9:30pm, and when wearing rally caps was a concept that NEVER had to be explained? Remember when…?
Between games, my Dad and husband talked about strategy, the ins and outs of coaching your own kid and various pitching techniques before heading back to the diamonds. We reminisced about how much baseball caps have changed (do you recall the mesh back, plastic snap variety?) and laughed about the NO SWIMMING ON GAME DAY rule, which still holds true for the new generation of ball players, at least in my family. We compared games of yesterday with my husband’s baseball experience on the West Coast. Before long we found ourselves in line at the concession stand again…purchasing more sunflower seeds, of course. And my niece helped to carefully pick out green m&ms (we might as well test out the “home run” theory) and discreetly handed them off to my son in the dugout (see candy commercial below for explanation), and finally we settled in for another inning of play. New game, but such familiar territory. I was living my own “Field of Dreams.” Like the well-known baseball flick, I was experiencing a mixture of baseball past and present, family togetherness and a desire to hold on to this special summertime moment.
Three games later we were sun-worn and windblown, but smiling. Sean pitched his very best game of the summer. We cheered as he and his teammates celebrated in the dugout. I took in the moment as the most important men in my life collectively grinned from ear to ear and looked so proud! Okay, it’s just baseball and little league baseball at that, but these are the occasions that become some of our best memories. As in life, another baseball game, another victory, another afternoon together is never promised. For now summer baseball will continue to weave itself in and out of my son’s childhood. We have camps to look forward to, the excitement of new teams and teammates, and the joy of taking in the occassional MLB game whenever we can. There’s nothing like building family memories around the ball diamond and dreaming major league dreams all while celebrating little victories at the local Dairy Queen.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”— Rogers Hornsby