It was as if I was looking at myself in the mirror- a reflection from thirty years ago.

My eleven-year-old son played in his first baseball game last night.**If any dads are reading this, I can stop writing right now and you will know everything I was feeling.**

Grayson got off to a late start playing baseball so this is all new to both of us.

As Grayson stepped up to the plate for his first time at bat, I was overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and anxiety. I was also amazed at the reflection I saw of my younger self. I felt as if I knew exactly what he was feeling. I watched intently as the little child, the young man, the scared rabbit, and the confident lion were battling it out, in the footrace for the title of “Identity”.

Grayson rocked, back-and-forth, just as I do. His hands anxiously gripped and re-gripped the bat, just as mine would. He watched as the pitcher threw a couple of bad pitches and he took a couple of swings and hit nothing but the thick air (just as I often did).

The count was 2-2. Grayson was stiff as a board and nervous as a cat. The first base coach (God, love all the men who give their time to help with youth sports) called out,
“Relax, Grayson. If it’s anywhere close, swing away. Take it easy, buddy. This is your ball.”

The pitch was delivered… “dink”.

A slow-roller down the first base line! Grayson, who unlike his dad, has some speed, dug it out and made it to first base.  I could not have been happier for him. The next pitch, he stole second. After a base hit by his teammate, Grayson took third base, and a bad throw allowed him to sprint for home. The throw was close, the cheers were intense, and Grayson was given the opportunity to do what every red-blooded, American kid wants the opportunity to do….slide into home base.

As Grayson stood up, I didn’t know if he was going to celebrate, try to play it cool, or just blast-off into the air until icicles grew from his fingers like Tony Stark in Iron Man. He decided to play it cool, but, like me, he is a bad actor and fooled no one. He was the proudest kid in the world.

After he enjoyed a brief celebration in the dugout, I made my way around towards him. I stayed far enough away to not make a scene- all I was hoping for was eye-contact.

I said nothing.

I didn’t need to.

I smiled as I pointed to him. He acknowledged me with an intense nod and a look as if it was time to get back to work. I had been given this same nod of approval, one hundred different times in one hundred different fields, dugouts, and basketball courts throughout my youth by my own dad. I know how little celebration is needed from a father after a boy does something good but I also know how necessary it is to acknowledge a moment of pride.

I will never forget what it felt like to casually peruse the landscape as I searched for my dad during a game. I can always bring back to memory the feeling of comfort and security that would come when we locked eyes and he gave me “the nod”. I will always remember how quickly I broke eye-contact and how important it was to begin earning the next moment. There is no better feeling in the world than making your dad proud…except for watching your son make you a proud father. No man will argue this fact.

At that moment, I was the most content man in the universe.

I have no aspirations for my son to be a professional athlete. I have no desire to live vicariously through his achievements and push him to achieve something that I could not.. What I want is for him to feel loved and accepted and get to experience the adrenaline and excitement that comes with being part of a team and contributing to victory. I want him to know what it feels like to have coaches and teammates rattle his head around so much that he feels dizzy and slap him on the back as he trades high fives. I want him to know what it feels like to beat the world and believe, if only momentarily, that there is nothing that he cannot achieve.

Believe it or not, a base-hit, a made basket, or a scored goal can take a young man to the moon and back.

If only for one evening, in Grayson’s little world, the confident lion had won the foot race, and going to bed with that title is like no other feeling in the world. Today is a new day, and the race begins again, but somewhere inside of Grayson’s young body is the awareness that there is a lion that can be found if he just does his best.

We all have the battle for identity and it starts new with every day and every situation. The child, the adult, the rabbit, and the lion….

The race is on.

Peace, Love, and all things Beef related,