I see a lot of great clips in the media that show professional athletes or celebrities interacting with children and putting a huge smile on the children’s faces in the process. I often wonder if the athlete or celebrity truly understands the lasting effect it can have on a child when they take the time to make them feel good about themselves.
This past weekend while I was away at the Dad 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC, my family visited with my in-laws in Florida. While they were there my father-in-law took my son down to watch the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catchers as they took to the field for the first time this year. Any time you get to see professional athletes up close it is a treat but my son’s experience went beyond simply watching them from afar.
Before I get into the story, here’s a little background. I played pretty high level fastball growing up and loved everything about baseball. There was nothing I wanted more than for my son to love the sport I grew up with but I also wanted him to make his own decisions about what he liked and disliked, so I tried not to force baseball on him. Early on it seemed like he wouldn’t be interested and I had since made my peace with that. This year he asked to sign up for winter baseball skills lessons but after seven or eight classes still hadn’t decided if baseball was for him. Fast forward to this past weekend, however, and he came home from Florida begging for me to sign him up.
What changed, you ask?
As luck would have it, the Tampa Bay Rays are really good with their fans and especially the kids. They probably thought nothing of tossing a ball to a young fan but to my son it was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to him. For Chris Archer and Blake Snell to come and sign the ball and his newly purchased Rays hat made the experience even better for my future slugger. If this is all that had happened my son would have walked out of there an excited young baseball fan, but there was one more interaction that pushed him over the top and has since convinced him to want to be a baseball player.
One player took a little extra time chatting with my son and it was his excited recollection of the conversation that convinced me to write this story. So to pitcher Mark Sappington, thank you for making my son feel extra special. Thank you for signing his ball and thank you for not only asking him to show off his arm for you but also for praising him after his throw and telling him you think he has what it takes. What was most likely a common fan interaction for you meant the world to him and gave him more confidence than I could ever give him with the same compliment. He finalized his decision to play baseball this year because of you. How cool is it to have that kind of influence over a young person?
Thank you to the Tampa Bay Rays for treating my son so well and for giving him the confidence to believe in himself. I also promise not to steal the signed ball or hat that he has yet to leave out of his sight…!