From Parent to Child – The Love of Sports


Handing the Love of Sports Down From Parent to Child

By Shayne Smith

I love October.  Not only are we knee deep into football season, but the baseball playoffs are in full swing.

When I was growing up, my father watched practically every televised sport he could find each weekend.  If there was a game on, he’d be in front of the set.  Asleep, mind you, but with the knack of quickly waking up in the top of a ninth inning or at the two minute warning.  It was an uncanny characteristic that I hoped I would inherit.  Sadly, once I fall asleep with a game on, I tend to wake up at 2:37 a.m. with either the last ten minutes of a Pardon the Interruption rerun or the third showing of Sports Center blaring away.

When my kids were young, though, I did devise a pretty good method of watching at least one game a week:  The Monday Night Football Watch Party.  This was the television event of the week with my then four year old son, second in importance only to the daily episode of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

It was a simple enough concept.  Microwave some popcorn, grab a juice cup and head to my son’s room for some Monday night football.  This worked out well enough, in part because football translates so well to a toddler’s mind – it’s those guys against them guys.  Once October came around, we had a bonus.  Baseball playoffs were a mid-week treat.  Keep in mind, too, that we’re going back to the late 90s – when one could still get the major networks off of some rabbit ears (that’s an antenna, kids).

Once the World Series came around, it was a festival of popcorn.  Instead of a “football party” once a week, we’d have a “baseball party” in his room almost every night for a week!  What a deal!  Plus, he loved playing baseball in the front yard while I tossed a seemingly endless stream of pitches high and inside so he could hit his home runs off the roof with his over-sized wiffle bat.  I’m thinking, “He can hit.  He must understand the game.  Sure, we’ll have a great time!”

And so it began with the first inning of Game 1 of the 1997 World Series:

Who’s playing, Daddy?

“The Marlins and the Indians.”

Who you rooting for, Daddy?

“The Indians.  Who are you rooting for?”

Who’s ahead?

“The Indians.”


I’m rooting for the Indians, Daddy.

Later, of course, when the Marlins take the lead, his allegiance suddenly, predictably and understandably shifts to the Marlins.

I quickly discovered, however, that watching baseball games on television complicated matters to a degree I wasn’t quite prepared to handle.  It wasn’t like watching football where the camera shows both teams lined up against one another with a relatively simple goal in mind:  score a touchdown or prevent a touchdown.  Easy enough.  But with baseball, they typically show only the pitcher, the catcher, the batter and the umpire.  Four guys.  Two on one team, one on the other, and some guy in a dark suit with a mask.  To him, those four guys made up the entire baseball universe.  Everyone else is randomly roaming the playing field waiting for their chance to bat.

Plus, in football, it’s clear that the guys in purple have the ball and they’re trying to score against the guys in white and orange.  But in baseball, well, one team’s in white and the other is in light-gray.  To a four year old, that’s just not distinctive enough.  To him, they’re all baseball guys and they’re all taking turns at bat.  Team?  What team?  These are baseball guys and we’re rooting for every one of them when they come up to bat (although, when a Marlin comes up to bat after another Marlin, an accusation that the Marlins aren’t playing fair comes from the peanut gallery – “They should take turns batting with the Indians, Daddy.  They’re not nice guys”).

You know what else takes little explanation?  Basketball.  It translates well on the small screen, as does soccer.  Just take the ball and put it in a goal.  Everything else is bells and whistles.

But in baseball, the ball can go anywhere.  In fact, it’s encouraged to go anywhere.  Over a fence, through some legs, past a diving infielder or off the wall.  Hey, under the right circumstances, even a bunt can score a run.

Plus, baseball has some very precise rules.  No big deal.  Every sport has rules.  But baseball rules are typically explained in baseball jargon that I had previously assumed was part of everyone’s DNA.  No, it’s the baseball slang that’s the kicker.  What I learned was that it was of little use explaining America’s pastime to him without using the usual, baseball terminology.  I would only know that he had achieved some level of understanding from one of my rambling explanations when it would be rewarded with one simple, satisfying word:  “Oh.”

For example, after ball four crosses the plate, the Marlin drops his bat and starts a slow trot to first base:

Daddy, where’s that guy going?

“Well, he’s going to first base because he walked.”

No he didn’t…he ran a little bit.

Is there anything better than the mind of a concrete literal toddler?  After all, the guy did trot down to first base.  So begins the explanation:  “He got a ‘walk’ because the pitcher threw him four balls.”  Puzzled look (as if to say what else would the pitcher throw him?).  But I press on.

“How many strikes before you’re out?

Three, Daddy.”

“That’s right, and if the pitcher’s throw isn’t a strike, they call it a ‘ball.’  If the pitcher guy throws a batter four balls, the batter can go to first base and they call that a walk.”

(Wait for it…)


A few innings pass when the batter hits a sharp line drive foul down the third base line and into the stands.  “Daddy!  He hit a home run!”  “Um, no, he hit a foul ball.”  “But it went over the fence.”  “Yes, but it’s a foul ball if you hit it to the left of the third base line or to the right of the first base line.”  Again, the puzzled look.  Do you blame him?

“He hit it out of bounds.”


Then there’s instant replay.  With this technology, when a batter comes to the plate in the seventh inning of a tied ballgame, they tend to show the home run he hit in the fifth inning.  The four year old sitting on the edge of his bed does not realize it’s a replay.  He’s just seen a home run with his own eyes and now his team is ahead by one run and no amount of explaining can convince him otherwise.

I now hate instant replay, although I’m not sure that’s warranted.

Late in the ninth inning, he’s out of bed, sitting in my lap while scraping the last of the popcorn out of the bowl.  The only light in the room comes from his T.V.  But I distinctly remember something about that moment.  I remember looking down at him and seeing his eyes wide with wonder as he absentmindedly pushed one stale kernel after another into his mouth while watching the baseball guys.  I knew I’d always want to remember what he looked like at that moment.  I wanted to freeze it in time – the exact moment he first fell in love with baseball.

We give our kids so many of our traits, likes and dislikes.  Some are good, some are bad and some tend to straddle the fence.  So where does watching athletic events – or the participation in such events – fall on that spectrum?  I suggest that it is one of the most important things we can give our children.  While there are individual sports to play, the usual suspects that we share with our friends and family are team sports.  It’s not just that we are a St. Louis Cardinal fan.  It’s that we are a Cardinal fan because our father was a Cardinal fan, like his father before him.  But even more than mere team allegiance, team sports demonstrate teamwork.  Learning to be part of a team (as a participant) or learning from the examples of those that play the game are teachable moments that our kids need to learn.  After all, they will be part of a team in some form or another for the rest of their lives, whether it’s in a marriage, a relationship, at work – the examples are endless.  Learning how to lead within a team or support one’s teammate are invaluable lessons that sports can emphasize or teach us at any age.

Plus…there’s all that popcorn.

Shayne Smith reads and writes for a living at a publicly-traded company in central Arkansas (which shall remain nameless as we don’t want the stock price to take a dive).  He and his older brother are the only two siblings in Arkansas that grew up wanting to play basketball for the UALR Trojans and football for the U of A Razorbacks.  It wasn’t until they were 16 and 13, respectively, that they were dissuaded from this ridiculous notion.

He is a cyclist, but only because he owns a bike that proudly hangs on a bike rack that he installed all by himself in his garage.  He’ll get around to riding it once all the kids are settled into adulthood.  In the meantime, he and his wife also have two dogs — one of which is always convinced it is starving.

Tags: , ,