It sounds strange to say out loud, but the idea for this column was not mine. It was offered to me by my mother, whose birthday was last week, and whom I took out for a birthday brunch on Sunday. The poor woman, her birthday is always so close to Mother's Day that my brother and I, both semi-competent sons, get a two-for-one deal: Mother's Day and her birthday taken care of in one get-together. It was at this last birthday meal that my mom said, "I read your last column. I liked it. Next week you should write a 'Mother's Day' column. Talk about all the times I sat around in the cold at Perryville Park, while your Little League games went on for three hours." I said, "you got it, Ma." So, with Mother's Day coming up this weekend, here's one for all the moms who have sat in the bleachers, freezing, while their sons and daughters ran around the baseball diamond, or the football field, or the soccer field.
The specific game to which my mom was referring occurred, I think, on Opening Day 1989, my first year at the majors level of Little League baseball. It was so, so cold that day. They probably should have just called the game off at the end of the third inning, but it dragged on. None of the pitchers (myself included), could throw strikes, and it got to the point that the chief umpire was calling strikes on pitches that bounced off home plate. If the ball crossed home plate between the visor of your helmet and ground level, it was a strike, and we were still having trouble hitting that zone. Around the fourth inning, two hours into the game I imagine, when I was thinking about faking an injury so I could go home, I looked over and saw my mom sitting in the bleachers. I figured she'd long since retired to the car, parked out beyond the centerfield fence, to read a book, but there she was. She smiled and waved to me, and I suddenly felt OK with not being able to feel my fingers. Driving home afterward, Mom said, "next time I'm bringing some earmuffs."
Speaking of Little League, do they still make the players sell candy bars to pay for their uniforms? Every single year, without fail, my brother and I would each get our bag of 30 king-size Reese's Cups and Hershey Bars, sell two or three of them, then start eating the remainder of them, slowly, over a two-week period (my dad helped diminish the stack of candy, too). When it came time to turn in the proceeds of our candy sales, rather than chastising her sons for being lazy, and for helping our dentist buy a new condo, probably, my mom would cut two checks for $30 each and mail them to the Little League office. "Don't worry about it," she said one year when I apologized.
Fast forward about eight years, and I was just starting my last season of high school soccer. In the opening game of the regular season, I was kicked extremely hard on the top of my right foot, and though I played the rest of the match, when I took off my cleat, my foot swelled up like a balloon. Mom let me stay home from school the next day and arranged an appointment with an orthopedist, who took an X-ray of my injured foot. After looking at the results, he told me, "you have a very small fracture. I'd advise you to take it easy for a few weeks, but you can keep playing if you'd like." As I was still harboring dreams of playing college soccer, the idea of permanently injuring my foot terrified me. Mom calmed me down and said, "Dew, why don't you suit up for the next game and see what happens. If it hurts, it hurts. If it feels OK, keep playing." I did exactly that. I felt like I was kicking a cinder block for the first few minutes, but that died down, and I wound up scoring the first goal in a 3-0 victory (my brother, a freshman, scored a goal as well. It was a good day for the family). Were it not for mom's encouragement, I probably would have sat out that game.
I could name a hundred other instances of my mother helping me along during my athletic career, and I see the same things happening every-day in my life as a sports writer. I see mothers accompanying their sons to All-County photo shoots, tying ties and nicely, but firmly, telling them to smile for the camera. I get emails from mothers telling me I should start spelling their sons and daughters names correctly (Rayn Gibson and Luke Gover, I apologize). Moms care, so don't take yours for granted. Happy Mother's Day.