My son graduated from college in 2015. He quit playing baseball in 2013. Baseball had been such a presence in his life that quitting the team was one of the hardest decisions he had to make. But as I try to decide what to do with the popup net and catchers gear still sitting the garage, I realize how many of the decisions we made because of baseball.
Our son’s decision to play baseball, and ours to support him, meant our lives were different than they might have been. I like to think that we were aware of the consequences at the time but who can ever really know? Sometimes it’s like choosing one job over another, ten years later you can only wonder how the other one might have turned out.
Of course, most probably didn’t have that level if significance. Soccer, my preference, was dropped early in favor of fall ball (I never said I was an ideal baseball mom). Fencing was different. It held out through the beginning of high school. We homeschooled which was the only reason it was possible. We teased him about having a thing for masks and strategy since his main position was catcher.
By the time he gave up fencing, we knew it was a road not taken. At that point you can get a glimpse of the possibilities for beyond high school. You have some sense of what sort of commitments and costs are expected and the cultural differences. But he was definitely his father’s son and baseball it was.
Between the two sports, baseball would generally have been considered the most disadvantaged by homeschooling through high school. We weren’t in Florida, no playing on the high school team. Instead, in Texas we had a homeschool baseball team that played the smaller high schools. We already had an idea of what he was up against just trying to get playing time on the select teams. The kids he had grown up with playing Little League (and their parents) couldn’t believe that he wouldn’t go back to high school to play at a higher level.
But again, there were the trade-offs which we were very aware of at the time. Remember, at the start of high school my son was able to play baseball while still fencing. Most of the kids at the local high school entered as one sport athletes or were by their sophomore year. And very few of the freshman started even on the JV team. My son was a starter as a freshman. Now that may have had more to do with that there were only nine players on the team but he was playing.
Then there were the academics. My son loved history and competed in National History Day. He also was involved in Odyssey of the Mind which can get time consuming. Of all the kids he played with in the summer and fall, only one, and I’m not exaggerating, had some non-sport extracurricular activity. Maybe things are different at other high schools or in other states, but where we were playing high school sports meant giving up other activities and academics were definitely secondary.
You can make the argument that by not playing high school ball, he didn’t give it his all and that it ultimately limited his future opportunities in baseball. Maybe. But of the 30 or so nonhomschoolers he played baseball with through high school, there were only two who ended up playing in college. And I’ll tell you, our son would not have been considered in the top half of that talent pool-and he did play in college.
College. That’s where baseball really managed to throw its weight around and shape our son’s future. He wanted to play baseball and as you might have guessed by now, he wasn’t good enough to play in Texas.
We had a pretty realistic understanding of his talent level from attending various camps including Headfirst. Ultimately, we visited 25 small Liberal Arts Colleges from Texas to Pennsylvania to Minnesota. If Rhodes hadn’t already had six catchers on their rooster, he would have gone there no matter the coaches opinion. He actually got the largest academic scholarship from Rhodes, over $20,000-no athletic scholarships at D3 schools.
Turns out Virginia D3 schools can be a lot like Texas, they pick up a lot JuCo transfers when they don’t make the MLB draft, at least for the schools we looked at. We did camps in Pennsylvania and Indiana because of the coaches there.
It finally came down to the three colleges where the coaches were interested, two in Wisconsin one in Minnesota. He got the periodic phone calls and requests for updates. He had acceptable academic scholarships from all three and all were quality schools. More importantly, they were schools he would be happy at if baseball were to go away.
And it did because things happen. The college he went to had a graduating senior and a rising junior at catcher when my son applied in the fall. When he showed up in August, he found himself in a room with 15 other freshman baseball players-the coaches largest class ever, including 3 catchers. Welcome to D3 baseball.
By his sophomore year, he realized that he wasn’t willing to put in the effort to get the starting job. The saying about there being three things you can do in college, study, socialize, or athletics but you only have time to do two is true. This is definitely the case for baseball which is only second to D1 football in the amount of time demanded from players on a weekly basis. In some ways, it was like high school again but with no homeschool option to free up time as needed. So he quit at the beginning of his sophomore season.
Baseball was over.
But because of baseball we spent our weekends frying on aluminum bleachers instead of air conditioned fencing tournaments. Because of baseball, I had to figure out NCAA recruiting as well as panicking over regular college admissions for homeschoolers. Because of baseball, he seriously considered Gustavus Adolphus college in Minnesota instead of Trinity where he actually took catchers lessons. Because of baseball, he graduated from college in Wisconsin instead of Texas, or Tennessee.
I’m not trying to say one way would have been better than the other. I’m saying it is a lot like anything else you might commit to with certain expectations-things don’t always turn out as planned. If you like your life with baseball in it, great! Enjoy the weekends, the ridiculous calls by the umpires, and the concessions with the best fries. But always remember, baseball is a choice, not a promise for the future. Things happen and baseball will eventually end whether you’re ready for it to or not.