Almost every athlete, in every sport, started playing their game when they were children. I know I started my athletic journey playing church league basketball and baseball in Memphis, Tennessee, when I was in the second grade.
I remember my first basketball game. My team won 66-6 (not a good omen for a church team). In what was to become the pattern of my athletic career, with the game well in hand, the coaches put me in.
Almost immediately I intercepted a pass. I would like to tell you I showed flashes of brilliance taking the ball the length of the floor for a score. What actually happened is I tucked the ball under my arm and headed to the basket.
That’s the day I learned what a traveling violation is.\
My baseball career didn’t start much better.
I do everything right-handed except swing a bat. My mother didn’t know that the first time she saw me stepping to the plate.
Being the wonderful parent she was, she stood and yelled at me, “You’re standing on the wrong side of the plate.” The coach turned around and informed her I was a left-handed batter.
The first time I reached base was the only time I didn’t strike out that first season. I was hit by a pitch, in my right foot. I believe it was the last game of the season.
I was called out at home plate although I was sitting on it when the catcher tagged me.
My family moved to Gulf Breeze in the fall of 1966 where I continued my less than stellar athletic career, but soaked up every floor burn on the basketball court and swing of the bat in baseball.
There is a natural selection in sports – a survival of the fittest. Most towns have several youth league baseball, basketball and soccer teams as well as age group football teams that see hundreds of children participating.
The number of kids participating in sports shrinks as some realize they simply aren’t good enough to play at a higher level and other young people develop other interests that consume their time. The kid that once played first base on a little league baseball team with minimal success might be the first chair trumpet in his high school band.
Other kids will find their way into computers, robotics or some form of the arts. If they are fortunate, the foundations of teamwork and dedication they learned in youth sports will carry them through life.
I recently turned 65 and I still want to play baseball. I miss the joy of warm spring evenings and the smell of fresh cut grass under my feet.
It has been almost 58 years since that first basketball game when I tucked the ball under my arm and learned about traveling. Next to my faith, family and friends, sports have been the greatest influence and love of my life.
I hope every young athlete will enjoy a similar experience with the games of their childhood.