Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Visually Impaired Kid in the Outfield

Chicago: Wrigley Field - Outfield BleachersImage by wallyg via FlickrThis story involves a kid with a disability, but the lesson certainly transcends the kid and the disability.

I tend to give the credit for my support of the underdog to my mother, and as those of you who knew her are aware, she deserves much of it.  But in the last ten years or so, I have begun to appreciate many of the contributions that my father made to my development.

I have always known that he was solid.  He got up every morning and went off to work at the Peoples Gas Company.  Despite the title, it was a megacorporation.  He began there as a meter reader, dropping out of school in the sixth grade to work three jobs during the Depression, one of which involved bending springs with his bare hands to create mattresses.  As a meter reader, and I didn't get this until a few years before he died, he was responsible for either collecting the money owed or else shutting off the gas.  Tough job.

Anyway, at one point as a kid I wanted to play softball.  For those of you not from the Chicago Area, softball is different there.  The ball is 16 inches unlike the 12 inch ball used in the rest of the country.  One other important detail, you don't use baseball gloves.  Instead you catch this huge, hard ball with your bare hands. Anyway, I digress...

My Dad organized a league so that I could play.  Pretty cool, huh?  He was the coach of our team.  One of the rules he established was that anybody who came to the practices and followed the rules got to play in the games.  It seemed fair.  One of my teammates was a kid who we will call Johnny for purposes of this post.  Johnny had a visual impairment.  he had difficulty seeing even with corrective lenses.

We turned out to have a pretty good team. We made it all the way to the championship game.  We had a one run lead going into the final inning, and to my exasperation,  my dad put Johnny into right field for the final inning.  With the tying run on second base and two outs, the other team hit the ball near Johnny.  He didn't see it and we lost.

To say that I was furious would be an understatement.  I asked my dad why he did that.  He said that Johnny came to the practices and followed the rules, so he had to play him.  I said but we lost the Championship Game!  He said that it would not be fair if he didn't get to play.

I saw Johnny at school a few days later and he apologized for losing the game.  By then I had calmed down.  I told him that we were a team at that no one person loses or wins a game.  We did pretty well as a team to make it to the championship game.  He seemed to feel better.  I never forgot the lesson.

I guess that sports can be valuable for young people.  Particularly when the coach has integrity. 
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